If and when Carmelo Anthony decides to remain a member of the New York Knicks, and he puts pen to paper for one of the NBA's most disappointing teams, it won't be attributed to his unconditional belief in Big Apple basketball.
Maybe the Knicks are able to sell him on a 2014-15 campaign swathed in uncertainty, ahead of a 2015 free-agency period draped in financial flexibility and even more uncertainty. Maybe Anthony's loyalty compels him to stay in New York. Maybe the $130(ish) million payday is too much to pass up. Or maybe ebbing hope in what the Knicks are doing prompts him to accept a pay cut.
Whatever it is that may keep Anthony in New York, though, it's not unmitigated faith. The enigmatic and hapless Knicks have given him no reason to believe in anything save for towering ambitions lacking the order and symmetry necessary to become reality.
This was a season where the Knicks had one responsibility. That's it. Their primary job wasn't to contend. They didn't even have to convince Anthony to re-sign. As far as anyone was concerned, Anthony, even after admitting he wanted to explore free agency, wasn't a flight risk.
The Knicks were and remain his team. New York is his city. Anyone with a pulse and semblance of common sense has understood from the beginning he would look for every possible reason to stay, leaving the Knicks to do one thing: Limit the number of reasons he has to leave.
Mission not accomplished.
Disorder and Dysfunction
Following a 54-win 2012-13 campaign, the Knicks were somewhere they haven't been in quite sometime: a position of power and—dare we say it?—stability.
Veteran departures and continued disregard for first-round draft picks (Andrea Bargnani trade), were all bothersome, but they weren't supposed to be forerunners of doom.
Even after eliminating those abrupt and somewhat puzzling changes, what's left to look at still isn't pretty.
General manager Glen Grunwald was shown the door after assembling an Atlantic Division-winning roster on a guttersnipe's dime for a franchise with champagne taste. And he was fired in favor of Madison Square Garden washout Steve Mills, under the pretense that it was the rather inexperienced Mills who could advance New York's title hopes while retaining Anthony.
Flies and a select few of owner James Dolan's minions only know what truly goes on behind closed doors, but by all appearances, things are worse.
When Chris Smith's roster spot wasn't being investigated by the NBA, Mike Woodson's job was and remains a placeholder of doubt and a seemingly fixed future—in that he doesn't have one in New York beyond this season.
When J.R. Smith isn't being benched and (surprisingly) reprimanded for raging immaturity, the Knicks are unable to make peace with Beno Udrih and Metta World Peace, two of only three players on the roster with championship experience, the latter of whom would give anything to represent his city.
Then there was the Feb. 20 trade deadline, where the Knicks were unable to improve their floundering roster. It also meant they didn't do anything stupid, or, you know, Knick around.
Moving on would be so much simpler, so much more realistic if New York's inaction was deliberate. But it wasn't.
It wasn't the Knicks' decision to retain Iman Shumpert—who has been linked to no less than eight (trillion) trade rumors this season—per ESPN's Brian Windhorst:
See, New York's inability to upgrade at point guard would have been fine if it didn't approach the deadline with a change-for-sake-of-change-no-matter-what mentality. If it was the Knicks' decision to stand pat and ride this season out, the narrative shifts slightly.
The Knicks wouldn't be looked at the way they are now if they weren't a rumors magnet prone to overpaying for impulsive and marginal improvements, even if they were losing.
There's hope and respectability in restraint, which the Knicks still don't have during a season in which they need it.
Anthony has never played the way he is now. He's never led the league in minutes per game, chased down loose balls and expended every last iota of energy he has like he is now. He's different. Better. Evolved.
And the Knicks are wasting it.
Putting the Knicks' season in a nutshell is difficult. Words and stats can hardly justify just how disheartening and disgusting this year has been. But if you're looking for an absolute harbinger, the closest you'll come is this: Anthony is on course for a career-high 11.5 win shares, despite the Knicks being on pace to win 23 fewer games (31) than last season (54).
There has never been a more valuable version of Anthony, who in addition to ranking ninth in win shares (7.7) is knocking down a career-best 41.9 percent of his three-pointers.
And the Knicks are wasting it still.
No one else on the roster is averaging more than 13.3 points per game. With Bargs sidelined, in fact, no one else on the team is even cracking 13 points per game for the season. There is no clear No. 2, no sidekick that has been consistent enough to give Anthony the help he and the Knicks desperately need. Not Amar'e Stoudemire, not Tim Hardaway Jr., not Smith.
Thanks to mostly subpar contributions from his supporting cast, the Knicks are running out of things to play for. They rank 26th in defensive efficiency and find themselves 5.5 games off a playoff spot in a deplorable Eastern Conference with under 30 to go, putting them on the verge of becoming the first of Anthony's teams to not make the playoffs.
Worse still, there's no end to this protracted nightmare in sight. The Knicks are 2-8 over their last 10, dogged by the same deficient rotations, play-calling and on-court engagement they have been all season.
Making the playoffs is now more one of those lofty, unrealistic and trademark ambitions the Knicks tend to have than it is a legitimate possibility. Fifteen of their 26 remaining games will be played away from home where the Knicks are 9-17, and 11 of their remaining 26 games come versus teams above-.500 teams, against which the Knicks are 5-17.
Where's the hope in that? The optimism? Where is Anthony supposed to see an immediate outlook he can have confidence in?
All the Knicks have to sell Anthony on right now is 2015.
Whatever becomes of this season—whether it goes down in a haze of chaotic defensive rotations and poor point guard play, or culminates in an improbable playoff berth—all the Knicks have is 2015.
Having Anthony accept a pay cut won't do anything this summer. Even without Anthony's salary, the Knicks have no cap space. That reduction only becomes significant in 2015, forcing Anthony to remain patient while he endures another season of whatever the hell this is.
That's if he decides to even stick around.
Yours truly maintains he won't go anywhere. Anthony remains loyal, for reasons we will barely understand (outside of brand enhancement) and frankly, he may have nowhere else to go.
Not many big markets are fitted with cap space this summer. New York's biggest threats at this point are the Los Angeles Lakers and 35-year-old Kobe Bryant, and a Chicago Bulls team that will have to move heaven and earth, and Taj Gibson in addition to Carlos Boozer, if they wish to sign Anthony.
Sick and twisted though it sounds, the Knicks are still favorites to keep him—shaky, infirm and flimsy favorites.
One year ago, they were ironclad favorites, with the inside track and immediate future worthy of Anthony's fidelity. Between last summer and now, though, Dolan and friends have turned virtual certainties into enfeebled desires.
Anthony has reasons to stay. There will always be reasons to stay. What he also has is an overwhelming number of reasons to leave.
"We have the same team and have to move on," Anthony says, via Berman.
Moving on and getting out of their own way is something the Knicks have never done, and something they may never be able to do.
Ultimately, it's also something that could drive a permanent, unfading wedge between the team and Anthony, the player never supposed to leave, who now has every reason to abandon ship and never look back at the self-manifested wreck New York has currently pinned itself beneath.