Between now and the NBA’s summer free-agency bonanza, both sides will find themselves unwittingly slid beneath the media’s sizzling spotlight, where even their most innocuous comments are bound to be tortured and twisted beyond all recognition.
One decision where neither side can afford fits of vagueness or evasion, however, is who replaces Mike Woodson when New York’s embattled coach finally is let go.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve teased out the many reasons why Woodson—well-meaning and well-intentioned though he may be—has to be cast adrift, even if the Knicks have until the offseason to make their move.
With Melo’s own prospects becoming more uncertain by the day, the Knicks have quite the conundrum on their hands: Pick their new coach and hope the decision resonates positively with their limbo-bound superstar, or give Anthony unprecedented say in the matter.
Each approach entails a certain level of risk.
Should Melo bolt, the coach-management relationship will have hit the rockiest possible start, with a cap-strapped roster, minimal flexibility and a livid fanbase to boot.
If, however, Anthony ends up playing a pivotal role in the hiring, the criticism would take a slightly different form—that of a too-cozy connection between the supposed basketball brain trust on the one hand, and their chief attraction on the other.
As with so many things in life, how the Knicks decide to proceed ultimately will have little to do with objective business analyses and everything to do with timing.
When the next free-agency period begins on July 1, the following players could hit the open market: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Greg Monroe, Gordon Hayward, Pau Gasol, Lance Stephenson, Kyle Lowry and Anthony, just to name a few.
That’s a whole lot of dominoes. And while it’s impossible to predict which will lean first, don’t expect them all to fall within the first few weeks.
If anyone is going to set the market, however, Melo is as good of a candidate as any.
Here’s what we know: Thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement, the Knicks, per ESPN New York, will be able to offer Melo upwards of $29 million more than any other team.
They pulled all the strings to get me here, and I wanted to be here, you know. And I want to retire in New York, let's be quite frank. I think a lot of people jumped the gun when I said I wanted to be a free agent. And yeah, I want people to come to play in New York. I want them to want to play in New York. I want New York to be that place where guys want to come play in New York.
—Carmelo Anthony in TNT television interview
But where Melo entertains offers could be just as crucial to the overall process—and, by deduction, how the Knicks manage their coaching hire—as where he actually ends up signing.
To make matters even more confusing, Anthony recently intimated he’d be willing to sign at a discount in the right situation, including with the Knicks, should they commit to using the extra flexibility to rebuild anew.
If Melo ultimately decides to stay in New York, it might well be under the condition, however strong, that he be allowed to weigh in on any subsequent hiring process.
The likely result: A coach with a proven pedigree who will operate in much the same way as Woodson, i.e., run the offense through Anthony.
Should Melo sign elsewhere, however, New York’s approach could change dramatically.
Might they do what the Boston Celtics did and hire a talented but unproven coach—either from the NBA or the NCAA—to oversee a multiyear rebuilding process?
Or would they stick to their big-name guns and go after Thibodeau, Phil Jackson or one of the Van Gundy brothers (Jeff Van Gundy, the other brother, currently works for ESPN)?
For as undeniably talented as those guys are, asking them to suffer through two to three years of terrible basketball doesn’t make for the sexiest sales pitch.
Of the four, Jackson by far is the most fascinating: An unparalleled paragon of NBA coaching, a holdover from New York’s 1973 championship team, and a master communicator and psychologist who’s had to put up with more than his fair share of difficult personalities.
Sadly, Jackson already has made it clear that not even the opportunity to bring his career full circle would be enough to mask the basketball mess lying in wait. In June 2012, ESPN New York’s Mike Mazzeo wrote:
They don't fit together well. (Amare) Stoudemire doesn't fit well with Carmelo (Anthony). Stoudemire's a really good player. But he's gotta play in a certain system and a way. Carmelo has to be a better passer. And the ball can't stop every time it hits his hands. They need to have someone come in that can kinda blend that group together.
The other alternative is to hire a second-tier coach who cares more about getting another opportunity than the specific short-term prospects—a Lionel Hollins-type, for example.
In the end, that is where the Knicks are likely to land, regardless of whether or not Anthony re-signs.
This is what’s bound to happen when you’re too impatient to consider a Boston-esque rebuild and too dysfunctional to attract top-tier clout: You end up being a team forced to live in two-year increments.
Just ask Woodson.
Whatever the endgame, the Knicks would be wise to start communicating with Anthony about who, if anyone, he’d like to see at his side for the next four or five years. Hopefully, it will be at a greater depth than this (via The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring):
Melo, on reported meeting with Dolan: "I met w him. Wasn't nothing serious. Generic conversation."— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) February 8, 2014
Even if Melo’s demands become too much to meet, at least New York will have a good excuse for not bending over backward to break the bank.
At that point, even amidst the wreckage of a dicey divorce, Dolan would have his best opportunity yet to pursue a program that, although initially painful, has the potential to prove more than worth that temporary price: Rebuilding from the clipboard up.