The New York Knicks don't deserve Carmelo Anthony. They've proved it all season long, beginning with a boneheaded front-office shakeup and most recently with a 15-game stretch that's included 13 losses.
But when Anthony opts out of his contract this summer and becomes an unrestricted free agent, will he truly consider re-upping with the team that's gone 125-112 since the trade with Denver?
If 'Melo is truly determined to win a championship, there's not much to leave the Knicks optimistic heading into negotiations. New York can offer Anthony $30 million more than any other team, though, and the Manhattan glamour surely factors into the equation as well.
When it comes to winning basketball games, however, New York doesn't have much to bring to the table. It's traded every draft pick it's permitted to until 2018, and any future success is contingent upon signing a second mega-star—along with 'Melo—to construct a contender. And judging by the franchise's recent history with constructing such teams, it's an understatement to say that it may not be the most trustworthy.
Fast forward to this coming July, and put yourself in 'Melo's shoes. With a laundry list of suitors coveting your services at max-salary compensation, what is the appeal—if there is any—in returning to the same, sorry Knicks?
The shame in New York's season-long struggle to construct a competent team around Anthony is how truly dominant the 29-year-old has been this season. He's averaged 28 points and a career-high 8.5 rebounds per night, on 45 percent shooting and 42 percent from three.
In terms of player efficiency rating, only three Knicks have been league-average this season: Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire are the only rotation Knicks posting a PER over 15. And most of what Stoudemire brings to the table offensively is washed out by his horrid defense. Chandler has had an extremely disappointing season in several areas as well.
Over a recent seven-game run in February, Anthony averaged 36 points and eight rebounds on 50 percent shooting, and 47 percent from three-point range. New York went 1-6 in that time.
According to Basketball-Reference, his true-shooting percentage is right on par with last season's, and he's topped last year's career-high PER of 24.8 with a new high: 25.1.
As a result of his teammates' futility—no Knick has averaged more than 13 points per game, and no non-post player has put up a better field-goal percentage than Anthony—coach Mike Woodson has elected to run his star out with minimal rest nearly every single night.
Anthony's 39 minutes per game lead the entire league. The rest of the top six are all under the age of 25, with only LeBron James (No. 7) and LaMarcus Aldridge (No. 10) over 25 and qualifying in the top 10.
Anthony has played brilliantly all season long and has seemingly been the only Knick that's looked interested. In a season as unsuccessful as this one, he has brought up the discussion of whether or not his fine play is even worth the trouble. According to the New York Times:
"You score 40, 44, 44, 44, all losses - you kind of ask yourself is it worth it," Anthony said. "I'm not going to stop doing what I'm doing. You can believe that."
The way Anthony felt after Nowitzki made the winning basket mirrored the way he has felt many times this season.
"It's like a needle in a balloon right there, just sucks all the air out you," he said.
Carrying this type of load on an underachieving team is the same kind of burden that forced LeBron James to relocate to his current situation in Miami. But even James' Cleveland teams were consistent playoff contenders, never failing to advance past the first round from 2006-2010.
Anthony's Knicks were bounced from the postseason's opening round in each of his first two seasons with the team, and this year's squad will likely miss out on the postseason all together. To this point, he has qualified for the playoffs every year of his career.
Should Carmelo re-sign with the Knicks, he'd be entrusting the team's front office to surround him with a competent supporting cast—something they haven't done in four seasons. The 2013-14 Knicks literally need Anthony to score 35 points in order to merely have a shot.
As he enters the tail end of his prime, this situation isn't what 'Melo is looking for.
Management Without a Clue
James Dolan's front office has probably tried its best to verbally convince Anthony that this go-around will be much different. With the team set to have significant cap space in the summer of 2015, New York is looking to add a max-level player to pair with Anthony.
Though it'll be the second time the organization has opted for a full reboot with a salary-cap binge and purge, and the results of the first should leave 'Melo hesitant. The team, then desperate for an identity and a marketable star, willingly invested $100 million and five years in Amar'e Stoudemire. They then clogged their payroll even more by amnestying Chauncey Billups' expiring deal in 2011, only to sign Tyson Chandler to another long-term contract.
The Knicks had their own "Big Three," but the crippling effect it had on constructing a competent roster has sucked the life out of New York's realistic title aspirations since its inception.
This doesn't seem to matter to Dolan, though, who's using the team's ability to make a free-agency splash as his primary pitch to Anthony. Instead of drafting and developing key core players and building a sustainable success model, the Knicks are enamored at the prospect of multiple glitzy names grabbing New York headlines.
In re-signing, 'Melo would be signing himself away until age 34 to a Knicks team that will essentially have this same roster in 2014-15. He'd be sacrificing one more year of his prime and gambling the next four on the hope that general manager Steve Mills can somehow construct a championship contender.
In his introductory news conference last week, Mills pre-empted the question-and-answer portion of his appearance by saying that the team had “every intention of making Carmelo a Knick for a long time to come.” It could work to Mills’s advantage that he is known to have a good relationship with William Wesley, a power broker employed by Creative Artists Agency. Anthony is represented by C.A.A.
Mills emphasized his ties to agents. As he put it, “I’ve gotten to know a lot of people.”
Let's just suffice to say that if Carmelo ultimately walks away from the team that put a non-basketball executive in the general manager seat, you can't blame him.
The Case to Stay
But there has to be some chance he returns to New York, right? Well, that all depends on what 'Melo's focusing on.
When it comes to basketball, the Knicks can't offer a concrete success blueprint like other teams can. But what New York can exclusively offer its star is a five-year deal, while other teams can offer a maximum of four.
The Knicks would also be able to offer a deal with seven percent raises, equating to nearly $130 million. Any other team could only offer of $95 million.
It's important to note that Anthony has never settled for a penny less than a maximum offer. He signed a max-level extension with the Nuggets in 2006, and demanded a sign-and-trade to the Knicks in February 2011 instead of signing outright that summer. Anthony decided on the former, as it was more lucrative and less risky compared to signing a deal in the offseason, even though it meant costing the Knicks several assets.
There's always the argument that 'Melo forced his way to the Knicks and would never dare think about walking away from the city—especially after a largely mediocre run in terms of playoff output.
The Knicks offer Anthony the ability to go down in New York sports lore as the leader of a potential champion—something the city hasn't seen in four decades. But the very nature of that pitch is what should send Carmelo sprinting away from the Garden.
The Knicks never shy away from selling what's two or three years down the line. The what-ifs, the maybes. Whether it be LeBron in 2010, Chris Paul in 2011, or Rajon Rondo and Kevin Love in 2015. But with the Knicks, no "plan" ever goes according to plan. They're always one piece away, two steps behind, yet too consumed with today to pay any mind to a long-term outlook.
The Knicks need Carmelo Anthony. That's one thing even they're not blind enough to overlook. But unless Anthony is content with wasting the rest of his prime under a power-starving owner, a front office led by a business director handling basketball operations and a long-term success strategy that doesn't exist outside the next spending spree, he needs to correct his 2011 mistake and be through with the Knicks for good.
And if Anthony does skip town, Dolan will be left with a roster far different from what he anticipated three years ago. It'll be terrible offensively and defensively and still capped out with no immediate ability to spend.
It'll be the roster that he deserves.
Follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.