Gleaning insight into Anthony's future plans remains difficult. Answers to questions vary by the day, and Anthony's mood promotes the type of discord and doubt only potentially lottery-bound catastrophes can incite.
Here's the thing: As bad as the Knicks have been, they're still not out of playoff contention. Not yet. There exists a real chance their follies and foibles won't cost them a postseason berth.
Stumbling into the playoffs is hardly ideal for a team previously projected to contend for a title one season after notching 54 victories and winning the Atlantic Division. But Knicks-related palmistry died long ago. That legitimate championship contender is long gone, replaced by the quizzical aggregation currently standing before us.
This version of the Knicks, the one that spewed molten hot lava all over last season's Knicks, would be fortunate to make the playoffs. Playing late into April would be a gift for everyone involved.
Distancing themselves from a lottery finish that bears no draft pick changes perceptions of this season and—more importantly—aides in the cleansing of Anthony's turbid offseason exploits.
Does This Season Even Matter?
Any possible impact this season's conclusion has on Anthony's imminent future is based off the assumption that the past will influence his decision.
Will missing or making the playoffs this season actually affect Anthony's vision for the future? Or is it irrelevant?
Wouldn't we like to know.
On different occasions, Anthony has stressed conflicting things. Out of the All-Star break, he, per The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring, seemed to indicate New York's finish wouldn't play a role in his final decision:
FWIW, Carmelo says "us making the playoffs and my [free-agency decision] have nothing to do with each other."— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) February 27, 2014
Staying true to the present having minimal impact on his free-agency plans, Anthony treated Phil Jackson's arrival with supreme indifference—at first.
"I don’t think it’ll have any effect on me, just as far as what I’m thinking or my decision or anything like that," Anthony said, via the New York Daily News' Peter Botte.
Well, then. How's that for Jackson having the Midas touch?
Not even a week later, though, Anthony was reciting something completely different.
"The big picture, absolutely, for the big picture this is definitely more attractive," Anthony explained when asked if Jackson makes the Knicks more appealing, according to the New York Post's Fred Kerber.
Even while slightly changing his tune, Anthony's focus continues to be on the "big picture." In a vacuum, that would mean this season—right now, wouldn't mean a darn thing. But we don't live in a world of vacuity.
Every decision, every action—especially in the Land of the Knicks—foments ripple effects. If Anthony is concerned with the big picture, then he is, indeed, going to be moved by this season in some way.
Why Dancing Matters
Anthony is going to be hearing about 2015 from Jackson and the Knicks this summer, an inevitable sales pitch he's not looking forward to lumbering through.
According to the News' Frank Isola, Anthony and his camp don't want to think about 2015. They don't want to hear about plans of pursuing Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love and LeBron James. They care about next season, when Anthony will be 30, nearly 12 years into his NBA career and still (presumably) searching for a title.
Blaming Anthony for that logic is beyond impossible. If nothing else, he's earned the right to want to win and, you know, actually win. His performance this season—he leads the league in minutes per game and has been deadly from behind the arc (41.1 percent conversion rate)—has been inspiring, worthy of adulation and whatever kind of contract he's headed toward.
Other teams will play to that side of Anthony, selling him on joining a contender, telling him he deserves better. The Knicks—well, they're going to do exactly what Anthony doesn't want them to do: yap about 2015.
One quick look at their 2014-15 ledger—made available by ShamSports—shows the Knicks have no cap space to work with this summer. Not even if Anthony leaves. Assuming Jackson is unable to dump the surging Amar'e Stoudemire and wind-blown-haired Andrea Bargnani, what Anthony sees is what the Knicks are going to give him for one more year.
And what the Knicks are going to give him will look a whole lot better if they make the playoffs. It already looks a lot better compared to the bumbling mess that inhabited Madison Square Garden roughly one month ago.
Landing in the playoffs leaves Anthony more inclined to see the Knicks as the 11-3 team they've been since March 5 and not the 21-40 nightmare he called his own before then. Dancing well into April can have that effect. It brings hope and optimism and a renewed belief in what the Knicks are doing and whom they are.
Contending for a playoff spot has raised Anthony's spirits alone. Not long ago, he was talking about this season as if it was meaningless. Suddenly, he's talking about salvaging it.
"Absolutely," he said of starting fresh in the postseason, per Isola. "Once you’re in the playoffs nobody really looks at the regular season. It’s over with. Everybody starts zero-zero. Our goal is to get in."
If and when the Knicks get in, they can look forward to Anthony's free agency with revived confidence and a plan that, however flawed, looks a helluva lot better than it once did.
Returning to States of Virtual Certainty
Making the playoffs guarantees nothing for the Knicks. Get that in your head.
Missing the postseason doesn't guarantee anything either. Understand that too.
Then understand that's why this playoff push, why actually limping into the postseason is important.
Will Carmelo Anthony return to the Knicks next season?
No matter how this season ends, the Knicks will be favorites to land Anthony. Money, lack of other options, J.R. Smith's extensively stocked liquor cabinet, Phil Jackson, Tyson Chandler's beard and, yeah, financial flexibility in 2015 will all factor heavily into his decision.
Adding a playoff berth to that underwhelming package of pros can only help. Anthony has never missed the postseason. Ensuring these Knicks aren't the team that brings his impressive streak to an end holds clout. It answers a lot of questions Anthony may have before he even asks them. It prevents other inquiries from being lodged before he even thinks of them.
Most of all, it prolongs their season.
The Knicks start over in the playoffs. They have a chance, albeit an unlikely chance, to do something special.
"I always thought we’d really give our ourselves a shot of making the playoffs," Chandler said, per Marc Berman of the New York Post. "I still believe if we get in there, somebody’s going to be in trouble."
Better still, Anthony's future in New York won't be.