Should Anthony decide to walk this summer—say, in the Chicago Bulls' general direction—then it's out of their hands. The Knicks cannot hold Anthony against his will, binding him to a team he doesn't want to play for. Their leverage in the matter expired with the trade deadline.
But they cannot allow him to walk on their own accord. If he wants to stay, team president Phil Jackson and owner James Dolan must make sure that happens at any and all costs.
Future Selling Point
Paying around $130 million for a player who will turn 30 prior to free agency isn't ideal. I've said that before, and I guarantee I'll say it again in addition to now.
Very few players are worth such a large sum of money at that age. The way Anthony plays—physical and unforgiving—takes a toll on the body. He's battled shoulder injuries to close out each of the last two seasons, something the Knicks have come to expect.
And something they must also ignore.
Carmelo Anthony said he hasn't had any additional tests on his right shoulder because no matter what they tell him he's not sitting out.— Al Iannazzone (@Al_Iannazzone) April 11, 2014
Pondering the fate of a star player, whoever it is, is a luxury for teams with options. The Knicks are are out of options, mostly because they're out of draft picks.
There is no first-round selection serving as a consolation prize to this dismal, soul-massacring season. The Knicks' lottery pick, wherever it falls, belongs to the Denver Nuggets, per RealGM, a debt owed from Anthony's arrival in 2011. They don't own the rights to their 2016 first-rounder either.
Rebuilding the roster through draft selections is out of the question. The Knicks' plan still centers around staging a free-agency coup in 2015, when Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, possibly LeBron James and a slew of other superstars hit the open market.
Jackson wasn't hired to deviate from that plan. He was brought in to advance it, to bring championship credentials and stability to a front office devoid of both.
Early returns have Jackson's arrival already paying future dividends. According to the New York Daily News' Frank Isola, the Zen Master's presence ensures James will take another gander at New York whenever he chooses to explore free agency.
The funny thing about New York's inevitable free-agency ventures: Anthony matters.
Incumbent superstars are crucial to sales pitches. They sell outsiders on the inside, no small task in New York, where the Knicks organization remains disastrous-looking to those on the outside peering in.
(Aside: Knicks fans of sound mind would prefer it if Hibbert just glossed over New York in 2015.)
If only there were a way to prove this were true.
Oh, wait, there is.
Think the Miami Heat's Big Three would be in Miami right now if Dwyane Wade wasn't already there? Maybe two of them would be there or somewhere else, but their tenure was founded upon Wade's residency.
For the Knicks to do something similar in 2015, for them to land superstars they've been promising to acquire for more than a half-decade, they need Anthony to be their embedded grab.
Brickbat the Agency, Not the Player
Ties to Creative Artists Agency shouldn't play a role.
A cursory glance at past moves suggest they will, in a motive-accelerating, kneel-before-Anthony-and-beg-for-his-return sort of way. But there's a new, silvery, brooding sheriff in town. And he's packing heat that he's unafraid to use.
"In recent weeks," he writes, "Jackson has hinted that he doesn’t want to feel beholden to any one agency, and his comments have been viewed as a knock on CAA."
They are a knock on CAA, but that should have little impact on the Knicks' Anthony decision. If Jackson is dead set on distancing himself from the team's CAA ties, he can fire Woodson. He can attempt to trade Smith. He could smite Smith's family by refusing to offer a contract to his brother Chris, father Earl and any other relatives who try to leverage J.R.'s contract into one of their own.
Under no circumstances should spurning CAA include slighting Anthony. The two can be mutually exclusive.
Now, if Anthony asks Jackson to offer his wife La La an eight-figure contract, a la J.R. and Chris Smith, then the Knicks have a problem. If he demands that his son Kiyan replace Raymond Felton as the starting point guard, well, then that's something the Knicks should actually consider.
Barring an absurd, Smith-family-type request, there's no reason for Anthony's future to be caught in the crossfire bound to take place between CAA and the resistant Jackson.
Worthy of Faith
Putting everything else aside—all the politics and surreptitious agendas—Anthony is worth it.
Not $130 million worth of "it," but he's certainly worth building around. He's proven as much as the lone bright spot through New York's dark and dreary season.
"You can't point [the blame] at [Anthony], because he's been there all year," Woodson said, per ESPN's New York Ian Begley. "He's had a hell of a season for us."
In addition to shooting a career-best 40.2 percent from downtown, establishing himself as one of the NBA's most lethal spot-up shooters from deep, he became a more willing passer out of double-teams and boasted an improved shot selection overall.
And while his late-game execution has plummeted—he's converting just 15 percent of his shots in the last 30 seconds of games when the Knicks are trailing by three points or less, per NBA.com (subscription required)—it comes with the territory of leading the NBA in minutes per game as a member of one of the league's least inventive offenses.
By the fourth quarter, Anthony, who is averaging 38.7 minutes a night, is spent. He shoots 48.5 percent in the first half, only to see that number drop to 38 percent during fourth quarters. So while his late-game struggles are concerning, they're not inexplicable.
The truth is, Anthony has been magnificent. Largely incredible. The Knicks cannot let him get away, contrary to what Isola maintained in March:
This year, Independence Day arrives three days earlier than usual. On July 1, Carmelo Anthony will inform the Knicks that he is officially a free agent. The moment could be a turning point in Dolan’s reign at Madison Square Garden if the boss extends his hand and, rather than give Anthony a blank check, wishes him good luck in his future endeavors.
“It was a good run,” Dolan can tell him. “We renovated the Garden. You played your tail off and nearly became the MVP by leading us to 54 wins. And thanks for helping us finally win a playoff series. We even survived J.R. together. Barely, that is. But we as an organization feel it’s in your best interests and certainly in our best interests to move on. Honestly, good luck.”
Good luck, indeed.
Good luck to the Knicks and their rebuilding efforts without Anthony.
Good luck fielding a watchable outfit without him next season.
Good luck wooing future free agents if he escapes their grasp.
Good luck moving forward without the one player who is responsible for the Knicks temporarily being in a position to salvage their lost season.
Are the Knicks better off rebuilding with or without Carmelo Anthony?
"There's no doubt about Carmelo being one of the top scorers in the league, maybe the best individual isolation player in the game," Jackson said when he was introduced as team president, via Begley. "I have no problems with committing to saying Carmelo is in the future plans."
Of course he doesn't. He can't. Anthony is pivotal to their reincarnation.
Wherever the Knicks want to go, they're more likely to get there, more likely to distance themselves from the redolence of failure and lost hope borne out of this season, with him as their cornerstone.