And that was before team president Phil Jackson announced that Mike Woodson would not return next season.
Woodson's departure won't sway Anthony's free-agency decision one way or the other, but it will factor into his thought process, as will a number of other things. The list of questions Anthony needs answered is growing by the day, increasing in length and significance with each decision the Knicks make and change Jackson champions.
Dismissing Woodson sent a message. Strapped for cash and bereft of draft picks, Jackson and the Knicks aren't content with remaining idle, hoping the present state of affairs improves by itself. They are going to change what they're able to change, moving the needle when and where they can.
“Blame should not be put on one individual,” Jackson said in a statement, per The New York Times' Scott Cacciola. “But the time has come for change throughout the franchise as we start the journey to assess and build this team for next season and beyond.”
Firing Woodson was the first agenda-pushing change. Now it's time to see if it's one Anthony can support long term.
Happy With Woodson
For all the flack Woodson took for the team's shortcomings this season, Anthony conveyed no ill will. By the time his exit interview rolled around, he even backed Woodson's return, via ESPN New York's Ian Begley:
This wasn't your average, run-of-the-mill, nearly indifferent voice of support. Anthony seemed to ache over the idea of Woodson leaving.
"To be honest with you, Mike Woodson, he and I have become, he’s been a guy that I can talk to," Anthony explained, per the New York Daily News' Mitch Abramson, "almost a father figure, a friend, a guy that I can bounce stuff off."
At this point, you either feel for Anthony or—if you're like me—are suspicious of his intentions.
Advocating the continued stay of a coach everyone knows won't be back is pretty darn convenient. Woodson wasn't present for the Knicks' exit interviews as per Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal, so Anthony was free to butter up reporters and fans and say all the right things without fear of retribution or the prospect of following through.
But merciless skepticism only gets you so far. For the most part, Anthony's end-of-season discourse was consistent with what he said and did the entire year.
Tensions reached new heights following a December loss to the Washington Wizards. The Knicks fell to 7-17 on the heels of poor defense and even worse late-game decision-making. Anthony was evasive when asked about Woodson's strategy and inferences were drawn from his seeming disconnect with the head coach.
Yet for Anthony, that was the extent of his issues—if we can even call this an "issue"—with Woodson. On multiple occasions, he commended him, shouldered part of the blame for New York's transgressions and came off as if he wanted Woody to stay.
Over the All-Star break, when Woodson's seat was hottest, Anthony went as far as guaranteeing he wouldn't be fired.
Ringing endorsements didn't come much more obvious during the regular season. Anthony appeared to truly value Woodson's presence, which would mean the Knicks just willingly deprived themselves of a coach he enjoyed playing under.
There's also the chance Woodson's exit represents more than a simple coaching change.
Creative Artists Agency represents Woodson and Anthony. Over the years, CAA has stretched its tentacles deep within New York's organization, something that Jackson evidently didn't appreciate, per The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring:
Severing those deep-seated ties might not sit well with Anthony, who has been placed upon a throne and given immense power since arriving in New York. To some extent, he could see Woodson's dismissal as an insult or attempt by Jackson to strip him and his agency of their well-documented control.
Likewise, Jackson's coaching search and Woodson's eventual replacement could be interpreted as a slight of some sort too. USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt revealed that Steve Kerr was in "deep" discussions with the Knicks about becoming their next head coach. Will Jackson consult Anthony before making a decision, or will he risk isolating his franchise superstar?
Before Jackson arrived, failing to seek Anthony's approval for a move this big wasn't an option. Owner James Dolan valued and actively sought his opinion.
Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reported in February that Dolan met with Anthony to discuss Woodson's job security. If Anthony sees such meetings as standard and he wants to express his opinion on important matters heading into free agency, keeping him apprised of the situation would be paramount to the Knicks retaining him.
Should Jackson hire a new coach that hasn't received Anthony's approval, then the All-Star might decide to throw some free-agency curveballs.
One of Many Questions
In all likelihood, the impact Woodson's exit has on Anthony's free agency will be negligible. What matters is where the Knicks go from here.
Picking the right coach is important. Including Anthony in the coaching search may be equally imperative. But Anthony's impending free agency was always going to come down to one thing: winning.
So, two things.
Anthony has repeatedly made it clear that he wants to win. It will be up to the Knicks to give him what he wants.
According to Sporting News' Sean Deveney, Anthony is seeking the "Dwight Howard treatment" in free agency. Who can blame him? The chance to sit back, enjoy some free meals and look on as various teams beg and plead with you to accept tens of millions of dollars in salary is a process most people wouldn't shirk.
As Bleacher Report's Jim Cavan writes, it's also a song and dance the Knicks must labor through if they wish to keep their prized superstar:
The Knicks will do everything in their power to keep Anthony in the Orange and Blue. Whether that entails digging so far into the kiddy that the team’s future flexibility is prohibitively compromised—that’s where the speculative rubber hits Hearsay Road (find that on GeoGuessr, you are automatically World President).
Chief among things the Knicks will sell Anthony on is cold, hard, towering stacks of cash. They can offer him one year and $30-plus million more than any other team. While they may not be prepared to contend for a championship next season, $30 million is a nice cushion that could soften the blow of Anthony being forced to remain patient for another season.
Keeping Woodson wouldn't have changed any of this. The Knicks still wouldn't have any cap space to use on prominent free agents, they still wouldn't be armed with the assets necessary to broker blockbuster trades.
All they have, all they would have had with Woodson, is the promise of financial flexibility in 2015, three-plus years of Anthony's loyalty and a contract potentially so big, it's designed to outweigh the importance of everything else.
Woodson's departure and his inevitable successor included.
*Salary information via ShamSports.
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