Given his track record, you might have expected Phil Jackson to begin his courtship of Carmelo Anthony by lending the New York Knicks forward books on Eastern religion or taking him on a vision quest in the Mojave.
Instead, the Zen Master took 'Melo to dinner.
New York Knicks president Phil Jackson met with Carmelo Anthony on Tuesday night at a Manhattan restaurant to discuss the team's coaching situation and the star forward's pending free agency, according to a source with knowledge of the conversation.
It's probably best that Jackson kept things simple. You never want to come on too strong with the cleansing ceremonies or sage-burning too early. Melo desperately wants to win, and he seems somewhat open to the idea of doing that with Jackson's Knicks.
But he might not have been ready for the full-on Jackson treatment just yet.
According to Begley's source, the two talked business, hitting topics that ranged from Anthony's impending free agency to his relationship with coaching target Steve Kerr.
It's smart for Jackson to bring Anthony into the fold on big decisions. Melo will appreciate having a voice and the sense of control that comes with it, especially if he plans to follow through on his stated willingness to absorb a pay cut.
"Without a doubt,” Anthony said on Feb. 14, per Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:
Any opportunity I have to build that up in New York, I’d do it. I told people all the time, always say, if it takes me taking a pay cut, I’ll be the first one on Mr. Dolan’s steps saying, ‘Take my money and let’s build something strong over here.’
Jackson, always a shrewd manipulator, is phrasing his words about Melo very carefully these days. In effect, he's putting the onus on Anthony to live up to his past promise. Per Begley, Jackson said:
I think [there is] a precedent that's been set. Because the way things have been structured now financially for teams is that it's really hard to have one or two top stars or max players, and to put together a team with enough talent, you've got to have people making sacrifices financially.
So we hope that Carmelo is true to his word, and we understand what it's going to take, and we will present that to him at that time.
Now, Jackson will come out of the upcoming summer's negotiations looking good, no matter what happens. If Anthony sticks around and takes a pay cut, it'll be viewed as a win for all involved. But if he skips town to chase money and wins elsewhere, Jackson's emphasis on Melo staying true to his word will make it seem like Anthony was being dishonest.
There's a long road ahead for Jackson and the Knicks as they try to figure out the franchise's future.
Anthony is a big part of that future, but New York must also rebuild its entire coaching staff, sort out a roster with too many one-dimensional players and, critically, win back the public trust which decades of James Dolan's mismanagement frittered away.
A dinner date may not sound like much, but it's a start. And it's a lot less difficult than a week spent soul-searching and eating cacti in the desert.
Who knows, though: Maybe that's what Jackson has planned for his next outing with Anthony.
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