With the Phil Jackson franchise transformation already underway, a number of New York Knicks changes are sure to be made by next season.
One piece to the puzzle—the head coaching vacancy's filler—has reportedly been decided. Determining how it affects Carmelo Anthony's New York future will be the next domino to fall.
According to The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring, Jackson filled Anthony in on the organization's next move: bringing in Steve Kerr to be the team's next head coach.
The bulk of their conversation—which took place last week over dinner at a Manhattan restaurant—seemed to revolve around 'Melo's potential concerns regarding the move. The team president never mentioned a fallback candidate for the position.
In sitting down with Anthony, who has made it abundantly clear that he wants to play for a winning team next season, Jackson wanted to allay any concerns Anthony might have about Kerr's inexperience as a coach. (Kerr, who played under Jackson with the Chicago Bulls, has never coached at any level.) Jackson tried to do that, the sources said, by telling Anthony that he'd be both visible and available on the sidelines while the team takes part in training camp.
"Phil wanted [Anthony] to know that Kerr and his thinking will simply be an extension of himself," one of the sources said. "He wanted Carmelo to know he'll still be able to coach him by extension."
The two never discussed the idea of someone other than Kerr coaching the team.
Steve Kerr likely is making his swan song for TNT on Saturday night when he announces Game 7 of the Grizzlies-Thunder series in Oklahoma City. According to an NBA source, Kerr likely will make his final decision on accepting the Knicks head-coaching job soon after the weekend.
Berman also noted that a Mark Jackson firing could derail the Knicks' plans, as the San Diego-based Kerr could show interest in the Golden State Warriors job, if available. Though Jackson seems confident that his former point guard will settle for the Knicks' open position.
Jackson's talk with Anthony seemed to intimate that Kerr will be the man in charge, whether 'Melo is a fan of the move or not. Phil wasn't proposing this to his soon-to-be free agent star but rather doing his best to convince him of its benefits.
The team surely has hurdles to climb in negotiations to retain Anthony. Carmelo has made it clear that he's not receptive to sacrificing any more of his prime on a rebuilding team. As the Knicks are currently constructed, next year's group doesn't appear to be in for a major change in fortune—even with Anthony back.
Kerr's inexperience may be a factor that Anthony will consider, but as Jackson articulated to him in the Tribeca steakhouse last week, the coach would essentially be an extension of the Zen Master himself. Taking into account all the potential variables that 'Melo will contemplate, the expected hiring of Kerr probably won't be one that moves the needle much in either direction.
To put a Kerr-led Knicks team into context, we must first consider Anthony's other options.
A number of teams have the chance to open up max-level salary-cap space this season, but Anthony's desire to play in a larger market rules out viable but lower-profile options such as the Phoenix Suns, Washington Wizards or Charlotte Bobcats.
Suitors must not only have the available space to sign Anthony, but provide him an immediate chance at a ring while playing in a market fit for his celebrity.
The Lakers, after Mike D'Antoni's exit, could be an attractive basketball option for Anthony. The location certainly fits the bill as a top market, but the team may wish to hold onto their salary-cap space for 2015, with eyes on that free-agency class—particularly Kevin Love—Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding reported in March:
Everything goes out the window if LeBron James opts out of his Heat contract and is interested in the Lakers this summer, but otherwise the Lakers plan to piece a roster together again next season around Kobe Bryant and save their cap space for 2015 free agents such as Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol and maybe James.
If the Lakers have a change of heart? According to the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan, Los Angeles' vacant coaching position could remain that way for some time. If the organization so chose, they could use the power to handpick a head coach as a perk in negotiations with 2014 free agents.
A more realistic scenario, though, that would provide a more direct path to a ring, would be Anthony opting for Houston.
The Rockets would presumably need to part with assets in a sign-and-trade to create the financial opportunity, but sliding Anthony into a lineup with James Harden and Dwight Howard would be a chance that 'Melo would surely consider.
When looking into that potential Big Three, though, a few concerns arise.
First, it's important to note that the defensive ineptitude of Harden and Anthony in the same lineup would be borderline unbearable, even with Howard patrolling the paint for Houston. According to 82games.com, Anthony allowed roughly 18 points to his opponents per 48 minutes in 2013-14, while Harden gave up 22 a night to his shooting-guard counterparts.
Kevin McHale leading the team could be another red flag for 'Melo, especially coming off two full seasons under the isolation-dependent Mike Woodson.
According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), both the Knicks' and Rockets' offenses were comprised of roughly the same number of combined isolations and post-ups—New York finished the season at 23 percent and McHale's Rockets ended at 21 percent.
As this past season wore on, and Woodson neglected to include much variance to his offense—particularly at the conclusions of games—Anthony's performance paid the price. With opponents expecting and receiving typical Anthony isolations, he didn't make one third of his shots—just 32.4 percent—during the last three minutes of games while the Knicks were ahead or behind by five points or less (via NBA.com, subscription required).
Anthony eventually grew tired of this, and let his frustrations be known publicly.
Woodson, on the late-game shots: "I'll take a shot from Melo all day long [in that situation]." Says some of those iso plays were designed.— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 12, 2013
Melo, on the late-game isolations: "Guys are kinda waiting around for me to do something. ... We've gotta get away from that. And we will."— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 12, 2013
With McHale at the helm, 'Melo may still have concerns with Houston as a destination.
This leaves Chicago as 'Melo's final outside possibility. And unfortunately for the Knicks, the Bulls seem to provide much more than any other suitor—New York included.
As great an individual scorer as Anthony is, teams that rely on him to be a focal point must adhere to a few guidelines. Among them: Strong point guard play (preferably coupled with fine leadership qualities); a defensive-minded center who can help reduce 'Melo's load a bit on offense if needed; strong perimeter defense to help cover Anthony's faults in that department, and reliable three-point shooters to kick out to when Anthony finds himself double-teamed.
Next season, the Bulls will return Derrick Rose, a top point guard in the league whose presence and profile Anthony would respect. They have defenders along the perimeter in Rose, Jimmy Butler, Tony Snell and others, which would help minimize any damage Anthony would create there. In Joakim Noah, they boast the league's Defensive Player of the Year, the team's second-best playmaker and a reliable scorer in his own right.
All this while playing under the coach whom seemingly everybody can buy into.
With Chicago, if the Bulls create the cap space to sign him, Anthony would be able to slide in as a final championship piece. All these options are favorable for 'Melo in their own respective ways, but the Bulls can offer 'Melo everything he's looking for.
The New Knicks
If Anthony was to return to the Knicks next season—Kerr or no Kerr—it's important to understand that it'll be incredibly difficult for Jackson to make the moves necessary to morph the Knicks into an overnight contender. Especially in comparison to Carmelo's external options, the Knicks are likely to put out a far lesser Anthony-led product.
Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani, if they opt into next season as expected, will restrict the Knicks from signing any notable free agents this summer aside from Anthony. They'll also be difficult to move in a trade, and if the Knicks do find a trade partner, they aren't likely to receive anything of great value back for what some analysts view as two of the NBA's worst contracts.
What Phil will attempt to sell to Anthony is the future beyond 2014, when the team will have room to add a player like Rajon Rondo or Marc Gasol.
Kerr will play an interesting role in these negotiations, though. It is widely assumed that Kerr, as a Jackson disciple, will make use of the triangle offense in New York—a system seemingly tailor made for Anthony's skillset.
Red Kerr (no relation), former NBA coach and Bulls broadcaster during Jackson's early coaching career in Chicago, spoke in 1992 to Phil's triangle and its effects on a young Michael Jordan. According to an article found in an April 1992 edition of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune:
"When Michael came into the league, every coach Chicago hired tired to get him the ball and get out of the way," Kerr said. "The last couple of years, the team has gone to the triangle that spreads the offense and makes Michael a better player."
The system is designed to avoid double-teaming and to open up passing and cutting lanes. It has taken the pressure off Jordan and given other Bulls more shots.
"They were all longing for the right system," Kerr said.
And they found it when they found the right coach.
Doesn't this sound awfully pertinent to Anthony, the star scorer who can't seem to find a perfect surrounding?
There's little doubt that the triangle would benefit Anthony, who could play the role of Jordan or Kobe Bryant in the system. It could bring ball and player movement, which has been nonexistent under Woodson's tenure, to the Knicks, and even work to shake Anthony's reputation as a selfish scorer.
To put it concisely: The triangle could be the system Anthony has been searching for his entire career.
What Really Matters
Aside from sacrificing a likely unsuccessful campaign in 2014-15 with New York, Anthony could have one other reasonable concern about returning.
Appointing a former player, executive and current broadcaster—who has never coached at any level—as the team's head coach certainly gives off the stench of a rebuild, which Anthony, who turns 30 this month, understandably wants no part of.
But it isn't quite that simple.
Simply put, Jackson, in all likelihood, wants to coach NBA basketball. But at 68, he understands his physical limitations and wouldn't be able to withstand the labors of truly coaching the team. As a resolution, his intent is to hire Kerr—rather than a Van Gundy, a George Karl, a Lionel Hollins—so that he can instill his coaching philosophy on the team without going through the physical and emotional exertions associated with coaching.
Phil made this clear to Anthony when he said, according to Herring's report, that he'd be readily available on the sidelines during training camp, and that he would be coaching 'Melo "by extension."
In reality, Kerr's hire would be beneficial for Anthony, who would be given the chance to learn from a basketball mind that's had the chance to experience the league from multiple perspectives—as a player, a front office executive and national broadcaster—and someone who seems to have a firm grasp on modern principals, such as floor spacing and emphasis on the corner three. In theory, he would be a direct pipeline from Jackson with a bit of modern nuance filtered in.
Still, the Knicks aren't Anthony's best option.
It's no fault of Kerr's. The team's current financial situation, coupled with its lack of draft selections this summer, will make it nearly impossible to assemble a 2014 title contender in one offseason.
Should 'Melo jump elsewhere, he'd be filling in as the final piece to a championship puzzle. If he re-signs in New York, the 2014-15 season would likely be a wash, bringing him to the age of 31 before he can even sniff title contention with a new-look 2015 Knicks roster.
Kerr is the right man for the job in New York. Unfortunately for Jackson's Knicks, a sound coaching hire won't be enough to wash away the mistakes of prior management—mistakes that may end up costing New York its star.
Follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.
Stat gathered from NBA.com, 82games.com and Synergy Sports.