The New York Knicks head into a pivotal offseason after a dismal 2013-14 campaign, with a new president, a new coach and a superstar in limbo. The franchise embarked on a fresh course when James Dolan hired Phil Jackson as team president in March; however, it is Carmelo Anthony who may decide which direction the franchise is heading.
Anthony, who stated prior to the season that he intends to opt out of the final year of his contract this summer and become a free agent, faces four possibilities: Re-sign with the Knicks for a maximum contract of $129.1 million over five years, return to New York for less money, sign with another team or agree to a sign-and-trade.
Once Anthony’s situation is resolved, Phil Jackson and his staff are unlikely to make any major additions this summer. The Knicks will be over the salary cap even if Melo does not re-sign, they have few desirable trade assets and do not possess a pick in the 2014 draft.
Management will attempt to upgrade the roster while maintaining financial flexibility for 2015, when Tyson Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani’s contracts come off the books. Point guard and frontcourt depth are the biggest areas of need.
The best-case scenario for the Knicks would be for Anthony to re-sign for less than maximum money. Carmelo is a sensational offensive player who New York would like to build around, but he does not excel at enough areas of the game to warrant $26 million a year (nearly half the salary cap). That would leave the Knicks insufficient cap space to surround him with the players necessary to win a championship.
Anthony expressed a willingness to take a pay cut a few months ago, via ESPN New York:
Without a doubt,” Anthony said while in New Orleans for All-Star Weekend. “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 [Knicks owner] Mr. [James] Dolan's steps saying take my money and let's build something strong over here.’
The seven-time All-Star did not indicate how much less he would be willing to take or what his criteria would be for doing so. One or two million dollars a year would make little difference to the Knicks, and expecting him to accept $15 million a year is unrealistic. If Anthony is willing to sign for $18-20 million per year, New York would be able add another star in 2015 and still have some money to work with.
Once Anthony is in the fold, Jackson and his staff can turn their attention to the rest of the roster. Ideally, they would sign a free-agent point guard such as Darren Collison, Sean Livingston or Ramon Sessions to a one-year deal for the mini mid-level exception ($3.287 million), then use veteran minimum contracts to fill out the front line.
New York should explore trading Chandler for young prospects and/or draft picks. The 13-year veteran is slowing down and is not in the team’s long-term plans unless he is willing to return at a significantly reduced rate in 2015. Yet, he still possesses value for a contending team in need of a defensive big man and should not be difficult to move in the last year of his contract.
Lastly, New York may be able to buy a second-round pick in what is considered to be the deepest draft in years. Mitch McGary out of the University of Michigan could be a prime target.
The 6’10” forward may have been a lottery pick if he had entered the 2013 draft after his freshman year, though his stock plummeted after a back injury forced him to miss most of the 2013-14 season. McGary can bang down low and plays with a ton of energy, not to mention his above-average passing ability makes him a nice fit for the triangle offense.
The worst-case scenario for the Knicks would be to re-sign Anthony to a maximum-salary contract of $129.1 million. Sure, the Knicks would sell plenty of tickets and could remain competitive throughout the course of the contract, but they could not contend for a title with so much money tied up in one player.
Jackson does not seem inclined to pay Anthony the maximum. The Zen Master recently said he wants to see if Carmelo is “true to his word” and willing to accept less money, via Peter Botte of the New York Daily News. Jackson noted that Tim Duncan and LeBron James set a precedent by sacrificing money in order to compete for a championship, via Botte.
However, Anthony’s situation is quite different than James and Duncan’s. Those two players took less money with the certainty that they would play with two other stars, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in Duncan’s case, and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for LeBron.
Carmelo has no such assurances. He must rely on faith that the Knicks will be able to lure one or more great players to New York when they have cap space available in 2015. Anthony’s history suggests that he is unwilling to take such a chance. In signing each of his last two contracts, he opted for the maximum amount of money over the possibility of placing himself in a more favorable situation.
Furthermore, though Jackson may prefer letting Anthony walk to paying him $129.1 million, his boss may disagree. Dolan turned over complete control of basketball operations to Jackson, though nobody would be surprised if he went back on his word and retained Anthony against Jackson’s wishes.
The owner is obsessed with stars and will be reluctant to allow Anthony to walk after he surrendered so much to acquire him (overruling then president of basketball operations Donnie Walsh in the process).
If Dolan does countermand Jackson’s authority, management could quickly revert to the delusional thinking and shortsighted tactics that have derailed the franchise for the past 15 years. The Knicks may resume trading young assets such as Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert, as well as future draft picks, for marginal players who they believe can help them win now.
Jackson was recently asked if it would be a “disaster” if Anthony signed elsewhere, via Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:
I’m all about moving forward,” Jackson said at the team’s practice facility in Greenburgh. “Just deal with what is and move forward. If it’s in the cards, man, are we fortunate. If it’s not in the cards, man, are we fortunate. We’re going forward anyway.
Knicks fans better hope Jackson really is calling the shots. Losing Anthony without compensation would be a significant blow. Signing him to a maximum-salary contract would be a disaster.