Steve Kerr has opted for the Golden State Warriors over the New York Knicks. If you’re the Knicks, you have to be ready to push the panic button. Now. Kerr spurning them signals that Carmelo Anthony may be departing for the Chicago Bulls.
The biggest thing for me is, I want to be happy every day. I want to be in partnership with the people on the team. And the one thing that a lot of the coaches that I talked to said was, you have to have talent. And Golden State has talent.
Implied in that statement is, “Golden State has talent…and New York doesn’t.”
Furthermore, Kerr said:
Ultimately, it was agonizing to say no to Phil because of what I think of him and what he's done for my career. When Phil Jackson asks you to coach the Knicks, how do you say no? I think they're going to turn it around, but going to be [sic] a big undertaking and it's going to take time.
Anthony will be 30 next season, and when you’re a former scoring champion hitting his 30s, the last thing you want to hear is “it’s going to take time.” Time is not on your side.
Kerr’s assessment isn’t off. The Knicks, even with Anthony enjoying a career high in win shares, missed the postseason entirely in a weak Eastern Conference. That says all you need to know about the supporting cast in New York.
Furthermore, the Knicks have little in the way of draft picks in the upcoming seasons to improve that cast. They owe their lottery pick this year to the Denver Nuggets, ironically because of the Anthony trade. According to RealGM.com, they also owe their first-round pick in 2016 to Toronto.
The one thing that the Knicks had going for them was cap space in the summer of 2015. ShamSports.com says they'll only have $13.4 million on the books by then. Ideally, even after adding Anthony’s salary, the Knicks would have enough left to add a max-contract player and elevate themselves back into elite status.
At least that was the dream they were hoping to sell to Anthony.
And that’s the rub. This isn’t just a story about Kerr—it’s a story about the viability of the dream.
Either Kerr’s choice was partly based on Anthony’s future, or it will impact Anthony’s decision. By choosing the Warriors, Kerr either didn’t buy into the dream, or he popped it.
Why wouldn’t Kerr buy into the dream?
It’s possible that Anthony has already decided he’s leaving and that Kerr was made aware of it. Thus, when he’s talking about Golden State’s talent advantage, he’s bearing in mind the Knicks are about to lose their most talented player and a rebuilding process is ahead.
Marc Berman of The New York Post reported on May 2:
One person familiar with the situation said Kerr wouldn’t even consider the Knicks under the old James Dolan-Steve Mills pre-Jackson power structure. Kerr also considers it vital for Carmelo Anthony to re-sign, so accepting the job would mean he’s convinced it will happen.
At the very least, it appears that Kerr wasn't convinced that Anthony was going to stick around.
Even teammate and close friend Amar’e Stoudemire seems more hopeful than certain. Per Ian Begley of ESPN New York, he told Colin Cowherd of ESPN Radio, “My gut feeling is that Carmelo will be staying. That's my gut feeling right now today but I'm not totally sure.”
It’s interesting that Stoudemire is “not totally sure,” and apparently, since he is depending on a “gut feeling,” he has received no assurances from Anthony. Considering their friendship, that’s a pretty telling point. It’s enough to raise reasonable doubts that Anthony is staying and that Stoudemire’s gut feeling is more than mere hoping.
So how could Kerr pop the dream?
It’s possible that Anthony hasn’t made up his mind, but Kerr’s decision could influence him. If the Knicks’ plan for the future is hinging on the impact of Phil Jackson in the front office and his ability to sell free agents on the vision, Kerr’s renunciation of that dream speaks volumes.
After all, this is a man who said, “It was agonizing to say no to Phil because of what I think of him and what he's done for my career.”
What Jackson did for Kerr’s career is help him win three rings. If someone with that much personal attachment to Jackson wasn’t sold on the vision, how will players who have no relationship with him at all buy it?
That question has to be haunting Anthony. How many years does he have left where he’s a principle factor in an NBA title? At most he has four or five, and his next contract will determine where he spends those years, and correspondingly, whether that happens at all.
For a player who was already noncommittal at best about staying, this has to be a push in the wrong direction from the Knicks' perspective.
And while he’s being pushed on one side, he’s being pulled on the other.
According to several sources, including a teammate, Noah’s All-Star Weekend “conversation’’ with New York Knicks standout Carmelo Anthony didn’t end in New Orleans. They had discussions via text the rest of the season, including the day after the Bulls were eliminated in the playoffs by the Washington Wizards. ...
Sources said Noah has been in Anthony’s ear as often as possible, and he has told other Bulls to push hard for Anthony this summer. But there is one condition: Backup big man Taj Gibson can’t be sacrificed.
Yes, that would require a pay cut on Anthony’s part and probably would involve letting go of Mike Dunleavy Jr., who has a high-value contract. But it’s within the realm of possibility.
In his previously referenced article, Begley states, “(Anthony’s) also said that his top priority is to put himself in position to win a title. The Bulls, (Los Angeles) Lakers, (Los Angeles) Clippers, (Houston) Rockets and (Dallas Mavericks) are among a group of teams expected to show interest in Anthony.”
Of those teams, assuming cap space and potential to win are factors, the Bulls stand alone.
The Clippers and Rockets are contenders but don’t have the cap space. Also, they are in the far more competitive Western Conference. The Lakers present the same competitive limitations as the Knicks.
The Mavericks have the cap space and are competitors, but resident superstar Dirk Nowitzki is going to be 36. He probably doesn’t have four more good years ahead of him.
The Bulls' stars are all under 30.
And while those are all teams that are interested in Anthony, there is one team that we know Anthony is mulling over joining. He asked a former Bull what it was like to play under Tom Thibodeau, according to Frank Isola of The New York Daily News. Isola quotes Anthony on Thibodeau:
Thibs is a great coach, his system kind of reminds me of Gregg Popovich’s system. You put anybody in that system and it’s going to work. That’s what they’ve been doing. They’ve had guys sitting out all season long, guys that’s been in and out of the lineups and they seem to get it done.
You can understand why the Bulls would have an appeal to Anthony. It’s a perfect situation for him. The one need they have, scoring, is the thing he does the best. The Bulls finished dead last in points per game this season.
Going to Chicago would mean he wouldn’t have to sacrifice his scoring. He could be the man, or at least share that responsibility with Derrick Rose.
His problem in New York is that there aren’t any role players. In Chicago, especially with Rose injured, the Bulls have been nothing but role players.
But they’re the best darned role players in the business. They’re so good at being role players they won 48 games this season and the No. 4 seed in the playoffs. Noah was so good at being a role player he finished fourth in the MVP voting because he does everything but score.
Yes, the Bulls got bounced in the first round because they couldn’t score, but nothing solves that problem like effectively adding two of the best offensive players in the game.
If Anthony comes to Chicago and Rose can stay healthy, they do just that.
Complementing Rose and Anthony would be three outstanding defensive players in Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Noah—all of whom could end up on the All-Defensive team this year.
Then, for good measure add as many as four first-round picks and the best player in Europe, Nikola Mirotic, by the summer of 2015, when the Knicks might start rebuilding.
All of this is headed up by the second-best coach in the business.
Plus, he gets to still play in the weaker Eastern Conference and still be in one of the few markets that is close to New York in terms of size.
Even the two dominant teams in the conference are about to take a hit. The Miami Heat might be playing their last year with the “Big Three” of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. At most, they have one more season with all three. The Indiana Pacers might be about to lose Lance Stephenson, their starting shooting guard.
The Bulls with Anthony would be the elite team in the conference. Winning the title is easier if you get to the NBA Finals, and that road is easier to travel in the East.
The point being: The Bulls already have a more attractive vision to sell than the Knicks do.
Now, the Knicks' dream just got a whole lot harder to pitch. It’s possible they were hanging on to Anthony by a thread, and that thread was Kerr.
Kerr may have decided to leave because he doesn’t believe Anthony is staying, or he might be leaving because the vision in New York doesn't persuade him. That will send a message to Anthony. Either way, it’s hard to see Anthony sticking around in New York.
It’s not at all hard to imagine that Noah’s phone is ringing today.
All stats are from Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise stated.