Let's say that Carmelo Anthony ultimately decides to spurn the New York Knicks, terminating his contract a year early and seeking a new location in free agency. Not only does he opt out, but he actually ends up signing with a different team, whether it's the Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat or someone else entirely.
All of a sudden, the Knicks' future would look a lot darker.
Not just during the 2014-15 season when they'd be unable to replace Melo's contributions by virtue of having no financial flexibility or draft picks as a means to fill the void he left behind, but also during the 2015 offseason.
Everything has been gearing up for that summer.
In addition to the assurance that a number of stars are set to hit the open market the offseason after this one, New York has the luxury of basically clearing its books. According to ShamSports.com, not a single player has a guaranteed contract for the 2015-16 season.
J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton have player options, Pablo Prigioni's salary is guaranteed for only $290,000 (unless the Knicks make the second round of the playoffs during the coming season, in which case the guarantee jumps to $440,000) and Tim Hardaway has a team option.
Even if the full contracts are all picked up, New York still only has about $13.4 million committed, leaving room for three max players.
Will it matter? Only if the Knicks still have a shot at rostering Anthony, whether he's opted out and re-signed or just opted in for the 2014-15 campaign, leaving him set to hit the open market with a shot at re-signing nonetheless.
If he leaves this summer, he's gone. And that casts yet another shadow over the beleaguered 'Bockers franchise, preventing them from reeling in enough stars to regain the competitiveness they enjoyed in the late 1990s.
Appeal of Playing With Stars
There have been plenty of star collections formed in non-organic ways throughout the past decade. I'm not talking about groups formed through drafts and player development like the core of the San Antonio Spurs, but rather the ones built by using free agency and trades.
What do those two teams have in common?
The answer is not a certain Jesus Shuttlesworth, even if he technically was a common link on those two title-winning squads. I'm looking for the method of roster composition.
Each of the aforementioned teams utilized those non-organic methods, and they all did so while one superstar was already in place. For the C's, it was Pierce, who was—at the time—a career Celtic. For the Heat, Wade had played in South Beach ever since he was drafted at No. 5 by the organization back in 2003.
It's far easier to draw in other superstars when one is already in place. At least one, really.
While it might seem quite likely for a major organization like the Knicks, one that plays in a huge market and has a faithful following despite years of struggles, to reel in three marquee players in one fell swoop, there's literally no precedent for that happening. Stars join other stars who are already in place; they don't suddenly converge in one location when none of them have any prior footing.
Remember, we're operating under the assumption that Melo is gone, ne'er to return to Madison Square Garden in anything other than a visiting team's uniform.
Without him, who's going to be that established star who has already taken a bite out of the Big Apple?
Sadly enough, the best option may be Hardaway, seeing as he has a good bit of unrealized upside. That said, it seems unlikely he'll ever reach that astronomical status oh so necessary to luring other stars into a Knicks uniform.
It's hard to count on Iman Shumpert's development, though his stagnation might be undone now that Mike Woodson is no longer calling the shots. And there's no one else. Not on the current roster and certainly no one who will be added this offseason given the capped-out nature of the front office and the dearth of draft picks.
The addition of future stars during that 2015 offseason that's so filled with high expectations is an unlikely proposition, at least when considering the goal of drawing in enough players with celestial status to actually compete for a championship. Just one star is not enough.
Down the road, things could change, but the plan has always been to look at the summer after this one.
The Phil Jackson Luster
"Anthony's meeting with Knicks officials on Friday night had little impact on his state of mind, league sources said, because there remain too many uncertainties about how quickly president Phil Jackson can reshape the team into a championship contender," wrote Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski during his latest report on the superstar's future.
If confidence in Phil Jackson is waning, that's highly problematic for New York's ability to reshape the roster.
After all, so much of the free-agency appeal for the Knicks rests in the hands of the Zen Master. He's been an infallible presence on sidelines, winning championship after championship, and there's been a perceived aura of invincibility surrounding him ever since he signed on as president of basketball operations in MSG. All of a sudden, the Knicks have had a much greater level of sex appeal.
But if Melo departs, that invincibility is chipped away at, especially because of how hard Jackson has worked to persuade Anthony that he should opt in with the Knicks and allow the team one more season to convince him of a brighter future.
Per ESPN.com's Marc Stein: "Sources told ESPN.com that Knicks president Phil Jackson is continuing to urge Anthony to exercise next season's $23.3 million player option and put off unrestricted free agency for one more year."
And that's not it, as Jackson spoke on the Melo subject while introducing Derek Fisher as the new head coach of the team:
We're planning on meeting with Carmelo (again) in the near future. I want to express to him again I want to have him back on the team. We haven't heard one way or another about opt-in or opt-out. If he decides on free agency, he has a right to do that.
If those overtures are rebuffed, it's already the second major strike during Jackson's brief tenure in the front office. The first would be missing out on Steve Kerr, the overwhelming No. 1 choice to take the job that Fish now occupies.
Grantland's Netw3rk wrote about that exact subject in the wake of Kerr choosing the Golden State Warriors over his former coach's team. The entire piece is worth a read, but this is the portion most applicable to the current situation:
The press conference announcing Phil’s hiring was most notable for the star-struck manner that Dolan affected toward Phil, and the way Dolan seemed eager, as if throwing off a great burden, to cede control to Phil and his winner’s mystique.
Does Phil missing out on his first choice damage his allure? I think it dims the glow a bit, yeah. Anyway, let’s hope Dolan is still blinded by it.
If Jackson's allure was dimmed by a coach with no experience on the sidelines spurning him, then what happens when a superstar does the same? Even worse, what happens when that superstar is Anthony, a New York native who forced a trade to his hometown team only a few years back?
Does it go out entirely? Does Jackson become just another face in a front office, rendering his management career something that will stand in stark contrast to his tenure as a player or head coach?
That's probably going a bit too far, but it certainly won't increase the appeal. And the Knicks need all the positives they can get as they attempt to rebuild by adding superstars once the roster clears and overloads the franchise with financial flexibility.
Should Melo stay put, it could be the start of something special. Should he go, well, that could be leading the Knicks down an incredibly dangerous path, one that ends with regular-season exits throughout the foreseeable future.
The importance of his decision goes well beyond his presence on the roster.
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