Phil Jackson sure has a way with words.
A notable quotable for decades now, the Zen Master often nestles a stronger, albeit subtle message in what he leaves unsaid versus what he actually utters.
[W]e have every confidence that Carmelo is good for what his word is, that he wants to be in New York, he likes playing in New York, he wants to compete, he wants to be part of a playoff team that is competitive toward a championship.
When I take his word, he's the one who opened that up, that it wasn't about the money. So I challenged him on that, because I wanted our fans to see he's a team player, that he was going to do what's best to get our team ahead farther and faster.
On the surface, it appears Phil is simply saying that Anthony's chances are very good at returning to the New York Knicks. After all, that's as much as he's apparently told Jackson. 'Melo wants to win, and Phil wants to build a winner. Match made, right?
Not so fast. Carmelo opted out to test the market for a reason.
Though the Knicks had a nice draft showing on Thursday night, shuffled the deck by recently trading Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Dallas Mavericks for usable parts and will start fresh with Derek Fisher as coach, they're still capped out until next offseason and coming off a forgettable 37-45, ninth place showing last year.
And as Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley recently pointed out, with the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Chicago Bulls all firmly in the hunt, it's harder and harder to envision the Knicks as anything close to front-runners when re-wooing their star: "All three of these suitors could offer a faster track to relevance than the cash-strapped Knicks. Each would put an instantly upgraded supporting cast around him while providing a coach who could maximize his strengths or minimize his weaknesses."
So get out your pocket pith translators and you'll see the challenge being lobbed Carmelo's way by the Knicks President of Basketball Everything:
You've played the good soldier role in the media by saying you love New York, want to play for a winner and will take less money. If your actions don't match those words and involve the Knicks, well then, that would officially make you a... Just remember that as you are sitting down with the Rockets, Mavs, LA Lakers, Miami Heat and/or Bulls this offseason.
Is this a fair move by Phil Jax when he knows full well that there was nothing else Carmelo Anthony could have said to this point with the Knicks or the media? After all, free agency hasn't even officially opened yet (that happens on July 1), so hard indications one way or another would be foolish. And illegal.
Plus, 'Melo needs to keep all his options open as any good negotiator would.
If he returns to New York, then he'll want fans to know it was about the Knicks and Phil and everything that brought him to the Big Apple in the first place. If he decides to leave, then his new employers need to know that he took the requisite pay cut with winning expectations in mind. The Knicks will need to know that he gave them the best shot he could, weak and dysfunctional rosters notwithstanding.
That's how the game is played by every free-agent star every offseason.
But Phil Jackson is a master of his game, too. Having helmed big-market basketball dynasties in Chicago and Los Angeles, and having previously done a championship tour or two in NYC as well, Phil knows that the story's gotta sell and that public pressure is a useful weapon tool.
Will this type of nudging have Phil's desired effect on Anthony, motivating him to stay the course and live out his basketball destiny in New York? Or is Jackson just covering his bases, preemptively shifting the blame onto the departed if Carmelo decides to pursue a better (more immediate) chance at winning elsewhere?
Anthony's actions will speak louder than words. His or Phil's.