While a lucky few teams scramble and scheme for ways to bolster their superstar cores, the New York Knicks would be completely content just to keep the one they had.
We’re talking, of course, about Carmelo Anthony, who will officially become a free agent at 12:01 a.m. on July 1.
Even after unloading Tyson Chandler’s $15 million contract, the Knicks have little hope of luring any of the summer’s other big names—including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh—without a colossally clever calculus.
Pairing Anthony with a more versatile, offensively talented big man is certainly a nice idea, not to mention a way to throw Jackson's overhaul into higher gears. So how, exactly, can the Knicks pull it off?
Step 1: "Paint" a Picture
First, the facts: It was ESPN.com’s Marc Stein who first reported that Jackson could seek out Gasol in an attempt to bring Anthony back into the fold:
Sources told ESPN.com this week that the Knicks swung their trade with the Mavericks to send out Chandler and the out-of-favor Raymond Felton to bring back a clutch of veterans in return -- headlined by point guard Jose Calderón -- in their belief that Anthony would relish the prospect of playing with the Spaniard. Calderon has been a perimeter threat and a beloved teammate everywhere he's played.
Jackson has made no bones about his desire to install the triangle offense, a feeling that was all but confirmed in his hiring of Derek Fisher to be New York’s next head coach, via USA Today’s Larry Berger.
Under Jackson, Gasol became the quintessential triangle center—that rare breed of post player as skilled at scoring and passing as picking and rebounding. And while Gasol isn’t near the rim protector Chandler was, his offensive value may well more than make up for it.
This has to be Jackson’s primary basketball selling point to Anthony: That, even at 33 years old, Gasol’s skill set is one that will not only help New York’s often anemic offense, but boost Melo’s own efficiency as well.
Gasol may not be James, but as a frontcourt complement—smart, skilled and unselfish—Anthony would be hard-pressed to do better.
Step 2: Call in a Favor
Within two short years of Jackson’s triangle tutelage, however, Gasol had asserted himself as a bona fide basketball elite. Not to mention a two-time NBA champion.
Phil can’t take all the credit for this, of course. But as a matter of practical principle, subtly using L.A.’s pair of title runs should be fair strategic game for Jackson. Call it the sentimentality of success.
In order to sign with New York, Gasol would absolutely have to take a pay cut—$4 million a year, in fact, per Stein’s report. Which is why Jackson will have to sell his former frontcourt star not just on the basketball benefits of balling in the Big Apple (New York’s more immediate rebuild blueprint, for example), but the fringe ones as well.
A chance to play 41 days a year in the World’s Most Famous Arena, being in the vanguard of the Knicks’ cultural revolution, shorter flights to his native Spain, a chance to possibly team up with brother Marc Gasol, himself slated to hit the free-agent market next summer: These are—and ought to be—big selling points for Gasol. But it’s up to Jackson to pull them from the conversational quiver.
It’s something the Zen Master has done masterfully on the Melo front, where Jackson’s had no qualms at all about holding Anthony to his financial word, via Stein:
But the perception is we want Carmelo to be as interested in winning. When saying he's competitive and wants to be on a competitive team to also being able to demonstrate that if push comes to shove in a situation where he may have to take a little bit less and we're more competitive to bring in another player to help us bring this concept along.
There are millions of reasons Gasol could sign with another team, be it in L.A. or elsewhere. Getting him to see past that—to grasp the glory to be had in bringing another banner to New York—could prove to be Jackson’s biggest discursive challenge.
Step 3: Pitch the Process
Jackson may be earnest in his desire to rebuild the Knicks quickly and effectively. But rings weren’t built in a day, and if Gasol and Anthony share a common quip with signing in New York, it lies in the ticks and tocks of their respective career clocks.
What Jackson must do, then, is convince the two that New York—which stands to have significant cap space next summer—gives them the best chance to solidify not only their basketball largesse, but their legacies as well.
Should Jackson land both Anthony and Gasol, New York’s opening-night starting lineup would likely be as follows: Jose Calderon, Iman Shumpert, Anthony, Gasol and either Andrea Bargnani or Amar’e Stoudemire.
The 2004 Detroit Pistons that unit is not. But nor is it a package of peanuts, either. And with a bench featuring Tim Hardaway Jr., J.R. Smith and one of the aforementioned forwards, the Knicks would easily land in the upper half of most analysts’ preseason power rankings.
Even if his big gambit fails, CBS New York's John Schmeelk believes Jackson's ultimate goal of overhauling New York's carelessly constructed, capped-out roster remains fully intact:
But Jackson doesn’t seem to care. Instead, he is moving forward in building the best team possible, whether it is with Anthony or not. With Melo’s future in the air, he has no other choice but to take that course. Jackson is worrying about the future and stockpiling assets, so when a good potential trade does come along he has the pieces to make a deal happen. This is a philosophy the Knicks haven’t had in a very long time.
Cobble together a 45-win season, and there’s little reason to believe the Knicks won’t be at the fore of 2015’s free-agent frenzy. That contention really could happen that quickly, while doubtlessly optimistic, is something on which Jackson absolutely has to harp.
Step 4: Profit
During his predraft press conference, via Stein, Jackson stated that his first major trade sends “a message to all of our players that we are on the move and we are making changes."
He wasn’t kidding.
Four short months ago, the Knicks were a hot mess of putrid play and corrosive chemistry. And while Jackson’s early moves suggest a significant cultural sea change, righting this long wayward ship cannot be done by one man’s hands alone.
Is a core of Anthony and Gasol enough to attract big-name free agents?
But making the moves he’s made—and for the reasons he’s made them—proves that Jackson’s vision is one well worth heeding. It’s the kind of clout 13 championship rings are bound to buy you. The real goal is in making most of the spare change.
Knicks fans hoping for a miracle first-year turnaround would be better served watching YouTube clips of the 1998-99 San Antonio Spurs. Although Jackson would be lying if he claimed the endgame wasn’t somewhat the same: to foster a franchise culture where family and winning forever trump financial windfalls.
Which is why, if successfully convincing Gasol to come to the Knicks on a discount results in Anthony’s return, it would be the clearest sign yet that Jackson’s plan could be one to stand the test of time—and titles.