When it comes to NBA basketball, New Yorkers haven't exactly been blessed with tremendous success, or even a consistent winner. In Carmelo Anthony, though, Knicks fans have had the chance to take in one of the league's most gifted scorers every night for the last three-and-a-half seasons.
But if Anthony's stay in the Big Apple ends this summer, and the city is stripped of its only awe-inspiring talent, would Knicks fans be able to forgive the star they traded four starters to Denver for, back when the Knicks were thought to be title contenders on the rise?
With just one playoff-series win since the trade, would the star that Knicks fans clamored for and have rallied around for four years suddenly morph into public enemy No. 1?
Losing a player of 'Melo's caliber would be difficult for any fanbase to stomach. Considering what it took to bring him to New York, though, and a modest 141-118 record since the blockbuster deal, watching Anthony flee the city to chase championships would surely rub some fans the wrong way.
But it'd be a move that, at this point in his career, he has earned the right to make.
After the Knicks have essentially wasted four years of his prime, epically failing to surround him with the right combination of teammates, Anthony's seen firsthand how inept the organization can be. Phil Jackson is on board, but it may even be too late for the Zen Master to right the prior regime's wrongs, in 'Melo's mind.
The Closing Window
When a 26-year-old Anthony first orchestrated his Manhattan arrival in 2011, time wasn't considered an obstacle.
He had just signed a fresh extension immediately prior to the deal, and although the Knicks were forced to surrender several assets—Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov and a glut of draft picks, including this year's 11th overall selection—to bring Anthony over, three years seemed to be more than enough time for New York's front office to build a winner around its star, as he moved into his prime years.
Three summers later, Anthony is now 30, still ringless and without any hint of extended playoff success with the Knicks.
The front office doomed his present by failing to address glaring needs both on the court (i.e. letting Jeremy Lin walk in favor of Raymond Felton) and at head coach (failing to interview any candidates after 2011-12 and simply removing the interim tag from Mike Woodson's job title). They did their best to sour 'Melo on the future as well, by dealing away every tradable draft pick until 2018.
Phil Jackson's infusion throughout the organization is already apparent, with two-fifths of the starting lineup being sent to the Dallas Mavericks last week. After a lengthy career filled with admiration and respect from his teammates, Derek Fisher has been yanked from the Oklahoma City Thunder's bench and tabbed as head coach moving forward.
Jackson's Knicks are surely different than the ones Anthony had previously led—the ones forever mired in mediocrity. But the prominent dilemma Anthony faces isn't if Jackson can build a winner in MSG, it's when?
Already 30 years old, still searching for playoff highlights to attach to his image, the time for Anthony to take part in a franchise overhaul has come and gone. The Knicks may be a viable option in 2016 or 2017, after Jackson's imprint has fully permeated throughout the franchise, and New York has signed a top-flight free agent or two.
But waiting isn't what Anthony can afford any longer. Waiting is what he's done since 2011. And this is where it's led him.
With Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, 'Melo could act as the final piece to a Bulls team that has been formidable even without any type of offensive threat. If Pat Riley's "pipe-dream" becomes a possibility, and Anthony is given the chance to team up with LeBron James and friends in South Beach, how could he turn away that type of opportunity?
If Anthony was still 26, this would be a much different conversation. As he looks for his final long-term NBA contract, he's looking for a destination that can net him championship rings—plural—as soon as possible.
The Knicks may be that option eventually, but nobody can blame 'Melo for not wanting to be patient any longer.
An important factor in Anthony's free agency lies in the cap situations of his primary suitors. The Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets, who are believed by Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski to be Anthony's top suitors, will almost certainly require a sign-and-trade deal to land the star.
The Bulls aren't operating with much cap room at all currently, but that could change with a Carlos Boozer amnesty. The Houston Rockets, after shipping Omer Asik to the New Orleans Pelicans for a first-round pick, have some cap space, but it's not anywhere near 'Melo territory.
If Anthony is to land with either Houston or Chicago, the Knicks will probably be getting a return of players and/or draft selections back as compensation. That would surely help Knicks fans' aching hearts as the team builds toward a bigger future.
Houston could include Jeremy Lin, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas or even Chandler Parsons in a sign-and-trade transaction. The Bulls have Boozer's expiring to offer, along with Mike Dunleavy and the rights to European star Nikola Mirotic. Both teams have several picks they could throw into a deal as well.
In the off chance that Anthony signs outright via cap space with his new team, yes, the Knicks would be losing him for nothing, but that "nothing" is more than $20 million in salary cap space to spend next summer or the one that follows, either on a star or divvied up between several impact free agents.
If Anthony gives Jackson an early indication that he's leaving, the Knicks have several routes they can take—most of which should help hasten New York's rebuild post-'Melo.
Anthony's detractors through his decade-long career have had no problem letting their voices be heard. It's true that he has never left a dime on the table in negotiations, dating back to when he signed a max extension with the Nuggets in 2006 and, most recently, forcing his way to the Knicks via an extend-and-trade in 2011.
If Anthony decides to bolt New York, though, call it the first documented instance of Anthony making a winning-oriented monetary sacrifice. With the Knicks, Anthony can rake in a max of five years, $129 million—which, according to the New York Daily News' Frank Isola, he expects to be offered. Elsewhere, teams can top out with four-year, $96 million offers.
Also, with teams like Chicago, Houston or Miami, Anthony would be joining up with teams already having championship nuclei in place. Unlike with the Knicks, Carmelo wouldn't be the team's focal point, or even the player generally relied on in crunch time. With those teams, Anthony would be the secondary star.
To some, the word "sacrifice" has never been directly associated with Anthony. But what Anthony has seemingly craved the most—superstar recognition and superstar salary—would both be sacrificed with a relocation this summer.
As his prime years come to an end some time during this upcoming contract, Anthony now understands these sacrifices are necessary if he wants to finally reach the league's peak.
This summer could be Anthony's chance to finally put an end to the slander by submitting to lower status and leaving significant cash on the table to better position himself for a title.
After watching Anthony battle his heart out through 77 games last season—most of which were essentially meaningless—Knicks fans know that this Anthony isn't deserving of the backlash he still receives.
If he makes further sacrifices by relocating for less pay and a lesser role, it'll be something that every NBA fan should be able to commend—regardless of their allegiance.
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