Why Gasol Is New York Knicks' Last—and Best—Hope for Keeping Carmelo

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Why Gasol Is New York Knicks' Last—and Best—Hope for Keeping Carmelo
USA TODAY Sports

Of the handful of teams expected to make a run at Carmelo Anthony this summer, each has its primary selling point.

For the Miami Heat, it’s about forming the most feared foursome in the NBA. For the Chicago Bulls, it’s a chance to play alongside Derrick Rose. And for the Los Angeles Lakers, it's about rebuilding a champ from scratch alongside Kobe Bryant.

Meanwhile, the New York Knicks are left pinning their hopes of keeping Melo around to a 34-year-old Spanish big man with 55 DNPs over the past two seasons.

But Pau Gasol doesn't just represent the Knicks’ best chance of retaining Anthony; at this point, he might be their only chance.

Per ESPN’s Marc Stein, Anthony will kick off his much anticipated free-agent tour with a Tuesday meeting in Chicago:

Sources told ESPN.com that Anthony is in the process of arranging a trip to Chicago to meet with the Bulls, then intends to travel to Texas for Wednesday meetings with both the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks.

Sources say Anthony is likely to visit the Rockets first on Wednesday, followed by the Mavericks in the afternoon.

Anthony, who maintains an offseason home in Los Angeles, is also expected to meet with the Los Angeles Lakers face-to-face next week.

Include Miami in the mix and you’re talking about a quintet of teams responsible for 17 of the league's last 23 titles.

To say Knicks president Phil Jackson has his work cut out for him would be an understatement.

And while New York can offer him a max deal of $129 million, Anthony has stated on more than one occasion—beginning with an All-Star weekend press conference—that he’s more than willing to take a pay cut for a chance at a championship:

Without a doubt. Any opportunity I have to build that up in New York, I'd do it. I told people all the time, always say, 'If it takes me taking a pay cut, I'll be the first one on [Knicks owner] Mr. [James] Dolan's steps saying take my money and let's build something strong over here.

You have to believe such a sentiment would apply to other teams as well, a notion all but confirmed by the fact that few—if any—of Anthony’s suitors will be willing or able to offer him a full-max five-year contract.

Not surprisingly, Jackson has seized on Anthony’s apparent financial fealty in an effort to give New York as much flexibility as possible should the All-Star forward decide to return. From ESPN’s Marc 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.

Now, the onus is on Jackson to convince Anthony that bringing in Gasol—whom New York, according to Stein, would only be able to pay upwards of $4 million per season—gives the Knicks a legitimate shot of contending in a weak Eastern Conference.

This may be putting the cart before the horse, of course; Jackson would still have to persuade his onetime Lakers star to take a chance on New York.

There certainly exist creative ways around that problem, including (but not limited to) guaranteeing Gasol a front-office position once he retires.

But when it comes to winning an actual championship—something Gasol has stated remains his top priority as recently as this March 14 interview with Marca—can the Knicks really compete with the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Chicago Bulls or any of the other genuine contenders looking for one last piece to push them over the top?

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Selling Anthony on Gasol being a better basketball pairing than Tyson Chandler is the easy part; both are great fits for the triangle offense—the system made famous by Jackson which appears poised for a reboot under first-year head coach Derek Fisher.

Such a case may be necessary in convincing Anthony to stay, but as Posting & Toasting's Seth Rosenthal recently pointed out, that doesn't mean it's sufficient:

Unless Jackson's an exceptional salesman (which he might be!), I have trouble picturing the Gasol addition being a huge draw for Melo, but I can definitely see how a happy Pau, a new friend in Jose Calderon, Melo, and the Knicks' shooters could found a pleasing offense. And a horrid defense, but, well, you don't become a powerhouse in an instant.

You can’t accuse the Zen Master of not trying: By flipping Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Dallas Mavericks for Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington and a pair of 2014 second-rounders (Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo), Jackson signaled to both Anthony and the rest of the league that the Knicks were “on the move,” per ESPN New York’s Ian Begley.

Seth Wenig/Associated Press

To land Anthony and Gasol, though, Jackson will have to pull off quite the negotiative juggling act in extracting from each a commitment to sign should the other agree in kind.

If the Knicks have one thing trending in their favor, though, it’s that Jackson and Anthony have, according to Stein, “connected” somewhat in the months since the former’s hiring on March 18.

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To what degree is obviously impossible to say. Still, Jackson will most certainly have Anthony’s ear all the way up to the moment when the dotted line is signed—regardless of who’s handing Melo the pen.

Which is why, more than any other ancient koan or Native American mantra, Jackson must emphasize that bringing Gasol aboard gives Anthony the best chance to achieve his threefold goal: win a championship, get paid and do good by his family.

Even without Anthony’s contract, the Knicks are about as cap-strapped as any team in the league. As such, they’ve put themselves in a position where any appeal to Anthony must be made more along the lines of loyalty and sentiment than championship potential.

Getting Gasol on the cheap will be no easy feat. But it might just mean the difference between the Knicks keeping their prodigal prize and watching him ride off into some other sunset.

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