Re-signing Carmelo Anthony is only the beginning.
After much ado, after a protracted period of doubt, indecision and slight confusion, the New York Knicks got their guy. Following various reports, Anthony announced it himself via his website ThisIsMelo.com, saying, "This organization has supported me and in return, I want to stay and build here with this city and my team."
Frank Isola of the New York Daily News was the first to report that Anthony would resist overtures made by the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets and remain with the team he forced his way to in 2011. League sources told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports that Anthony "will sign a five-year, $120 million-plus contract" with the Knicks.
Retaining Anthony is yet another victory for rookie president Phil Jackson, who has been a busy Zen Master since assuming control of the embattled Knicks organization in March.
In the last month alone, he's managed to dispatch a disconnected Tyson Chandler and flak-magnet Raymond Felton, upgrade the point guard position with Jose Calderon and secure three second-round picks within a deep draft the Knicks weren't slated to participate in.
Now he has Anthony locked down for the next five years.
And now the real work begins.
Whatever Jackson pitched during his numerous meetings with Anthony worked.
We can frame this as a financially driven decision—because it was—but Anthony told a friend he "believes in Phil," per Isola. He believes that in addition to padding his bank account, Jackson can make him a champion.
He believes that Jackson can fix this mess the Knicks are still working their way out of.
Improvements must be made at the most fundamental levels, starting with the team's system. Anthony has never played in a structured, contrived system that doesn't call for him to exploit his one-on-one talents almost every possession.
"I believe in system basketball," Jackson said at his introductory press conference.
In came player-turned-coach Derek Fisher to implement that system. He's the coach Jackson wanted, despite not being Steve Kerr, the Golden State Warriors head coach who was, at one point, considered the only candidate to succeed Mike Woodson.
Fisher remains plan B, but he's still Jackson's guy, someone he ardently endorsed. Someone—a coaching novice—the Knicks don't hire if Jackson isn't pulling the strings.
Someone who is already touting the Knicks' 37-win roster as it lies, per the New York Post's Marc Berman:
(Anthony) wants to win, wants to be successful. The time I had the visit with him, I just shared with him we’ll be a better basketball team because we’ll play the game a better way, play as a team, play with a system and format to allow the game to be easier for him and his teammates.
"Easier" is not often a word associated with Anthony and the Knicks. Injuries and puzzling roster moves forced Melo to carry a majority of the offensive burden these last few years, and the lack of help is the primary reason why many pundits and fans deemed him a serious flight risk this summer.
Jackson and Fisher need to make good on their promise. It's Fisher who will technically be installing a system—the triangle, no doubt—but Jackson will be lording over everything he does, hence his decision to hire a rookie head coach he could mentor.
If the Knicks don't learn how to play system basketball, if attempts to infuse structure accidentally invoke chaos, it's on Jackson. It's on Fisher, too, but the Knicks are gradually becoming a spitting image of Jackson's vision, right down to Anthony and his contract.
The onus, then, falls on him more than it does anyone else.
Promising a culture change isn't enough, of course.
Changing the system is easier, as it's something Jackson and Fisher have direct control over. Putting the right personnel in place is a different story.
Most of Anthony's concerns are roster-related, according to Berman. Jackson alleviated some of the uncertainty with his predraft activity, but Anthony has been left hoping against hope that Jackson finds a way to make more immediate upgrades.
That's just what the Zen Master has on his mind, to his credit, as Moke Hamilton of The Knicks Blog reveals:
Anyone who thought that Phil Jackson came to New York City to sit around and wait until July 2015 may be mistaken. According to a league source, his grandiose vision of building a contender may begin sooner than anyone—even Carmelo Anthony—thought possible.
On the heels of a Monday morning account from ESPN that states the Knicks have engaged the Philadelphia 76ers on a salary-dumping Amar’e Stoudemire trade, a league front office source tells SNY.tv and The Knicks Blog that the Knicks have also been shopping Andrea Bargnani. Jackson, according to the source, recently rebuffed a trade offer that would have seen Bargnani and Tim Hardaway Jr. sent out in a similar cap-clearing maneuver.
These are the types of moves Jackson will be expected to make; these are the types of miracles he'll be expected to work. The Knicks don't create cap space without moving Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani—especially after re-signing Anthony.
Clearing enough cap space to make a major addition now remains unlikely, though. Not only are time and logic against the Knicks dumping STAT and Bargs, but in order to make a run at one of the premier free agents available, other hoops must be jumped through.
Other salaries must be dumped.
Many of the changes Jackson is expected to make won't take place this season. It's still all about the summer of 2015, when the Knicks will have cap space and the means to sign another superstar.
Somehow, someway, Jackson will be expected to parlay the Knicks' spending power into a fortunes-turning addition or two. That's been the plan since before he arrived, and it hasn't changed. If he's able to expedite the process, great. If not, the standard won't change.
This is still a team that needs work. It's one that, as currently constructed, can make the playoffs and significantly improve upon last season's disaster, but it's not one that's going to legitimately contend for championships without ample change.
Failure to enact that chance would be catastrophic.
Not to say that Jackson will fail. He's already proved aggressive and demonstrative during his first few months at the helm. But he's also compromised part of his plan already.
"The way things have been structured now financially for teams is that it’s really hard to have one or two top stars or max players,” Jackson said at a press conference in April “and to put together a team with enough talent you’ve got to have people making sacrifices financially.”
Anthony, despite Jackson's outright challenges, didn't make that financial sacrifice. And that's fine. It was his right to maximize his earning potential, just as it was the Knicks' right not to offer him a huge contract.
Yet they put it in front of him, and he accepted it. End of story. Nothing wrong with that ending, either. Both parties made the decision that was best for them now.
But what about later?
Prospective free agents will see a golden opportunity to play alongside Anthony. He's a superstar in his prime and therefore a selling point.
The Kobe Bryant paradox comes into play here as the Knicks try to make star-rific additions, though: If he didn't accept a substantial pay cut, why should I?
Handing Anthony a massive contract sets a precedent in New York. Any star who joins the Knicks in the future will look to Anthony's payday and seek a rich deal as well. Jackson is tasked with maintaining the team's financial flexibility while simultaneously ensuring the Knicks remain competitive.
If he doesn't and they are unable to land more integral cogs, Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski hears things could turn sour:
Within Anthony's circle, belief's been this, sources tell Y: Get NY's $129M now, figure out destination later. You can always get a trade.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 9, 2014
Worrying about Anthony's impatience at this point is futile. The Knicks are under no obligation to trade him if things travel south. But a disgruntled superstar isn't the stuff championship teams are made of—and Anthony forced his way out of Denver just fine.
So for now, Jackson and the Knicks can bask in their latest victory, celebrating an offseason that not only could be going worse but has been actively productive and encouraging.
Jackson deserves the faith his early workings will garner. He deserves the respect and trust Anthony has placed in him.
Every last bit of it.
Including the mounting pressure this storybook beginning has placed upon its inevitable end.
*Salary information via ShamSports.