Phil Jackson has a master plan in New York, and it won't be dictated by the actions of Carmelo Anthony.
Sure, any reasonable mind would love to keep Anthony on board for the long term, but when a rebuilding job is as difficult as the scrambled mess that is the New York Knicks' situation, even a legendary mind like Jackson has to pick a course and stick to it.
There has been a lingering sense for quite some time that Anthony will make his way back to the Big Apple, even if recent vibes, such as one from ESPN's Marc Stein, have suggested otherwise:
Vibe I get out of New York, meanwhile, is legitimate unease ... given that some in the organization expected a decision from Melo by Monday— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 8, 2014
The reason being, Anthony is no dummy—he can see the positive impact Jackson has had since his arrival, and his realistic options are not all that interesting. The Chicago Bulls present an opportunity, but only if Derrick Rose can stay healthy. In Los Angeles, he has to share the ball with Kobe Bryant. The Miami Heat are a no-go—he'd forever live in the shadow of LeBron James.
Even if Anthony bolts town, that plays into the long-term goggles Jackson has equipped since taking the job. It's why he was able to ship off dead weight like Tyson Chandler to free up cap space and grab great system fits like Jose Calderon and young guard Shane Larkin.
"The journey to build this team for the upcoming season and beyond continues," Jackson said, via ESPN. "We have added players with this move that will fit right in to our system while maintaining future flexibility.
The transaction netted the Knicks the No. 34 and No. 51 overall picks in the 2014 draft as well. The former turned into promising forward Cleanthony Early, who had a major debut in the Las Vegas Summer League, with 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field. He also knocked down 3-of-4 from distance, topped off with the highlight of the day:
The latter wound up being Thanasis Antetokounmpo, a frantic young player with seemingly unlimited upside who has also shown well in early pro action.
That has been but one piece of the puzzle, with Jackson electing to dump 34-year-old Lamar Odom to the wayside despite the two finding plenty of success during their work together in Los Angeles.
If that's not proof enough that nothing will prevent Jackson from executing his plan, how about this: He's also been on the phone wheeling and dealing to get rid of Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani, per ESPN's Ian Begley.
The attempts make sense, especially in the case of Stoudemire, who is due $23.4 million next season, per Spotrac, and has been on a rapid decline since joining the franchise:
While some may want Stoudemire to stick around because of his contract being of the expiring variety, the point is to get value from him rather than nothing at all in free agency after next season. Either way, he is not in the plans after this upcoming season.
Although, to be fair, the front office seems content to walk a fine line between this offseason and next, as even Jackson admitted that he would love to bring on Pau Gasol, as captured by Marc Berman of the New York Post:
“[Gasol] knows what he has here and what is possible,’’ Jackson said during the Knicks summer league practice. “He’d like to play with Carmelo and like to play with a winner. We can’t guarantee that, but with him we can guarantee a much better chance.’’
But in a true tightrope act, Berman admits that some of the thinking behind the plan is that Gasol could then lure his brother, Marc, to the Big Apple next offseason.
It's not all that outlandish, and even if neither Gasol brother makes it to New York, the current focus should be on 2015 free agency.
There, the opportunities are endless—Carmelo on board or not. Unrestricted big names who may want to play in a major market like New York include Paul Millsap, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and more.
That class seems to be the end goal for the Knicks at this point, as Jackson continues to make smart draft selections in the hopes of hitting the jackpot to counter the rising beast that is now the young, talented Cleveland Cavaliers.
How critical Anthony is to this process is hard to discern, but there is something to be said about a humble superstar who works well with the media and fans, is coming off his best offensive season as a pro and has played a key role in that regard since coming aboard, as Numbers Never Lie illustrates:
Since 2011, Carmelo has accounted for 23% of Knicks' Pts. Only Durant (28%) & LeBron (25%) have accounted more on their respective teams.— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) July 10, 2014
The Knicks are sure to be a fringe playoff contender in the miserable Eastern Conference next season, but the bigger picture comes after the fact. Anthony back in the fold, regardless of the cash and year commitment, is a must if possible, but it's not some end-all, be-all scenario.
What's important is that Jackson continues to do away with the horrible contracts and creaky knees of yesteryear in exchange for assets that build toward a brighter future.
The future is quietly bright beneath the surface, with players such as Early and Tim Hardaway Jr. waiting to blossom. Jackson's willingness to toss away the old parts that no longer fit is a positive sign for a franchise that wants to compete for titles and a 68-year-old Hall of Famer whose reputation precedes him as a man who knows full well what he is doing every step of the way.
New York seems bleak, but a wrecking ball is a necessary evil before the construction of something befitting of Jackson's vision.