Stuck in the throes of residual regret, seemingly caught in a web of regular-season opportunities gone awry, the New York Knicks have tasted victory once again by re-signing Carmelo Anthony, the superstar who can escort them into a bigger, better, brighter future.
Some team, any team, would steal him.
Confirming his loyalty—an allegiance that stretches so deep, it can be interpreted as a fault—Anthony returned to the Knicks, offering an explanation as to why on his official website:
I will always remember this chapter in my life. In the end, I am a New York Knick at heart. I am looking forward to continuing my career in Orange & Blue, and to working with Phil Jackson, a champion who builds championship teams. Madison Square Garden is the mecca of basketball and I am surrounded by the greatest fans in the world.
Some will allege Anthony's announcement—his justification—is rooted in ulterior motives and borne out of convenience. It's not. Besides, it doesn't matter. Not for the Knicks.
Locking Anthony up for the next half-decade is all that matters. It's all the Knicks need right now, so they can plan for and believe in what's supposed to happen later.
Retaining Anthony ensures that the Knicks have immediate relevance.
The Eastern Conference has never been more wide open. It's a tad deeper now that LeBron James has returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat have revealed themselves to have one of the sexiest fail-safes ever.
But while those teams—and clubs like the Washington Wizards, Charlotte Hornets, Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls—are being touted, the Knicks at the very least remain part of the playoff conversation.
"My opinion is, based on our roster and who we’re going to become, we can compete for playing in the playoffs and playing for a championship in the Eastern Conference,’’ Knicks coach Derek Fisher said, per the New York Post's Marc Berman.
Instant gratification of that kind is priceless—especially with the Knicks coming off a disastrous 2013-14 campaign.
But Anthony's return is bigger than next season.
Plans haven't changed in New York. The Knicks still have their sights on Summer 2015. Finding refuge in another star and stronger supporting cast is what they're still pining for. Signing Anthony has made the process of waiting until then easier, more digestible, and has left expectations for this season more realistic.
It takes superstars to get superstars these days, after all. James never even goes to Miami if Dwyane Wade isn't already there. Dwight Howard doesn't go to the Houston Rockets if James Harden isn't already there.
Money talks, but so do incumbent stars. Grabbing that first one is difficult through free agency. If there isn't already a cornerstone in place, players are reluctant to become the inaugural dignitary.
We saw it in 2010, when the Knicks were forced to overpay Amar'e Stoudemire as a consolation prize after whiffing on James and Chris Bosh. They needed that first star, and that first star wound up being one of the reasons Anthony was attracted to New York at all.
Next summer promises more of the same—only Anthony isn't Stoudemire.
He's a healthy superstar in his prime who can recruit, whose selling point is himself and the fact that he's never had a partner like Kevin Love or Marc Gasol or LaMarcus Aldridge or Rajon Rondo to help elevate his game, as Grantland's Bill Simmons writes:
Everyone bitched about his “ball-stopping”—something of which he’s definitely been guilty, from time to time, over the past few years—but when your coach is in a basketball coma and your entire offense has degenerated into “throw the ball to Melo and he’ll have to create a shot,” what do you expect? Every opponent went into every Knicks game saying, “As long as we don’t let Carmelo kill us, we’re winning tonight.” And he still threw up 28 a night and played the most efficient basketball of his career. That’s a fact. It just wasn’t that much fun to watch.
At its most fundamental level, that's an excuse. On a more profound level, it's a constructive synergist—a reminder that Anthony is a star ready to welcome another one.
A Winning Sacrifice
Exact details of Anthony's contract are unknown, but we know this: He took a pay cut.
“He did exactly what we kind of asked him to do," Phil Jackson said (via Berman). “Give us a break in the early part of the contract when we have some wiggle room—hopefully big enough wiggle room—next year when we can exploit it.’’
Easy does it, hopeless optimists who are already ordering Saint Melo necklaces.
Anthony didn't take an enormous pay cut. If he were going to take $5-plus million less annually, he would have signed with the Bulls and started chasing championships next season.
Whatever the amount Anthony forfeited, it's marginal. Berman pegs his contract's value at $122-123 million, which equates to a $6-7 million sacrifice over the life of said deal. That's not going to guarantee the Knicks a superstar in 2015.
It sure helps, though.
One of the most popular theories has Anthony accepting the max next season—$22.4 million—without a raise in 2015-16. He would be eligible for a 7.5 percent increase in salary at that point. Moving forward without it saves the Knicks roughly $1.7 million in summer 2015.
That, again, isn't a lot. It's a Pablo Prigioni. It's a Shane Larkin. It's an insubstantial amount.
But it's something. It's more than Anthony had to do. He could have looked at the Knicks' roster and demanded the max. Bosh didn't accept less to stay in Miami; James didn't take a below-market contract to sign with Cleveland.
Taking a pay cut gives the Knicks more flexibility. They now have two players under guaranteed contracts for the 2015-16 season—Anthony and Jose Calderon. Plenty of other players—J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Larkin—hold player or team options or are owed qualifying offers.
This $1.7 million—or whatever it winds up being—diminishes, even if only slightly, the likelihood of the Knicks having to completely gut their roster to create max cap space.
Setting a Precedent
Re-signing Anthony sets two precedents.
Superstars won't be flocking to New York while accepting massive pay cuts. Anthony didn't take too much less. Outside players with no vested interest in the Knicks aren't going to be any more chivalrous than he was.
And yet Anthony still took less.
Those who say he followed the money and only the money are wrong. Dead wrong.
He appears to be part-owner now and responsible for the direction of this team almost as much as Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher.
That is what makes so significant his willingness to adjust the contract. Jackson, Steve Mills and Melo's reps put together various concepts for Melo to consider that would allow the team to still be major players in free agency next summer, when the team anticipates to have the ability to create room (keyword: create) for at least one max contract to offer.
Just as prospective free-agency targets will take stock in Anthony's contractual worth, they will notice his willingness to make sacrifices. They will see a team that was willing to take care of its superstar, even if it meant dangling a max contract.
They will see a shift in culture.
There is no better recruiting device than a combination of loyalty, fairness, sacrifice and sensibility—the exact amalgam of virtues Anthony and the Knicks are espousing.
"This organization has supported me," Anthony wrote, "and in return, I want to stay and build here with this city and my team."
Now his city, his team, is within striking distance of the bigger, better, brighter future it couldn't have without him.
*Salary information via ShamSports.