The new-look New York Knicks' road to title contention will take time. Carmelo Anthony knows this, and he decided to re-up with the franchise despite fielding offers from teams with much clearer immediate paths to glory.
But the Knicks' newly secured 30-year-old star, who seemingly has everything but time at this stage of his career, says he's OK with waiting. Last week, Anthony told Raul Alzaga of Puerto Rican newspaper Primera Hora (translation via :
I don’t expect to win a championship this year. That is something that takes time, and everything has to be in sync, from the front office to the players. We have a lot of work to do, but that is something that motivates me. I know we can start creating the basis for what we want to accomplish eventually. And this is a great start for the process.
After 11 NBA seasons and escaping the first round of the playoffs just twice—once with New York—impatience on Anthony's part wouldn't only be reasonable, it would be expected. But based on his public comments since re-signing for five years and $124 million, Melo seems to be fully behind team president Phil Jackson's short-term rebuild.
What remains to be seen is how short term that rebuild truly is. Because if the team swings and misses in free agency a year from now, leaving Anthony without a co-star yet again, he could be facing a heavier dose of his disappointing, all-too-familiar NBA fate.
All-in on 2015
Both Anthony and Jackson have made frequent references to next summer and the team's expected ability to spend in free agency with near-max cap room. Getting there will need a roster tweak or two, but the team should be able to clear sufficient cap room in time for July 1, the start of the free-agent negotiating period.
But if it can't, or if Jackson can't lure a Rajon Rondo or Marc Gasol to the Mecca that summer, the front office may have then blown its only shot at securing star talent for Anthony to lean on. That factors in Melo's contract structure.
Anthony accepted a less-than-max deal by agreeing to a minimal raise from year one to year two—increasing by only a half-million dollars from this year to next—in a move that was clearly structured to create an ideal amount of spending space for 2015.
But with Anthony due for maximum raises in every other year, the pressure is on Jackson and general manager Steve Mills to court superstar talent in 2015. Melo made his financial sacrifice for that summer, not any other.
If management fails to bring a sidekick aboard for the remainder of Melo's New York stay, it would be entrusting a 31-year-old veteran with at least 30,000 career minutes under his belt to maintain his current, heavy workload and expecting better results.
If there is no eventual second star in the fold for 2015-16, Anthony would be in his 12th NBA season and still being asked to uphold the same—if not greater—production he's posted over his most recent Knicks years.
Over his last three seasons, Anthony has averaged .172 win shares per 48 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference. Also according to Basketball-Reference, over the last five seasons, just four forwards in their 12th year or later have posted that number in a single season—one being Miami's Chris Andersen this past campaign, and he averaged under 20 minutes per game.
And assuming the Knicks won't morph into contenders by year two of Melo's deal without a co-star, he'd be facing his 13th pro season at least—at age 32—as the earliest scenario for a title chase. And that's if Jackson's front office can somehow piece together an elite surrounding cast with Anthony's salary clogging a significant portion of the cap.
Only one of those seasons—Dirk's 2010-11 year—culminated with an NBA championship.
That is all to say: Banking on Anthony being as effective as he's been throughout his Knicks tenure for much longer isn't the safest bet, and even if he manages to maintain top-tier performance into his mid-30s, league history has very rarely seen a star of that age lead his team to a championship without elite help.
What's the End Game?
If there is no second star coming to Melo's aid, then it's clear that the right move for Anthony was to jump ship, considering his external options last month.
With the Chicago Bulls, for a much lower salary, Anthony would've immediately entered as the final piece to a title hunt, directly rivaling LeBron James and (probably) Kevin Love in Cleveland for the East's top threat.
Combined with Derrick Rose attacking and distributing, Joakim Noah in the middle and Tom Thibodeau in charge, Melo and those Bulls could have made more noise in the next couple of seasons than the Knicks might, even with an incoming star.
Will Carmelo Anthony ever win a championship with the Knicks?
With the Houston Rockets, Anthony would've had a much more difficult path to the Finals in the Western Conference. But a scoring tandem with James Harden would've been among the most potent in the league, with the game's best center looming as the third option.
With the Knicks, now, there's no getting around it: Melo needs help, and he's banking on Jackson getting it done. Even LeBron knew that in the current NBA landscape, it's next to impossible to bring home a title as a lone focal point.
So if Jackson's short-term rebuild brings Anthony the 2015 star he's been so desperate for all along, then the Knicks may evolve into contenders during his new deal. That's a process that should prove timely enough to keep Melo on track for a ring. But all it takes is one free-agency strikeout next summer for his decision to quickly morph into a hopeless one.