Why Carmelo Anthony's 2013-14 Season Will Define NY Knicks' Future

Josh Cohen@@arealjoshcohenCorrespondent IISeptember 17, 2013

Melo's offensive involvement will be integral to the Knicks' success.
Melo's offensive involvement will be integral to the Knicks' success.Elsa/Getty Images

If Carmelo Anthony falls short of greatness in 2013-14, the long-term results for the New York Knicks could be catastrophic.

Al Iannazzone of Newsday reports that Melo has no plans to leave New York anytime soon, but Knicks fans know all too well that a season gone wrong can feel like an eternity. For this team, it all hinges on the superstar being both happy and effective, even if it doesn't lead to a championship this year.

On the other hand, the alternative could be ugly—a directionless future without the one indispensable cornerstone of the franchise right now.

This is all an issue because of Anthony's opt-out clause. Next summer, he will be faced with the decision to take the $23.3 million he is slated to earn in 2014-15, per ShamSports.com, or hit free agency a year early.

Barring injury, the opt-out is basically a sure thing—but that doesn't mean he'll definitely skip town. Eschewing the final year of his current deal would allow Anthony to sign another max contract even sooner, shoring up his long-term security that much sooner.

It's business rather than personal in that regard, but his decision to keep plying his trade as a Knick will come down to his confidence in the team as a championship contender.

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If the Knicks waste a second consecutive Melo scoring title with a disappointing campaign and futile postseason play, his interest in testing the open market will only increase.

At the same time, New York has no chance of making a run at the NBA Finals without that kind of performance from Anthony.

First of all, these Knicks are unlikely to become a defensive force despite Mike Woodson's reputation. Any team that plans to give minutes to Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani is going to give up a ton of points inside, and there are not too many stoppers in the backcourt to make things easier on them.

On the bright side, these sieves can score in bunches.

However, even that won't work if Melo can't dominate offensively.

Last season, Anthony scored a point more per game in wins than in losses, but he attempted 1.4 fewer field goals in the process. The difference was his shooting percentage: he hit 47 percent from the field and 40 from three when the Knicks won. In defeat, those figures dropped to 41 and 34, respectively.

That leads to a somewhat paradoxical conclusion about how New York scores the basketball.

The much-hyped perimeter ball movement and sharpshooting from beyond the arc did improve the offense, but not necessarily by spreading around the offensive workload. Defenders were forced to take an extra step out to check the shooters, opening up more room for Melo to work.

At their best, the Knicks orient themselves to maximize their efficiency, which in turn allows their best player to be the most effective. Whether that strategy comes from an umbrella of three-point shooters or a game plan that better fits this year's roster, that's what New York has to figure out to succeed.

It's not the easiest task for Woodson, whose secondary scorers are double-edged swords; they're very talented, but they're also maddeningly inconsistent.

Chief among these guys is J.R. Smith, who is borderline elite when he's attacking the rim and an unreliable mess when he's pulling up for long jumpers. Meanwhile, Bargnani is a career 44 percent shooter as a 7-footer, STAT can't play starter minutes anymore, Raymond Felton goes through stretches of passivity offensively, and Iman Shumpert has yet to prove he's a capable threat.

That's why it's essential that Melo remain the focal point. He's not only New York's best weapon by a long shot, but he's also its most reliable one.

To that end, there's a certain downside to opponents keying on Anthony. If Woodson can't stop teams from sending extra men at Melo and beating him up whenever he touches the ball, the star will struggle and the team will lose, both of which are killers for his morale.

If Anthony puts up a line more like the one he had in his first full season as a Knick—22.6 points per game, 43 percent from the field, 34 percent on threes—New York will play the way it did in 2011-12, eking out a low playoff seed and a first-round exit.

Melo won't re-sign if he feels he's being underutilized to the detriment of a championship effort. If the Knicks fail to demonstrate their commitment to last year's successful formula of building around Anthony, he knows there are other franchises with max cap space willing to do so.

In that scenario, New York would either have to somehow lure LeBron James to Madison Square Garden or find someone from the next tier down. A Luol Deng or a Pau Gasol would not represent equal value coming back to the Knicks as a replacement, resulting in a superstar-less future in New York.

Back in 2011, the Knicks traded Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Felton and more to get Anthony on an expiring contract when they could have waited a few months for him to hit free agency. That's the cost of securing a top-10 player.

In 2013-14, New York will have to recreate last season's great offensive formula in order to maintain its title pursuit. Otherwise, the organization may feel the cost of misusing a superstar for years to come.

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