TARRYTOWN, N.Y. — Carmelo Anthony sat on a bench off on the sidelines Tuesday afternoon at the New York Knicks practice facility as the media entered the gym. Huddled next to him was a team public relations staffer, offering a briefing on the maelstrom Anthony was about to encounter.
A week ago, Knicks team president Phil Jackson emerged from his shell to give an interview to ESPN's Jackie MacMullan. The conversation was published Monday. In it, Jackson offered his view of what has led to the recent unraveling of Pat Riley's Miami Heat:
It had to hurt when they lost LeBron. That was definitely a slap in the face. But there were a lot of little things that came out of that. When LeBron was playing with the Heat, they went to Cleveland and he wanted to spend the night. They don't do overnights. Teams just don't. So now (head coach Erik) Spoelstra has to text Riley and say, 'What do I do in this situation?' And Pat, who has iron-fist rules, answers, 'You are on the plane, you are with this team.' You can't hold up the whole team because you and your mom and your posse want to spend an extra night in Cleveland.
Monday night, James' longtime business manager, Maverick Carter, took to Twitter to take issue with Jackson's comments:
"It's the word 'posse' and the characterization I take offense to," Carter later added to ESPN.com.
James, during Tuesday's Cavaliers practice, went even further, saying he lost respect for Jackson, a man he said he once revered.
"To use that label, and if you go and read the definition of what the word 'posse' is, it's not what I've built over my career," James told reporters in Cleveland. "It's not what I stand for. It's not what my family stands for. And I believe the only reason he used that word is because it's young African-Americans trying to make a difference."
Jackson attended the Knicks' Tuesday practice. He left the gym minutes after the media and didn't make himself available for comment, instead leaving Anthony behind to answer for him.
"When it comes to Phil, you just never know what's going to be said, what's coming out," Anthony said to reporters. "It depends on who's listening. People take it the right way, or people take it the wrong way. You just never know when it comes to Phil. I just don't understand him talking about LeBron right now, in November. I don't understand that."
Anthony was also asked how he feels about the word "posse."
"I would never want to hear that word about me and my—I don't want to say crew but—people I consider family and I've come up with and been through thick and thin. I would want to be called a tight-knit group or a family, but that's what I consider those people to me.
"I think anybody would understand that. Anybody. I don't think you have to be a rocket scientist or an educated person to kind of understand what it means to us."
A lot to keep up with, right? So let's summarize.
The Knicks team president took unnecessary shots at the best player in the world. He used a word that Carter, James and Anthony, and no doubt scores of other black men, find offensive.
Maybe you agree; maybe you don't. Maybe you think Jackson is just another old and privileged white male. Maybe you think Anthony and James need to quit being so politically correct and harping on Jackson's word choice.
But there's no arguing that Jackson's words struck a nerve and, from a strictly basketball standpoint, potentially transformed the Knicks into a pariah among the NBA's elite.
After all, players listen to one another. They might not have read Jackson's original comments, but they certainly will hear about LeBron claiming he has no respect for the man who will be attempting to woo them this summer.
Even Anthony appears irritated with his boss. He admitted that at times it can be frustrating being left to answer for Jackson. That doesn't mean Knicks fans should expect Anthony, who is signed through the 2019 season, to waive his no-trade clause and ask to be dealt.
But what happens this summer when potential teammates ask him about having Jackson as a boss?
That's the part that should have Knicks fans most concerned. It's not that Jackson has any problem saying whatever he wants to whenever he wants. He's gotten rich and famous doing so, and also won 11 titles.
But the Knicks have failed to make the playoffs since Jackson took over. They haven't even had a winning record. Jackson is on his fourth head coach and is reportedly already unhappy with the job Jeff Hornacek is doing, according to Ian Begley of ESPN.com (Jackson did deny this report in his interview with ESPN).
More worrisome, though, is how out of touch Jackson appears to be with today's NBA players. His insistence on the Knicks running the triangle instead of taking advantage of the sport's strict rules regarding hand checks is equivalent to an NFL coach trying to win by going ground-and-pound. It's ignoring the fact players prefer a free-flowing offense full of pick-and-rolls.
It's also made the Knicks an undesirable destination.
It's no accident Jackson has failed to land a big-name free agent since taking the reins. And now he's angered the game's best and most popular player and his management team, a group becoming more powerful by the year.
"No, I mean, I think when you're an NBA champion and how much work he's put into the league, I think you can do whatever you want," Brandon Jennings said about James on Tuesday.
Jennings, like most players, knows this to be so. The majority of the league's fans do as well. Everyone around the NBA seems to understand that stars are what the game's about.
Everyone, that is, except the man running the Knicks.
Knicks Insider Notebook
Small ball has arrived
But is it here for good?
Hornacek benched center Joakim Noah during the second half of Tuesday's game against the Dallas Mavericks. He replaced him with swingman Justin Holiday. That lineup shared the floor for just under nine minutes and outscored Dallas by 15 points, according to NBA.com. It opened up all sorts of angles and space on offense, then made the Knicks quicker on defense.
Removing Noah's four-year, $72 million contract and whatever politics it brings from the equation, lineups with Kristaps Porzingis at the 5 and Carmelo Anthony at the 4 should be what the team rides for the rest of the year. Noah is a great teammate and smart basketball player. But he can't shoot, or finish at the rim, and teams are leaving him open to help on other Knicks.
Porzingis, on the other hand, is an impossible cover for opposing centers.
"It’s hard to say right now—I’m really focused on what I can do better as a four—but as a 5 I’m obviously more comfortable," he said to reporters following Tuesday's win. "Fives are given more space and used to being sagged off a little bit [by defenders]."
Letting Porzingis man the paint could also help improve the Knicks' atrocious defense. Opponents have finished 41.9 percent of their shots at the rim this season against him, according to NBA.com, a 20.2 percent drop-off compared to how they're shooting against Noah.
This doesn't mean Noah should be relegated to the bench for good. But the sooner the Knicks recognize how much of an advantage going "small" is (if you consider putting a 7'3" dude at center "small"), the better they'll be.
Rose and Porzingis figuring things out
Part of the reasoning behind the Knicks' decision to bring over Derrick Rose this offseason was that he could help spring Porzingis free for more open looks. Jose Calderon, the team's primary point guard last season, was too slow to penetrate and draw in help defenders; Most of Porzingis' looks were difficult ones.
But Rose is a dynamo with the ball, capable of getting past anyone. Yet through the season's first few games he seemed both uninterested in kicking the ball out to Porzingis and unaware of where to even look for him.
That's changed recently as the two are slowly forming a dynamic pick-and-pop combination.
Rose has assisted on a team-high 14 of Porzingis' baskets, per NBA.com, and 11 of those have come in the last five games.
"This is my first time playing with a player like that," Rose told Bleacher Report. "I told him wherever he runs to I’ll make sure that I find him, so it’s really been just reading him.
"I told him if he rolls, I want to find him, if he pops, I want to find him. I just got to make sure it’s a sharp, clean pass."
Rose has been adept at pulling in the defense and then whipping the ball out to Porzingis at the top of the key behind the three-point line.
If the chemistry between these two continues to grow, and Rose helps push along the development of Porzingis, then the trade to get Rose could wind up going down as one of Jackson's better management decisions.
Yaron Weitzman covers the Knicks, and other things, for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman and listen to his Knicks-themed podcast here. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
NOTE: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this piece indicated multiple P/R staffers surrounding Anthony. This has been corrected to reflect the fact there was only one.