NEW YORK — The funny part about all of this: Charley Rosen is right.
Following their 108-107 home loss Monday to the Atlanta Hawks, the Knicks are 18-24. The only thing keeping their flailing season alive is a pitiful Eastern Conference, where you can be 10 games below .500 and somehow remain within striking distance of the eighth seed.
Of course, all teams, or at least those not coached by Gregg Popovich, endure slumps. It's part of the game. Then again, this is the Knicks we're talking about, so it should come as no surprise that all this losing has begotten yet another Madison Square Garden circus.
And team president Phil Jackson is the ringleader.
So let's go back to Rosen. For those blessed souls not familiar with all the members of Jackson's posse, Rosen served as one of Jackson's assistant coaches in the Continental Basketball Association and has co-written multiple books with him.
Why should you care about a former assistant coach from a league Isiah Thomas burned to the ground nearly two decades ago? Because this week, Rosen, in a column for FanRag Sports, wrote that Anthony "has outlived his usefulness in New York."
(He also called for more playing time for Sasha Vujacic and lamented that head coach Jeff Hornacek hadn't firmly committed to the triangle offense, but we'll leave those scorchers alone for now.)
This isn't the first time an analyst or reporter has criticized Anthony's game or suggested that a breakup between him and the Knicks could be the best thing for everyone. But that Rosen, someone who keeps in regular touch with Jackson, was the author of this scathing takedown is what made it news. He's since said the harsh appraisal of Anthony was his assessment alone, not Jackson's. But it's fair to wonder how much of Rosen's insight is coming from conversations with his longtime friend.
Anthony, who was given a no-trade clause when he re-signed with the Knicks in 2014, feels the same way.
"If that's the case, if that's where it's coming from, that side, I guess it's a conversation we should have," Anthony told reporters in Toronto on Sunday, via ESPN.com's Ian Begley. "If they feel my time in New York is over, I guess that's a conversation we should have."
Anthony, like most Knicks coaches and players, knows who Rosen is. Rosen occasionally shows up at games and is often granted one-on-one interview time that other media members are not. It's no secret why and understandable that Anthony—who on Monday told reporters he had read Rosen's original article himself—would assume Rosen is parroting what he hears from Jackson.
Rosen's words stung, too; this was the first time Anthony has hinted at even considering dropping his no-trade clause.
Still, Anthony clarified Monday he'd like to remain with the Knicks.
"I think I've proven that," Anthony said when asked if he wants to stay in New York. "I don't have to speak on that. I think I've proven that over the years, day in and day out."
But there's no question Anthony is growing frustrated with his boss. Remember, we're less than two months removed from Jackson's comments to CBS Sports Network, on which he said Anthony holds the ball too long on offense. This is where things get complicated and gray. They always do when a player's likability soars while his play goes downhill.
Few players—or celebrities in general—have grown and matured in public as much as Anthony. He went from "ball-hog diva" to the forefront of the NBA's new age of publicly advocating for social justice. He's also essentially become the Knicks' team spokesman over the past couple of years, and the organization often calls on him to stand in front of the media and clean up Jackson's mess. (Jackson, meanwhile, hasn't spoken to local reporters since the preseason.)
On the court, though, Anthony is in the midst of one of the worst seasons of his career. He looks old and slow. He no longer has the bounce to drive by defenders. The ball, as Jackson said, does stick to his hands. He's missing open shooters and cutters. He's averaging 22.2 points per game, but he's shooting a ghastly 43.0 percent from the field and is getting to the foul line at a career-low rate.
That's the side of the floor that's supposed to be his strength.
"(Getting older) is always an adjustment, and he's no different than anybody else," NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins said Monday.
"Everybody has to make an adjustment in their game; he's still a wonderful scorer. I love him, the way he scores the ball every night. For him, he just has to find a way to play more on the ground as well as in the air—what I mean about that, just continue to be fundamentally sound."
(A related aside: Anthony has started in the last seven All-Star Games, but it's possible he never plays in the exhibition again. He's unlikely to garner a starting nod this year, and the math starts to get tight when you look at the potential reserves, most of whom are young and not going anywhere.)
Anthony is 32 with a ton of mileage on his surgically repaired knees. Also, his ball-dominant ways are preventing the Knicks from thrusting their darling unicorn, Kristaps Porzingis, into the offensive spotlight.
So yeah, the franchise would be better off if it could somehow convince Anthony to waive his no-trade clause.
There are numerous teams (the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers come to mind) that would love to add Anthony to the mix, even with his faults. He's still a knockdown jump-shooter, hitting 44.1 percent on catch-and-shoot three-pointers. He'd be a deadly weapon if he accepted being a secondary option, which he might if it meant playing with a fellow member of the Banana Boat Brigade.
Thing is, Anthony doesn't deserve Jackson's railroading, and certainly not like this. His play on the court might have dipped, but his effort has never waned. Even Knicks broadcaster Mike Breen, officially an MSG employee, seems to be growing frustrated with Jackson's mind games.
And let's not forget it was Jackson who granted Anthony that no-trade clause—a bit of legalese we all knew would become an issue at some point. And it was Jackson who spent the summer putting together a flawed roster with an eye toward the playoffs instead of the future.
The smart move for the Knicks would be to strip everything down, get whatever they can for Anthony, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah (a bag of balls will do), hand the keys over to Porzingis and Hornacek and go from there.
But that would mean missing the playoffs for a fourth straight year, which could put Jackson's job in jeopardy and further damage his legacy.
It would also mean ceasing the backchannel games and instead having a conversation with his star. Jackson can't help what Rosen writes, but he could shoot down the critiques—not because they're wrong, but because a boss is supposed to have his employees' backs—if he wanted to ease Anthony's concerns.
Instead, Jackson has remained silent—with both the press and with Anthony—just as he did after taking shots earlier this year at LeBron James' circle of powerbrokers.
"If they want to come talk to me, I'm around them guys every day," Anthony said Monday. "I don't want this to be kind of going back and forth between me and the front office, management, because it's really nothing."
Also, there's nothing obligating Anthony to acquiesce to this hypothetical request.
He doesn't owe Jackson anything. If he wants to stay in New York because he likes living in the city and enjoys the platform this residence grants him, and he decides those are his priorities and not chasing a ring, who's to say all players must value a championship above all else?
All of this leaves the Knicks in yet another mess, the exact kind Jackson was hired (and promised) to keep out of MSG.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats from NBA.com unless otherwise noted and are accurate as of Jan. 17.