“I want to be a free agent,” Anthony told The New York Observer.
Since then, the $129 million question hovering over the Knicks – like the Chase Bridge at Madison Square Garden – is whether the franchise can re-sign Anthony to a maximum contract this offseason.
On the surface, it appears less likely Anthony will remain in a New York state of mind by summertime if the team fails to turn the season around. Anthony had a historical performance Friday night setting a franchise record and a Madison Square Garden record for most points scored in a game (62). But let’s not forget, it’s only one game.
The historical performance caught the attention of Kobe Bryant who congratulated Anthony privately and addressed speculation about the two joining forces with the Lakers after the season.
“Everybody wants to play in Los Angeles,” Bryant said before facing the Knicks. “New York is a beautiful place, don’t get me wrong, but it’s colder than s— out here. Palm trees and beaches obviously are a little bit more appealing… If he wants to call me for advice later as a friend, I’ll be more than happy to give it to him.”
“He’s a great player just like the rest of them,” Bryant said. “He’s obviously on the upper tier of players in the league.”
While Anthony is regarded as one of the league’s elite scorers, the knock on him has been an inability to win at a high level similar to the likes of Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, etc.
Anthony only advanced past the first round once during his seven full seasons with the Denver Nuggets and once since joining the Knicks.
According to Bryant, there’s only way to shake the scorer label and be truly recognized as a superstar.
“The only way to do that is win, that’s it,” Bryant said. “I’ve won five championships and there are some of you that still say that. You’ve just got to kind of take it and roll with it. The important thing is winning a championship, that’s the only way to shake it. That’s the only way Michael (Jordan) shook it. That’s the only way any top scorer can shake it.”
Bryant believes leaving New York wouldn’t hurt Anthony’s legacy if he wins at his next destination.
“That’s a familiar story with LeBron James and he seemed to turn out okay,” Bryant said.
After Friday’s 62-point game, Anthony said his record performance was partly a statement to his teammates.
“I just wanted to start from the beginning and let my teammates know that I don’t like accepting losing and I’ll do whatever I can to help us win,” said Anthony.
This is a similar tactic we’ve seen from Bryant in the past when he was upset with Lakers management.
“It’s important for the organization to understand the level of competitiveness that you have,” Bryant said. “That you won’t tolerate having a team that’s not in contention for a championship, which is what I did. It rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but sometimes you’ve got to kick down a few doors and p— some people off and trust that it’ll pay off in the long run. If you’re willing to do that more times than not, you’ll be okay.”
For one night, in what has been a gloomy season through the halfway point, Anthony was able to remember what the buzz can feel like inside the mecca of basketball.
“There’s no better feeling than having that feeling like tonight here on your home court,” said Anthony after his historical performance. “The fans, I haven’t heard them like that since last year. It was good to get that feeling back in here tonight.”
“It’s great because this is his team,” Tyson Chandler said.
Yet, with every disappointing loss, such as at home to the Philadelphia 76ers – a team hoping to hit the jackpot in the lottery – Anthony becomes closer to bolting in a New York minute.
Anthony wants to win a championship, but the Knicks are further from title contention than at any time in his tenure with the team. Furthermore, executives and scouts believe Anthony – with a little help from the Knicks – has painted himself into a professional corner.
Speculation over Anthony’s future has weighed as heavily on the organization as championship expectations from James Dolan.
Times have changed dramatically since the Knicks touted Anthony as the hometown savior expected to deliver a championship alongside Amar’e Stoudemire during his red carpet introduction.
Now? The Knicks are tied for 10th place in the East with the possibility of missing the playoffs entirely in a subpar Eastern Conference – and subsequently losing the face of the franchise.
To be clear, Anthony has not made a definitive decision regarding his future, according to several sources.
However, while Anthony has remained mostly positive during this difficult stretch, he has shown signs of frustration that have surely alarmed management and raised eyebrows around the league.
Shortly thereafter, Anthony blasted the team after an embarrassing 114-73 home loss to Boston on Dec. 8.
Anthony called the loss a “good old fashioned a— whipping.”
“What Boston came here and did, it’s an embarrassment to lose like that on our home court,” Anthony elaborated. “I think everyone should be pissed off.”
In the final minutes of a 23-point loss to Brooklyn on Martin Luther King Day, Anthony sat on the floor with a towel on his head with a look of disbelief. When meeting with the media afterward, he expressed disappointment in New York’s performance halfway through the season.
“I didn’t think we would be in this situation,” said Anthony. “Honestly, I don’t really know how to deal with situations like this. I’m learning; this is a first time for me.”
Anthony was then asked if the Knicks are as bad as the team’s record suggests.
“I don’t want to believe that,” he said. “I don’t want to accept that and I won’t accept that. If anybody’s getting complacent here with losing, then they shouldn’t be here. That’s not the mentality we should have as a basketball team and we shouldn’t be OK with losing basketball games.”
One Eastern Conference executive doesn’t see the near future getting much brighter for the Knicks.
“The Knicks put themselves in a bad situation with that personnel because they don’t have the right pieces around Anthony,” the executive told Sheridan Hoops.
Last season, Anthony thrived with the help of Jason Kidd orchestrating the offense, the veteran leadership of Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace, and the shooting ability of stretch forwards Steve Novak and Chris Copeland.
This season, Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni and Beno Udrih have struggled to fill Kidd’s void and get Anthony easy shots.
J.R. Smith has regressed from his Sixth Man of the Year form after offseason knee surgery. Iman Shumpert has failed to take the next step in his development after showing vast potential against Indiana in the playoffs.
And now, Andrea Bargnani, the ballyhooed offseason acquisition who has played to his limited expectations, is out indefinitely with a torn ligament in his elbow.
With Anthony’s future uncertain, and few other tradable assets to improve the team, there was speculation the Clippers could pursue a trade by dangling Blake Griffin to pair Anthony with his longtime friend, Chris Paul.
However, Anthony and Doc Rivers both dismissed that speculation as “stupid.”
Anthony is expected to remain with the Knicks past the deadline.
However, he should be careful what he wished for because he will soon find out he’s in a no-win situation.
“How can he hold them hostage (during the original trade to New York) and then leave?” a Western Conference scout said. “I would eviscerate him for the rest of his career.”