Who needs the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus to come to town when you have the Knicks at Madison Square Garden?
Just when you think it can’t get worse for the Knicks, it does. Carmelo Anthony appears more tired than ever of being the ringleader.
Before facing the Miami Heat on Thursday night, Anthony told the media which factors he will consider when making his free agency decision – and it’s not good news for the Knicks.
“A lot of things are going to be thought about when that time comes,” he said. “Off the court, on the court, just a lot of things are going to have to be put all on the table.”
Key pieces of the team’s core have struggled both on and off the court since the end of last season.
Raymond Felton has been hampered by injuries, weight criticism and poor play throughout the season. He was caught yawning during the end of a game and, most recently, was arrested on gun charges after Monday’s game.
J.R. Smith also has struggled mightily since winning the league’s Sixth Man Award. Last summer, Smith had knee surgery days after signing a new deal with the Knicks, was suspended five games for violating the league’s anti-drug policy and was fined $50,000 for attempting to untie the shoelaces of opponents before being benched. He also recently pulled down Vince Carter’s headband as a joke on Monday.
Iman Shumpert has taken two steps back this season thanks to a lack of confidence in his jump shot amid constant trade speculation. Off the court, he has drawn verbal lashings from coach Mike Woodson, and owner James Dolan was reportedly angered that he played only one preseason game.
Woodson has also come under intense fire, receiving criticism from players such as Tyson Chandler for his defensive switching scheme and from the media for not sticking with the small ball setup that helped Anthony become a top MVP candidate and was the team’s best statistical lineup.
After Thursday’s nationally televised 26-point loss to the Heat, Smith discussed Anthony’s frustration level.
“I think it’s pretty much numbing to him now,” he said. “The way things are going, that’s not good for anybody.”
Anthony scored 29 of New York’s 82 points against the Heat, once again carrying the offense only to end up with a loss. To put that into perspective, Anthony scored more points by himself than the 23 combined from Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Amar’e Stoudemire, Jeremy Tyler, Earl Clark, Shannon Brown, Tour’e Murry and Tim Hardaway Jr.
The loss marked New York’s fourth in a row and 10th in 12 games. The Knicks are six games in the loss column out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference – and the same six games in the loss column ahead of the woeful Philadelphia 76ers who put the tank in tanking on a nightly basis.
For the season, Anthony has scored nearly 27 percent of New York’s total points, which is the second-highest percentage in the league behind Kevin Durant.
After Monday’s heartbreaking home loss to Dallas on a buzzer beater by Dirk Nowitzki in which Anthony scored 44 points, he expressed frustration with having to carry the team on offense and having nothing to show for it.
“It’s tough,” said Anthony. “You score 40, 44, 44 and all losses. You kind of ask yourself is it worth it? I’m not going to stop doing what I’m doing.”
This isn’t the first alarming quote from Anthony this season. He called his team the “laughingstock of the league” on Dec. 4 and called a demoralizing 41-point home loss to the Celtics a “good old fashioned ass-whipping” and an “embarrassment” four days later.
Anthony and his teammates have used that word often to describe the team’s play this season.
On Thursday, Anthony publicly denied making or missing the playoffs will affect his decision as Chris Herring tweeted. But how can it not?
The core of this season’s underwhelming roster will remain the same heading into next season, barring a trade of movable pieces such as Shumpert, Chandler or Hardaway.
Anthony’s best chance of winning a title in New York was last season. The Knicks won 54 games and secured the No. 2 seed as Atlantic Division champions before losing in the conference semifinals to Indiana.
Now? Repeating as division champions – even in arguably the weakest division in pro sports – is out of the question. They are 11 games behind the first-place Toronto Raptors, who fleeced them in the Andrea Bargnani trade last summer.
As Anthony told the media before Thursday’s game, “everything that can go wrong for us is going wrong at this point.”
New York will have cap space in the summer of 2015, when Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge could be headlining the free agent class. This is the team’s best pitch to keep Anthony.
That means Anthony would give up at least one of his remaining prime seasons for an unguaranteed chance of competing for a title.
The Knicks tried to land LeBron James in a similar way by creating cap space and failed. Owner Jim Dolan’s serial impatience could scare off available stars, and who is to say they won’t come up short again during free agency in 2015? Or end up with a backup option as they did with Amar’e Stoudemire?
Dwight Howard was the most recent superstar to switch teams in free agency and gave Anthony advice in a recent USA Today interview by urging him to “take his heart out of it and think with his head and think about business.”
If Anthony does that, he is as good as gone. And if he did that, it would be hard to blame him.
He has played as well as last season – in some respects, even better – with little to show for it. Meanwhile, the team’s outlook isn’t much better next season and beyond.
Besides, if Anthony wants to visit the circus again, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey has shows all over the country. And all it will cost is the price of a ticket, instead of his legacy.