“I want to be a free agent,” Carmelo Anthony told the New York Observer prior to the season.
By publicly saying so, Anthony’s impending free agency became a constant and colossal distraction as large as the Empire State Building and simultaneously induced a chain reaction of numerous rumors during the season.
J.R. Smith playfully alluded to the constant media speculation when asked if he would talk to Anthony about his future this summer.
“I’m not going to talk to him at all,” Smith said Tuesday. “He’s got to talk to you all every day about it.”
“Yeah, it’s the talk, it’s the topic any and everywhere I go, on the court, off the court,” Anthony said during his exit interview on Thursday. “Guys want to know what you’re going to do. Guys have their opinions, whether it’s to come play with them or do something else.”
Ironically, the same free agency speculation and drama that once consumed Denver – and ultimately forced the Nuggets to trade Anthony to the Knicks – has resurfaced in New York.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
With that in mind, I believe Anthony will ultimately re-sign with the Knicks – after strongly considering the Chicago Bulls as an alternative destination and flirting with the idea of joining Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers – based on his recent comments.
“I want to come back,” Anthony said. “I want to come back. But I also want to win. You know, me wanting to be here, if we can put ourselves in position to at least compete at a high level over the course of whatever – five years – the contract would be, then I’m willing to stay here and I’m willing to ride or die for New York.”
The Knicks hope adding Phil Jackson means they’ll compete at the highest level. But with Tyson Chandler, Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire entering the final seasons of high-paying contracts, there is a conundrum for Melo.
Will he wait?
“I don’t know if I can afford to wait another season of losing,” Anthony said. “I really can’t see that picture right now.”
“I’m not at a point in my career when I want to rebuild,” Anthony added. “If I can, we can work with the pieces that we have and Phil brings his knowledge of running a basketball program, organization to this, then we can have a lot to talk about.”
Adding Jackson was a “power move” as Anthony noted. But can the “Zen Master” convince Anthony that he can make him a champion as he did with Bryant and Michael Jordan?
Jackson apparently made a good first extended impression with Anthony during the exit interview.
“His knowledge, his wisdom, is something I could sit down and listen to all day long,” Anthony said. “He’s very philosophical, has a scenario and has an answer for every scenario. He makes everything clear and just the way he talks, his delivery, his message, is — for me — something I could sit down and listen to all day.”
Jackson’s first personnel decision will be to determine coach Mike Woodson’s future. Jackson is widely expected to let go of Woodson for failing to make the playoffs in an underwhelming Eastern Conference despite the second-highest payroll in the league and a talented roster on paper.
“No playoffs, no Woody,” one league source told SheridanHoops.
No player mentioned speaking to Woodson during exit interviews on Thursday – only Jackson and team executive Steve Mills were specifically mentioned.
The belief is Jackson will eventually hire a coach who is better suited to run the Triangle offense.
Once a coaching decision has been made, Jackson must also determine if predominantly underperforming players such as Smith, Chandler, Iman Shumpert and Raymond Felton can be trusted as core players going forward.
It’s worth noting, after Smith was fined for untying the shoelaces of his opponents and Felton was arrested on gun charges, that Anthony said the team’s behavior off the court would factor into his decision.
Can Jackson be the second coming of Pat Riley as another Hall of Fame coach who makes a successful transition to management?
Jackson’s proposal going forward will be the ultimate wild card that either keeps Anthony or pushes him to leave for an immediate chance at a ring.
Smith, his good friend and longtime teammate with the Nuggets, believes Anthony isn’t going anywhere.
“In my heart, I believe he’ll still be here,” Smith said. “It’s just a matter of him coming up with that decision. Whatever it is, we’re still going to be friends until our dying day.”
“As far as other teams that are out there, which quote, unquote team will be the best situation, you never know,” Anthony said. ‘Sometimes the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”
Therefore, I’m willing to bet $129 million that Anthony will stay after exploring his options and realize the money is greener in New York.
“When it comes down to it, it’s going to be about me and my family and what’s the best situation for that,” Anthony said. “Everything else or anything else wouldn’t matter. As long as I’m comfortable and I’m feeling like the situation I’m getting myself into is the right situation and I believe that then nothing else matters.”