“I’ve been through worse.”
That four-word answer from Carmelo Anthony about his no-trade clause, sticking with the New York Knicks and continuing to trust team president Phil Jackson, perfectly describes the current state of both player and franchise.
Of course, it had nothing to do with the question he was asked rather directly — “Would you consider waiving your no-trade clause? — but ‘Melo’s instant tangent was revealing nonetheless.
Anthony, the 31-year-old All-Star forward with a sore, surgically repaired left knee, can waive his no-trade clause and accept a trade to another team if he or his agent give the go-ahead. One of the biggest questions around the Knicks is whether Anthony and Leon Rose would do that, and there are no clear answers as of yet.
But consider this: When Derek Fisher was coaching his last game Sunday afternoon, colleague Mike Scotto noticed that Knicks executive Steve Mills sat with Rose watching the game. Just a guess, but they probably were discussing more than whether Peyton Manning would be playing his final game later that night.
“You have to continue to put trust into Phil,” Anthony said. “At this point, what could you do? You can’t shy away from that, can’t go against it. For me, it’s to continue to trust in him.”
This season has been an improvement from last year’s 17-win disaster, but Anthony’s Denver Nuggets were 32-25 when he forced a trade to the Knicks prior to the 2011 trade deadline. It hasn’t been that much worse for Melo in his career than right now.
New York has lost its last six games and nine of 10, its most recent defeat against Washington the first under interim head coach Kurt Rambis. Anthony said that neither he nor his teammates saw the coaching change coming.
“It will always come down to what the coach is doing and what the coach is not doing,” Anthony said. “It’s an unfortunate situation that I’ve been a part of multiple times during my career. You become kind of immune to it at this point.”
It certainly seems like Anthony has become immune to, and accepting of, the consequences of losing.
Jackson spoke to MSG network during Tuesday’s loss to Washington, saying the chances of any Knicks trade before the Feb. 18 deadline were very slim, but they would be trying and looking to make a deal.
Though Rambis, Anthony and his teammates are all saying that the Knicks are trying to make the playoffs over the team’s final 27 games, standing pat at the trade deadline would send a negative message to the long-suffering fan base. The team’s poor starts, sub-par late-game execution and lack of a point guard who can play even average NBA-level defense all scream out for a personnel move. Despite their obvious shortcomings, Anthony said that they’re trying to go for it and will urge his teammates to be more aggressive after the All-Star break.
“My goal every season is to try to get to the playoffs and to try to win a championship,” said Anthony, who went to the postseason each of his seasons in Denver and his first three in New York. His drought will reach three seasons if the Knicks mis again this year. “That should be our goal as a team and should remain our goal.”
Anthony can attain that goal much more easily elsewhere. He must have known that when he re-signed for five years after the Knicks’ 37-45 season in 2013-2014 under Mike Woodson. But he was intrigued by what Jackson had to offer, spurning appeals and overtures from better, more established teams like Chicago, Dallas and Houston.
In hindsight, it appears he fell victim to Jackson’s charms.
Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. were the only players under 25 with any sort of potential for the Knicks when Anthony re-signed, and the full-scale rebuild the Knicks needed under Jackson would never happen with Melo in the fold making the max salary and demanding an immediate playoff team. That clearly didn’t happen for the Knicks last year as they had the worst season in franchise history.
Anthony has to know that he can win more easily outside New York now, doesn’t he?
At the start of the 2016-2017 season, the Knicks will likely have yet another new coach, unless Jackson gives his old pal Rambis the permanent job. Anthony will be 32, his knee may still be balky and his championship window will continue to he slowly shutting.
So what direction are the Knicks going in if they keep Anthony for the long haul? The status quo isn’t working for New York this season. They have no first-round pick or second-round pick. And even with the inflated salary cap coming in the summer, luring another star to this team while acquiring and maintaining championship-level depth would be extremely difficult to pull off, especially given Jackson’s seeming insistence on using the triangle offense, poor results and failed coaching tree be damned.
At some point, Anthony won’t be the best player on this Knicks team, eclipsed by rising megastar Kristaps Porzingis. And if Porzingis is the future of this team, pairing him with a star player on the same career trajectory would make the most sense. That player is certainly not Carmelo Anthony, who will command a max salary until at least the summer of 2018, when he’ll be 34.
At Monday’s press conference announcing Fisher’s ouster, Jackson was asked about the possibility of trading Anthony and gave a curious answer after a long pause: “Everyone knows Anthony has a no-trade clause.” Read into that what you wish, but we still don’t really know if that’s what Phil wants.
Anthony’s answer on Tuesday night spoke more to what happened two summers ago than what happened Monday.
“I decided to stay here, I decided to make that decision to trust in the Knicks and trust in Phil,” Anthony said. “I have to continue doing that.”
Anthony certainly does not have to continue. If he’s serious about winning a championship, there are plenty of other teams closer to that goal than the Knicks who could swing a trade for him. Sheridan points out that the Celtics and Clippers are two of them.
After hearing him Tuesday night, one could have been left with the impression that Anthony wants to stick this out with the Knicks, for better or worse.
Or, his time in Denver and New York has made him adept at dodging trade-related questions.
“My goal is to continue playing basketball, focus on the group of guys that I have in here and have that faith with management, the front office.”
It doesn’t have to be this way. Melo and the Knicks both want to win, there’s no doubting that. It just doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen together.
For Anthony and the New York Knicks to both get what they want, a separation via trade would be the fastest and most likely way of fulfilling their lofty goals — whether or not both Jackson and Anthony want to come right out and say so.
Shlomo Sprung is a national columnist for SheridanHoops who focuses on analytics, profiles and features. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. Follow him on Twitter.