If you’re lucky enough to never have been caught “wrestling with the bald headed champ” by your mother, then these are the three most traumatic “firsts” in a young man’s life:
- The first time you get dumped. Vindication may come a decade later when you return home from the big city to find your first love working the skank shift at Denny’s, but when you’re 13 the pain of rejection without the comfort of alcohol is almost unbearable.
- When your first dog dies.
- The first time that the star player of your favorite team leaves for greener pastures (or a fatter wallet). For me it was when Tom Chambers headed south to play for the Phoenix Suns. I know what you’re thinking, but Chambers was better than you remember!
And so, all across the state of New York, millions of mini-Knicks are probably worried sick with all these rumors of Carmelo Anthony opting out of the final year of his contract and hitting the open market.
For a franchise that has been somewhat faceless as of late, Anthony has got the city of New York by the jock-strap. New Yorkers don’t want a team of venerable journeymen, they love a superstar.
Should he go? Should he stay? Should the Knicks actually encourage him to go? We’ll take a look here at all of the different angles that affect this story.
The NBA’s most disappointing team?
There are quite a few sub-par basketball teams putrefying the NBA this season, but the Knicks certainly make a case for being the leading underachievers.
Last season New York won 54 games en route to the Atlantic Division title. This season they’re on pace to win 31. In an 82 game season, 23 fewer is one hell of a drop-off.
Last season the Knicks knocked the Celtics out of the playoffs before falling to Indiana in the conference semi-finals. This season they’ll be lucky to squeak into the playoffs with a losing record, just to have the honor of getting their asses handed to them by the Pacers or Heat.
There are worse teams in the league, but nobody has come up so ridiculously short of expectations.
Off-season moves affected the chemistry of the team.
Hindsight is always 20/20, especially when looking at trades, but there’s no question that shipping off Marcus Camby and Steve Novak has had a negative impact, not to mention a weakening of the team’s future coffer of draft picks.
Now, to be fair, Andrea Bargnani was a solid pick-up, and if he wasn’t out indefinitely with an elbow injury we could be looking at the trade outcome in a completely different light.
But he is injured, and as a result, Anthony’s got nobody to play second fiddle.
Amar’e Stoudamire has been disappointing this season. Once a perennial All-Star, he’s averaging just 10.8 points per game. Perhaps his legs are starting to wear down?
J.R. Smith adds 13.3, which is respectable, but hardly a number that takes the pressure off Carmelo. Tim Hardaway Jr. has potential to play a bigger role, but he’s still scoring in single digits.
OK, so the 2013-14 campaign is all but kaput; is the future bright enough in 2015 and beyond to keep Carmelo in the Big Apple?
In terms of being a legitimate contender any time soon? Absolutely not. In terms of having the ability to provide a ridiculous contract? Yes.
And at the end of the day, it may be the dollars and cents that keep Carmelo in New York and not necessarily his loyalty to the city. Not that his loyalty ought not be noted. In a sports world that sees stars become less faithful to their teams (and vice-versa) with each passing year, New York is Carmelo’s city, and as much as his patience is being tested he would prefer to win in a Knicks’ jersey.
So here’s the deal. Carmelo Anthony’s going to opt out of his contract either way. He wants more money, and he deserves it. Anthony has never been as valuable as he is right now. He’s leading the league in minutes per game and hustling down loose balls and rebounds like never before. He’s different, better, on a mission.
The thing is, there aren’t many contending teams out there that could afford him. The Heat, Bulls, and Lakers have all popped up in the rumor mills, but every one of these teams would have to jettison a superstar of their own in order to squeeze Melo in under the salary cap. The numbers being tossed around put signing Anthony in the $130 million range.
He might end up staying in NY not because he is greedy, but simply because no other decent team can afford the salary that matches his level of talent, and there’s no way he’ll give up the spotlight of Madison Square Garden to play for a struggling small-market club. Sorry, Milwaukee.
So … on the assumption that, say, the Bulls do find cap space, “should” he go?
It’s super easy for sports writers and especially sports fans to say what players “should” do. They shouldn’t demand such ridiculous salaries, they should prefer staying with a winning team rather than taking a bigger paycheck, they should be loyal to the team that drafted them, etc.
But all this stuff is bullshit.
When’s the last time you turned down a 20% pay raise to show your loyalty to a boss that would fire you in a second if it benefited his business?
It’s super easy to sit in our cracked faux-leather recliners, with ketchup and crumbs in our beards, and say that there’s no reason to turn down 8 million a year just to get 9.5 … but sure there is, it’s called one point five million bucks!
But anyhow, back on point, with Anthony it’s not so much about numbers. He’ll make the most money staying put.
And it’s not really about 2015 either.
What he needs to decide is this: is New York committed to rebuilding their franchise the right way?
Knicks management is famous for refusing to do things the old-fashioned way. Instead of building through the draft, they prefer to ship off first-round draft picks and rising stars to put together a top-notch starting line-up quickly.
If your team stays healthy, this can work, but the problem is that you’re always an injury away from being one-dimensional. You can’t trade away multiple role-players for a single All-Star and keep depth on the bench at the same time.
So what “should” he do if a better team does find cap space to match what the Knicks can afford to pay him? That’s only for Carmelo to know and for us to speculate.
I speculate that he’ll choose to stay, banking on the fact that by committing to five more years in New York, it will be more likely that other top free-agent stars can be lured to join forces with him on the nation’s biggest stage.
A twist to the story.
One former NBA General Manager actually believes the Knicks ought to welcome Anthony’s departure with open arms. His point of view is that the team is so ridiculously out of whack that they’d be better off rebuilding from scratch, and using the cap money to sign multiple players.
He contends that with Anthony’s salary on the books the team will have no wiggle room for improving the roster.
In this regard, I disagree.
I’m no GM, but I can’t remember the last time I saw an NBA team win the title without at least one legitimate superstar. Players that can take over a game and win single-handedly are hard to come by.
At its core basketball is still a team sport, but if the Knicks let Melo go, it could be a long time waiting before the Madison Square Garden crowd sees another 62-point performance.
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