When he exercised the early termination option in his contract to enter free agency at the start of the summer, Carmelo Anthony — a seven-time All-Star who has never made it past the conference finals in an 11-year career — had to choose between taking a shorter, less lucrative contract offer to join a new team in pursuit of an NBA championship, or staying at home for the top dollar, but less likelihood of competing for a title, with the New York Knicks. As you know, Anthony chose the latter option, spurning the more-playoff-push-prepared Chicago Bulls to agree to a five-year, $124 million deal to stay in Manhattan; he would later say that his decision wasn't about the money, but rather about believing new Knicks president of basketball operations Phil Jackson can build a championship-caliber team in the years ahead.
"I don't think we're that far away," Anthony told ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman.
He does, however, think they're at least one year away.
During his annual charitable summertime visit to Puerto Rico, the 30-year-old expressed excitement about the "new beginning" and "new opportunity" that will come in the first season of his new contract, and about the moves that Jackson and company have made to try to revamp a Knicks squad that won the Atlantic Division in 2012-13 but fell apart en route to missing the playoffs last year despite arguably the best season of Anthony's career. But he's also aware that the process of turning a 37-45 team into a champion will take some time ... so, y'know, don't start planning that ticker-tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes just yet, Knicks fans.
From a translation of Raúl Álzaga's article in the Puerto Rican newspaper Primera Hora (Anthony starts talking about the Knicks at about the 48-second mark of the clip below):
According to Anthony, the team's vision for the future convinced him to make the decision to return, and so far management has taken the right steps so that the Knicks could be a contender.
"I think we've made some very subtle moves, but also moves that I think can impact the team," Anthony said, speaking of the acquisition of players like Spanish guard Jose Calderon and the selection of forward Cleanthony Early in the draft. "Our front office did a great job of really trying to put the team together, not as far as going to get big names, but going to get pieces that fit into the system that they want to be incorporating. So I was very excited about the moves that they made and the players that we have on the team."
Maybe in 2015 the team will have more access to star players when its payroll shrinks, but for now, Anthony wants this season to be used to plant the seeds of the foundation of what the team will become in the near future.
"I do not expect to win a championship this year. That's something that takes time and everything has to be in sync, from management to the players. We have a lot of work to do, but it's something that drives me. I know we can start building the foundation of what we want to do. It's the start of a good process."
Now, you may be looking at that quote and thinking, "Welcome to the 'The Knicks Will Not Win The Championship This Year Party,' Carmelo. There are still some pretzels over there, but all the really good snacks are gone, because we've been here for a while." And that's fair — the Knicks sure seem more likely to miss the playoffs for a second straight spring than they do to make a run to the Finals in a dramatically altered Eastern Conference that might be less than two weeks away from having a clear-cut No. 1 contender in place. (Or, in deference to the Chicagoans among us, a co-favorite.)
The East will still be significantly weaker top to bottom than the West, but the competition for a Finals berth figures to be stiffer this year. That doesn't figure to bode well for a Knicks team that traded its best defensive frontcourt player after posting the league's seventh-worst defensive efficiency mark ... that's going to enter the season relying heavily on Amar'e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Samuel Dalembert and Jason Smith to be A) healthy and B) productive up front ... and that, as of last week, seems to be expecting rotation minutes on the wing from Travis Outlaw. None of that screams "great news."
That said, however, the fact that Anthony's preaching patience does seem like a positive from the Knicks' perspective. 'Melo entered the offseason saying that “without a doubt, at this point in my career it’s about winning," and entered free agency talking about "looking at the big picture here, now ... at the next six to eight years of your career — the end of your career, at that," and balancing his own (and his family's) happiness with the chance to win. Staying in New York affords him the former, and Jackson has evidently made him believe that the Knicks will, before too long, provide the latter.
In his chat with Álzaga, Anthony talked up his developing relationship with Fisher ("I think he will be a good coach from his first year. I talk to him all the time. And he is as excited to start as I am") and how he's looking forward to bring some of his teammates down to Puerto Rico before the start of the season for some unofficial workouts "to get to know them better and develop good camaraderie before our training camp." He also appears to be taking his own summer training regimen pretty seriously, if this recent shot offers any indication:
"Great training session today," Anthony wrote in Spanish in the caption of the Instagram post.
As with LeBron James' recent Instagram indicator that he's dropped some weight, you have to wonder whether Anthony's looking to slim down heading into the season because he knows he'll be playing small forward, and having to defend opposing threes, more often than he has over the past couple of years. The downside, of course, is that LeBron's making room for Kevin Love, while 'Melo's doing it for STAT and Bargs ... but still, it suggests that Anthony knows just how much will be required of him this season to help the Knicks improve to the point that they're competitive enough and attractive enough to actually lure another top-flight player with the max-contract-level cap space New York will have next summer.
"Next year we will have plenty of money to spend [under] the salary cap," Anthony told Álzaga. "But this year it is important to take the necessary steps toward what we will do ... I want to concentrate on building what we want, starting this year."
That might not be what New Yorkers desperate to see the team's first championship since 1973 want to hear during the offseason, when everyone dreams of hoisting the O'Brien trophy. But it's an honest, sober suggestion that the Knicks — from the front office to the coach to the star player — are on the same page and sticking to the same plan. For a franchise that has spent so much of the past 15 years changing things up on a whim, having an semblance of organizational alignment is something, at least.
Hat-tip to SLAM.
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