COMMENTARY | Prior to December 1, when a ninth consecutive loss dropped his team's record to a putrid 3-13, New York Knicks star forward Carmelo Anthony feared sinking into a situation that he once believed was unthinkable.
Melo Has Remained Optimistic, But This Season Has Been Wearing on Him
"Any time you're fighting an uphill battle, you feel like you're in a dark place," he said before the defeat (one that pushed the Knicks' home losing streak to a team-record seven straight games). "But we can't go to that place. I've never been to that place. I don't plan on getting to that place."
More than seven weeks later, New York's latest losing streak -- a four-game skid that that followed a seemingly season-correcting, five-game winning streak -- had the Knicks finishing the first half of their 2013-14 campaign just 15-26.
That's a mere 12-13 since Anthony's earlier comments -- certainly better than New York's rough start, but a chasm from what Anthony expected, especially after he led the Knicks to 54 wins and their first division title in 19 years last season.
"I didn't think we would be in this situation," Anthony said at the season's midpoint. "Honestly, I don't really know how to deal with situations like this. I'm learning. This is the first time for me."
Although New York's franchise player added, "I'm not worried. I'm not at that point yet because I still think that we can figure it out," he knows the reality of the Knicks' current situation, and the clear uncertainty of whether general manager Steve Mills will ever be able to put Anthony in the position he covets the most -- that of having a realistic chance to win an NBA title while remaining in New York.
The Knicks Need to Have a Heart-to-Heart with Anthony, and They Can't Wait
Since that's unlikely to happen this season or next, the Knicks, who want to keep Anthony as much as he wants to stay in the city of his birth, need to have a completely open dialogue with Anthony about his future intentions. And they need to have that talk now.
New York's strategy is three-fold: 1) They'll play on the fact that Anthony, given his druthers, would prefer to retire a Knick, just as his head coach, Mike Woodson, recently predicted, and as Anthony said himself, as the season began; 2) The Knicks can offer Anthony almost $34 million more than any other team in the league via a free agency signing; and, most importantly, 3) New York would have the salary-cap flexibility to rebuild around Anthony in two years.
But what the Knicks have to know much sooner than later is if Anthony, who will turn 30 years old on May 29 and who will be entering his 12th NBA season next year, is willing to wait for that potentiality.
If he is, New York, which will have more than $50 million in cap space freed up once Amar'e Stoudemire (due to make $23,410,988 next season), Tyson Chandler ($14,596,888) and Andrea Bargnani ($12 million) come off of the books after next year, should be able to make a run at a couple of max-contract additions to place alongside Anthony.
For that to work within the framework of Anthony's game, one of those contracts would have to be for a legitimate complementary scorer who can at least defend and rebound adequately, and the other would have to be a true point guard who's fully adept at running an offense while being able to stop the ball at the other end of the floor.
While there will be an extensive list of quality free agents available in 2015, it would figure to take a pair along the lines of Minnesota's Kevin Love and Cleveland's Kyrie Irving to seal the deal.
If Anthony Intends to Leave, the Knicks Might Have to Act Quickly to Trade Him
Of course, a possible huge obstacle is that Anthony would have to first re-sign with the Knicks on the basis of blind faith that New York could make such free-agent signings become realities down the road.
Otherwise, Anthony might seek to go elsewhere, even though the list of potential suitors who meet the dual criteria of being in an immediate position to win right away by adding Anthony, as well as being able to afford him, figures to be a short one.
Still, the Knicks run the risk that Anthony might find such a new home outside of New York this summer (and the last thing they can afford is to let what happened to Cleveland, with LeBron James leaving his hometown in return for nothing, happen to them).
If that's Anthony's intention, New York has less than a month before the February 20 trade deadline to either get what it can for Anthony, or to somehow work out a trade that could bring in enough help this season (they'll try to lure Boston's Rajon Rondo, for instance), to entice Anthony to sign on the dotted line and stay right where he is for another several years.
Yet with few chips to offer (since the Knicks lack available draft picks and enough coveted talent to trade), New York's best bet in that case might be to reluctantly deal the league's reigning scoring champion for as much value (in terms of young talent, draft picks, or a combination of each) as possible -- and let any return on investment for Anthony, along with what the Knicks could turn its cap relief into in two years, develop into the future core of the team, in a post-Anthony era.
However, first things first, and the Knicks are running out of time in a season that's been spiraling out of control.
They have to talk to Anthony now and get a true sense if he believes that New York is the team that can not only keep its best player from entering that "dark place" that he desperately wants to avoid, but if he also sees the light in thinking the Knicks can ultimately take him to the place he's always wanted to go.
Jonathan Wagner is a Yahoo Sports contributor covering the New York Knicks, New York Giants and New York Mets. He also covers the Knicks as a beat writer for New York Sports Day and discusses a variety of sports topics as a co-host on the New York Sports Geeks online radio show. Follow him on Twitter, @JonathanJWagner.
- Sports & Recreation
- New York Knicks
- Carmelo Anthony
- New York