You’d be correct in concluding that Phil Jackson is playing politics through the media in reminding Carmelo Anthony that he’s made vague statements about preferring winning over money, and possibly taking less money to remain a New York Knick. The free agent to-be could sign a massive five-year deal in a week worth nearly $130 million if the new Knicks president chose to offer Carmelo the maximum, and in some lines of thinking that seems both a fair price for someone in Anthony that would have to waste a year of his prime in New York next season while the team waits out its rebuilding efforts.
Efforts that have no guarantee of coming to fruition, as the Knicks sniff out the 2015 free agency period.
Of course, there are several other lines of thinking here, even one that has the Knicks as better off for letting Anthony go for nothing and embracing the eventual financial freedom such an exodus would create. Jackson is playing politics, but he’s not wrong in calling out both Anthony’s recent statements, and the idea of top-heavy NBA rosters in the modern era.
From a press conference on Thursday, via ESPN New York’s Ian Begley:
“He’s the one that opened that up that it wasn’t about the money. So I challenged him on that because I want our fans to see he’s a team player, that he’s going to do what was best for this team to get ahead farther and faster. It’s not going to be an issue,” Jackson said.
“It’s not going to be an issue.” Tough words, from a guy that (currently, at least) has the ability to speak in these tones.
Jackson was then asked about his thoughts on loading up rosters with maximum contracts:
“I think it puts limitations on a team. What happens is then you end up having two or three players that have big contracts and everybody else’s is either veteran minimums or young players coming in,” Jackson said. “You don’t have that middle ground for a player that’s veteran, comfortable leadership-quality people.”
Again, Jackson’s not wrong.
Michael Jordan made an NBA-record $30.4 million in 1996-97 and $31 million in 1997-98, and the Bulls won two titles. Jackson’s Bulls were lucky in the payroll regard, as Scottie Pippen was woefully underpaid during the tail end of the team’s championship run – he was the NBA’s 122nd-highest paid player in 1997-98. Toni Kukoc was on a relatively cheap deal signed before the NBA’s short 1995 lockout and collective bargaining agreement, and Dennis Rodman was working on an incentive-laden deal worth less than today’s average salary.
Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant made the most that they possibly could under Jackson in Los Angeles, but the Lakers were in a constant summertime struggle to find minimum-salaried role players to surround the stars with. Players either on veteran’s exceptions or minimum offer sheets like Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Isaiah Rider, Mitch Richmond and others flamed out, while forgotten contributors like Mike Penberthy often had to work as the hero of the day in a pinch.
Miami may have made four straight Finals, but it was an obvious grind along the way, and the team’s depth took major hits because of the payments doled out to the Big Three. New York’s attempts in 2012-13 to build around Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler with minimum-salaried veterans failed, as it just isn’t a sustainable plan.
At some point, the league runs out of players. Yes, the Heat needs a floor-spacing point guard and a center that can protect the rim, but these available hypothetical players just aren’t out there at any price, much less Miami’s. And we don’t even have names for these players, yet. Cue up your terrible Seinfeld impression – who are these people?
This is why Jackson is hoping to bring Anthony in at a reduced rate, tons of money up front in his party prime, but all business in the back of the contract. Or, he’ll submit to the other end of that “man, are we fortunate”-riff, and let the guy go. And sign-and-trade options just don’t seem all that appealing, to me at least. Jackson’s rebuilding Knicks don’t need someone like Taj Gibson in a sign and trade. Taj can play, but he’s just 11 months younger than Anthony, making more than $8 million a year.
On Friday, Yahoo Sports’ Marc Spears reported that Anthony will make his decision rather quickly and that Jackson has told Anthony that he’d be willing to give him the max salary in certain situations, and that makes sense. He’ll have to figure out which team he wants to give up the money he once thought would easily be his to play for, whether that’s for the Knicks, Rockets, Bulls, Mavericks or Lakers. Still, unless Jackson can talk himself into things, or unless Knicks owner James Dolan swoops in and overrules Jackson, or Phil loses his damn mind, it doesn’t look like Anthony is going to get his five-year, nearly $130 million deal.
Of course, it’s New York. Check in again tomorrow.
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