Four days ago, I wrote that the New York Knicks had better hope their at-the-buzzer loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, their ninth loss in 10 games, meant they’d reached rock bottom. On Sunday, Jeff Hornacek’s crew reminded me, and Knicks fans everywhere, that it can always get worse … and that when you’re talking about the ‘Bockers, there can always be more palace intrigue and soap-opera dramatics, too.
The Knicks’ Sunday matinee against the Toronto Raptors went about how you’d expect a meeting between the NBA’s No. 1 offense and sixth-worst defense to unfold. The Raptors blitzed New York with a 42-point second quarter, hanging 69 points before halftime — the sixth time in the last nine games that the Knicks have conceded 60 or more before intermission. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and company then stepped on the Knicks’ necks, outscoring New York 27-8 in the third quarter — tied for the franchise’s fifth-lowest-scoring quarter since 1954 — to lead by as many as 38 before both coaches emptied their benches.
After 14 or so minutes of Marv Albert would have called “extended gar-bajj time,” the Raps had earned a breezy 116-101 win, the Knicks had suffered their 10th loss in their last 12 games … and Carmelo Anthony had to face a new round of questions about whether he’s really sure he wants to stick around for yet another circling-the-drain campaign in the Big Apple.
The five-year, $124.1 million contract that president of basketball operations Phil Jackson gave Anthony to stay with the Knicks in the summer of 2014 included both a 15 percent trade kicker, which would pay him a reported $10 million bonus if he’s dealt this season, and a full no-trade clause affording Anthony the power to veto any deal to any destination he might not fancy. That clause has been a frequent topic of conversation over the past three seasons, and it’s back at the forefront of Knicks-related chatter thanks to a recent column by Charley Rosen.
The author and former assistant on Jackson’s staff with the ABA’s Albany Patroons in the early 1980s, long one of Jackson’s main media confidantes, ripped Anthony as a primary source of the Knicks’ ongoing woes, claimed “it’s understood that [Anthony would] only accept being dealt to the [Cleveland] Cavaliers or the [Los Angeles] Clippers,” and suggested that “since his recurring complaint is that everybody blames him for every game the Knicks lose, perhaps Melo is sufficiently disgusted to accept a trade elsewhere.” Anthony’s longtime friend and former U.S. Olympic teammate, Dwyane Wade, doesn’t think that’s the case. He said last week he believes ‘Melo is “going to be [in New York] as long as they want him here — win, lose or draw.”
But Rosen — who, again, has long been tight with the Knicks’ personnel chief — writing that “the only sure thing is that Carmelo Anthony has outlived his usefulness in New York” raised the question: What if “they” don’t want him here anymore? What’s ‘Melo’s move then?
Well, according to the man himself, that’s something he’d like to discuss with Jackson … or, y’know, wherever those comments originated. From Anthony Rieber of Newsday:
Anthony […] indicated he thought those comments might be coming from Jackson.
“If that’s the case,” Anthony said, “if that’s what’s coming from that side, then I guess it’s a conversation that we should have. If they feel that my time in New York is over, then I guess that’s a conversation we should have.”
Reminded that Rosen, and not Jackson, was the author, Anthony said: “Listen, if that’s what they feel, if that’s what’s coming from that side, then that’s what’s coming from that side. I haven’t thought once about that, to be honest with you. I hear all the rhetoric that’s going on out there. I still come to work every day and play and bust my ass and try not to worry about it.”
Even as the Knicks trudge through their most dismal stretch of another underwhelming season — they now sit at 18-23, 2 1/2 games back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, with a defense utterly unable to get stops and with sophomore star Kristaps Porzingis sidelined by Achilles tendinitis — Anthony insisted Sunday that waiving the no-trade clause in search of greener pastures hasn’t crossed his mind. From Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:
When a reporter told Anthony about the increasing speculation among fans and media that he would waive his no-trade clause, Anthony replied: “They want me out?”
“I’ve never even thought about that,” he added. “I guess people are talking about it but it’s not something I’ve thought about so far.”
Anthony also confirmed that he is committed to the team.
“People can have their own opinions, but I haven’t mentioned it once. But that seems to be the trend when you start losing. People want to start searching.”
That search has brought fans and media members back to the questions many have had ever since (and, really, even before) Anthony and the Knicks decided to renew their vows in the summer of 2014. Namely: How can a brick-by-brick rebuild around young talent (e.g., the 21-year-old Porzingis and, ideally, whichever prospect the Knicks draft in the first round this summer) coexist with a commitment of long-term money and top-dog status to the 32-year-old Anthony?
Moreover, how does the idea of building for the future dovetail with paying hand-over-fist for 31-year-old Joakim Noah, or trading Robin Lopez (three years younger than Noah and on a pre-cap-spike contract) plus 2015 first-round pick Jerian Grant to Chicago for Derrick Rose, who was in the midst of a civil rape trial (in which he was later cleared of all charges) at the time of the deal, who has been a significant enough defensive negative to outweigh his offensive contributions, and who recently missed a game without explanation or communication before returning, receiving a fine of nearly $200,000, and reportedly moving with haste from considering retirement to aiming for a maximum-salaried contract in free agency this summer? When you try to walk down two roads at the same time, how far can you really travel?
So far, the answer over the past two seasons has been “just far enough to be a bit below average, on the fringes of playoff contention in the lesser conference.” That might still be enough for Anthony, who loves his life in New York and who made it clear this summer that he’d be happy walking away from the game with a historic three Olympic gold medals and no NBA title, if that’s the way it shakes out.
If it’s not, though — if some combination of the Knicks’ consistent inability to get back to the heights of the 54-win 2012-13 season, the desire to make a real push at a title as he moves into his mid-30s and/or an unwillingness to continue to serve as the scapegoat for perpetual organizational failure leads him to shift his family-focused decision-making calculus and give up on his goal of retiring in New York — then, well, maybe that is a conversation he and Phil should have. And, depending on its outcome, maybe one that a prospective contender would like to get in on in the 5 1/2 weeks or so before the Feb. 23 trade deadline.
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