Phil Jackson probably didn’t expect much blowback for Friday’s insistence that New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony “is a player that would be better somewhere else,” but he’s deservedly invited just that for his comments on the frustrated Knicks star, whose no-trade clause has gotten in the way of Jackson’s move to dump the 32-year-old scoring forward.
The Knicks president, who met with media for the first time in months on Friday in a 49-minute discussion, was sharply rebuked by National Basketball Players Association president Michele Roberts in a statement on Saturday:
“We voiced with the Commissioner today our view on the inappropriate comments by Knicks President Phil Jackson. If players cannot, under threat of league discipline, speak openly about their desire to be employed elsewhere, we expect management to adhere to the same standards. The door swings both ways when it comes to demonstrating loyalty and respect.”
NBA players under active contract with teams cannot discuss the possibility of jumping toward another team via impending free agency or public trade demand. The league is quick to fine such outbursts, no matter how justifiable in the eyes of an unhappy player.
Carmelo Anthony would certainly rank as one in New York. The ten-time All-Star turns 33 in May, but he would score the Knicks and Jackson a hit on the trade market were he to accept that his presence on the ever-rebuilding Knicks serves next to no purpose. Anthony has over $54 million owed to him over the next two seasons of the deal, and Carmelo has shown little interest in moving his family away from New York City even if it means playing for a Knicks team that repeatedly misses the playoffs.
The Knicks have yet to hit the postseason in Jackson’s tenure, but that didn’t stop the team and Jackson from agreeing to finalize the final two years of the five-year, $60 million deal he signed to become team president in 2014. The former Bulls and Lakers coach has a mind for the game and a background in scouting as well, but he had no league executive experience prior to taking on the most high-profile executive gig in the NBA, and it has shown.
Jackson and Anthony shot their martyrdom to bits almost immediately by agreeing on a too-easy, five-year and $124 million deal during Phil’s first offseason as Knicks president in 2014, showcasing a shocking lack of perspective from either side of the negotiating table almost immediately as both sides struggled to mind their various muses: Jackson had to keep team owner James Dolan happy in retaining his signature star, while Anthony wanted to ensure a well-heeled future in New York regardless of the team’s on-court outlook.
After a season of sniping, and the promise of more card tricks to come, Jackson’s comments and Melo’s anticipated social media reaction could be ranked as expected to many that have observed this mess in New York since the outset of the two’s relationship.
What the NBPA is correct to point out, though, is that league executives absolutely cannot be in the business of, essentially, shaming players that are working under legal, guaranteed and agreed-upon (by Phil Jackson!) contracts into giving up either money or professional security or both in order to make fans, team presidents and legacy-obsessives happy by agreeing to a trade to a contender.
If a player came anywhere close to Jackson’s comments – “It’s clear I don’t fit in here, it would be best if they traded me to another team for the final two years of my contract” – he would receive unquestioned punishment from the league’s head office, as agreed upon by the NBA and its players’ union.
It is now up to the NBA to realize that Phil Jackson, in commenting on his own players’ permanence and impermanence (to cop a Jackson phrase) while that player is still under contract with the club Jackson is charged with running, violated not only the spirit but the letter of the NBA law in commenting so candidly on Carmelo Anthony’s viability with the Knicks moving forward.
Phil Jackson might not be wrong in his assertions, regarding Anthony. As with just about everything he’s done since moving in as Knicks president, though, Jackson went the complete and utter wrong way in attempting to see his motives through, though.
It’s an embarrassing turn that, with Knicks owner James Dolan still in charge and with Phil Jackson making the same excuses he’s pushed for decades, doesn’t figure to end any time soon. What the NBA does figure to do, soon, is send a little financial correction Jackson’s way in the wake of statements he should have wholly reconsidered.
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