Carmelo Anthony might have it up to here with Phil Jackson at this point. We’re not sure. There’s always a release valve, with Carmelo, and it involves his ability to play for the team he wants, in the city he wants, and for as much money as possible.
Phil Jackson, in ways that are becoming clearer and clearer to everyone but Phil Jackson (given the boot prints on his most recent trails) has less and less to do bothering Carmelo Anthony to a point of distraction. The Knicks superstar forward just doesn’t appear to worry himself too unduly with the work of the Knicks’ president, and Wednesday’s movement seems like enough exhibition for us to sign off on things.
In a recent interview with CBS, Phil Jackson chided Carmelo for a habit that dates back to his second season – when new coach George Karl (Denver’s third head coaching hire, just a season and a half into Melo’s time with the Nuggets) leaned into Anthony in asking him not to bring the offensive show to a stop every time he received the ball in the elbow or post, in a triple-threat position.
Go quickly with a move, Youngster We Can Talk Down To, and the offense will flourish. Jackson kept up with the hints in his most recent discussion:
“Carmelo a lot of times wants to hold the ball longer than — we have a rule: If you hold a pass two seconds, you benefit the defense. So he has a little bit of a tendency to hold it for three, four, five seconds, and then everybody comes to a stop,” Jackson said in an interview with CBS Sports Network that aired Tuesday. “That is one of the things we work with. But he’s adjusted to [the triangle], he knows what he can do and he’s willing to see its success.”
Jackson’s comments were prompted by a question about whether Anthony can fit in the triangle offense. Jackson made it clear he believes Anthony can.
“He can play that role that Michael
Jordan and Kobe Bryant played,” Jackson said. “It’s a perfect spot for him to be in that isolated position on the weak side, because it’s an overload offense and there’s a weakside man that always has an advantage if the ball is swung.”
Jackson (in the middle of a five-year, $60 million deal) is not wrong. Though Carmelo Anthony’s options in the low post and elbow are myriad when he receives the ball with a live dribble that has yet to be extinguished, there are innumerable options to be taken advantage of when he swiftly moves into the next, unexpected stage within the structure of the triple post offense. Making repeated exceptions, after rationalizing Anthony’s significant talent level, remains penny-wise at times and, in Phil Jackson’s Great View, pound-foolish.
Anthony, after being either reminded of or told for the first time of Jackson’s ongoing wishes in the wake of his team’s one-sided loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night, wasn’t exactly furious, but he wasn’t feeling it:
“I don’t want to answer those questions,” Anthony said after the Knicks’ 126-94 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night.
Anthony, who is normally affable with the media, maintained a smile but began to walk away from reporters when asked about Jackson’s comments before stopping and continuing with questions. He then responded to a query about the timing of the Knicks president’s remarks and whether they were productive.
“I don’t want to answer those questions,” Anthony said after the Knicks’ 126-94 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night. “I don’t even know what was said, to be honest with you. I just don’t even want to talk about that, what he’s talking about exactly. I want to stay away from that at this point,” Anthony said. “My focus is my teammates and winning. We’ve been playing great basketball, and that’s the only thing I’m focused on. Whatever Phil said, he said it. I have nothing to say about that.”
Anthony, working on a second half of a back-to-back, was held to eight points in just 24 minutes against the Cavs on Wednesday, in a contest that was over by the time the second quarter started. The game marked the first time all season Anthony was held to single-digit scoring.
The Knicks are at 12-10 following Wednesday’s understandable loss in the face of a defending champion Cavaliers team that clearly had no interest in wasting any time in the face of a team that broke all of the banks in the offseason, under Jackson and Anthony’s direction, in the hopes of achieving middling status. Even Cleveland’s move to entertain itself late in the blowout, according to one former champion, happened to send a message of sorts.
The Knicks are also 12th in offense, a somewhat remarkable achievement given the sheer amount of possessions used up by lead guard Derrick Rose – who, while not subpar, is less than remarkable in his current condition. Post-Achilles tear Brandon Jennings is shooting 38 percent, and while Joakim Noah has hit seven of his last nine shots, he remains a millstone offensively.
Anthony, meanwhile, is averaging 22.4 points, shooting 43 percent along the way, and save for the dips in passing (understandable given the paucity of shooters and finishers he’s surrounded with – even Kristaps Porzingis has been struggling terribly from the field of late) and rebounding (expected, at age 32) the All-Star stalwart is projecting as expected.
In a different field, so is Jackson.
Anthony does hold the ball, and it is a disappointment to outside observers the he wasn’t able to glide into his role at the triangle’s apex (that “weakside,” by-yourself position Jackson referenced) with the same ease that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant did back during Jackson’s coaching runs with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers.
This is par for the course given the circumstances, though. Only Jackson’s ego (more on that in a moment) got in the way of him presuming as much prior to this relationship’s current version of whatever the hell you want to call this backbiting, passive/aggressive purgatory. He didn’t want to lose his aging star in hand, back in 2014, and it has caught up with him.
Jordan started playing in the triangle at age 26, and Bryant was asked to take part at age 21. Anthony was already six months past 30, his best years behind him, and coming off of two years mostly spent at power forward. Jordan and Bryant not only were guards – bringing with them experience at being asked to make split-second decisions – but younger and malleable in ways that bore championship fruit nine seasons over.
Carmelo Anthony was and remains a scoring small forward in his 30s. Just as Phil Jackson signed up for when he tossed him $124 million just months after taking the Knicks over back in 2014.
And Phil Jackson is a shark that either fancies himself a corporate-type shark along the lines of Pat Riley, and a winsome-styled carnivore not unlike Gregg Popovich. His work will forever be done in brief, passive/aggressive snippets until there is a book to be written. Because baby boomers love talking about themselves, they love attention, and they sure do love making money.
Noting the P/A take, Anthony reminded us on Thursday (via Deadspin) that two can play at this game:
It helps Anthony’s side that not only does he remain one of the league’s most potent players when the ball in his hands, but that he has also toned down the holding and pausing per the league’s website. He remains one of the NBA’s best scorers on the catch-and-shoot, to be sure, and he could always serve to move quicker once the ball hits the mitts so as to make threats out of his four other teammates, but there’s only so many new tricks to polish to perfection at age 32.
Jackson should feel lucky, if not happy, with what he’s got. Only a nutter could have expected more.
Carmelo Anthony’s work in the triangle offense – or whatever bastardized version of it the Knicks currently run under new coach Jeff Hornacek – will always leave plenty to be desired. What Anthony has given the Knicks and Phil Jackson, though, is as much as can be reasonably expected. Reasonable observers with unending respect for both Anthony’s talents and the triangle offense’s possibilities should be able to agree on that.
Phil Jackson, in this case, is not a reasonable observer. Competition will do that to people, and of all Jackson’s many foibles recently made all the more glaring, this is low on the list of things he needs to work on.
As if he would. Because this isn’t going to stop.
Phil Jackson can’t coach the Knicks, and won’t coach the Knicks – he isn’t healthy enough for the grind after decades of submitting to it. He’s uncomfortable facing the media as a whole, in the scrum, and likely tired of the routine after staring it down for so long in Chicago and Los Angeles. That’s understandable.
He doesn’t have many John the Baptist-types left on his side in the media, which is unfortunate, and his last batch of one-on-one interviews have resulted in much-deserved ridicule. As such, he picks and chooses his spots, and as a competitor and individual with a big basketball brain he has to squeeze weeks’ worth of frustrations into something succinct, something run with that smirk that he always tends to roll with.
His recent unwavering remarks about LeBron James’ posse and the role of team ownership and a club’s front office laid bare his expectations regarding how, exactly, a team deals with a supposed problem like Melo. Or any player under contract, really. The empathy tends to dry once the ink does, with Phil Jackson.
Carmelo agreeably tuned in on that bottom line back in 2014. As a result part of his job as lead scorer and lead player is to take in the criticisms from afar from those who have trusted the ball to him lo, these many times per night. Phil Jackson is the team president, and Carmelo Anthony is just going to have to deal with that.
Those same sorts of thoughts would have sent Jackson, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Shaquille O’Neal into conniptions, of course, had they been sent down from Jerry West (in West’s lone year running the Lakers, prior to Jackson easing him out of comfort and into a brief retirement) or, heaven forbid, one Jerry Krause.
Think through Phil Jackson’s eyes, even if he won’t afford the same compassion to others.
Because Phil Jackson battled Wes Unseld in the paint, and because he stayed on the bench for so long (while West turned his nose up at a brief coaching spot prior to taking on a front office gig), he believes that he has earned the right to chime in where others should have remained quiet. He’s not Jerry Krause or Jerry West. It’s different this time, he swears.
And Carmelo Anthony, who makes over $24.5 million this year, is just going to have to wait Jackson out. Anthony dug in for a no-trade clause in 2014, he hasn’t asked for a deal, and you can bet he’s certain he’ll outlast Jackson (who has an opt-out for this summer in a deal that otherwise is up in 2018) with the Knicks. With James Dolan still around, the Knicks are always a little flirt and flash of spectacular leg away from Isiah Thomas taking over things anyway.
Carmelo Anthony probably doesn’t want that, but he doesn’t want a lot of things he’s either been struck with, or things he’s agreed to.
Phil Jackson is not unlike his star player, in this construct. Looks like the next book might have a co-author.
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