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If Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson found himself in Carmelo Anthony's position — staring down the prospect of a summertime decision whether to return to the New York Knicks or seek greener pastures in free agency — his choice would be simple: "I would leave today."
The legendary former Cincinnati Royals and Milwaukee Bucks guard, a 12-time All-Star who famously averaged a triple-double during the 1961-62 NBA season and won a title in Milwaukee in 1971, offered that advice to the Knicks forward during an interview with Robertson that will be broadcast on filmmaker/Knicks superfan Spike Lee's SiriusXM NBA radio show on Thursday. He went on to explain his reasoning:
“Wherever that kid’s gone, when he was at Denver, they had a team that fooled around with the ball, fooled around with the ball, then all of the sudden when they needed a basket, threw it to Carmelo,” Robertson said of Anthony’s time with the Nuggets. “Then, when he shot the ball, they said he shot too much. Then, when he didn’t shoot, they said he didn’t shoot enough. No matter what he does in New York, they’re going to criticize him, the people are going to criticize him, because you got guys on [the Knicks] that just cannot play.”
When Spike insisted things would change for the Knicks with the hiring of Phil Jackson, Robertson replied, “Let me ask you: When was the last time Phil Jackson played?”
“I think Phil is great to have gotten $12 million out of [Knicks owner Jim Dolan]. Super job. Take the money and run,” Robertson said. “If I were Carmelo, I would say, ‘Listen, I’m not gonna stay here and take all this gruff and all this criticism. You got other guys on the team making $12, $15, $16 million and doing nothing, and here I am averaging 28, 29 points per game.’”
So if not New York, what landing spot did Robertson see fit for ‘Melo?
“If he goes to Houston, they’re gonna win everything,” Robertson said. “You look at LeBron, LeBron’s got a great game, Durant’s got a great game — they can’t out-shoot Carmelo.”
A few thoughts:
• Technically, the earliest 'Melo could leave the Knicks would be July 1, after opting out of the final year of his existing contract and hitting the market following the opening of unrestricted free agency. But I get what Mr. Robertson's saying.
• I bet Kevin Durant and LeBron James could outshoot Carmelo Anthony. I mean, I'm not saying they'd beat 'Melo every single time they went shot-for-shot, but if they had shooting competitions a bunch of times, I'd have a hard time imagining KD and LeBron being unable to ever do a better job of shooting than 'Melo. They're really good at shooting, too.
• Robertson is absolutely right that some people in New York will criticize Anthony for anything short of winning an NBA championship. There are a lot of people who get mad at players for not being perfect champions in just about every city, but there are a lot of them in New York, with quite a number of them seeming to believe that the Knicks should be awesome because they believe New York to be better than other cities, which A) might be true but B) doesn't mean your basketball team just automatically gets to be great. As a result, 'Melo can be mostly awesome as part of the best Knicks team in more than a dozen years and catch flack for not leading it to a championship, as was the case last season, and he can be even better and catch flack for not leading it to something better than a 37-45 mark, as has been the case this year. On this score, the Big O is 100 percent correct.
• The last time Robertson played in the NBA was May 12, 1974.
• I'm not sure what either of those two facts has to do with anything.
• I'm sure the Houston Rockets wouldn't mind having 'Melo on-side right about now, especially with James Harden struggling so mightily on the offensive end. Then again, I'm skeptical 'Melo would be able to do much in the way of helping Houston handle LaMarcus Aldridge, which seems like the Rockets' main problem at the moment.
As some have noted, Robertson's opinion — while certainly nice to hear, since it's always nice to hear from the greats who helped make our favorite game what it is today — isn't likely to have very much bearing on anything relating to Anthony's impending opt-out, free-agent decision or ... well, anything at all, really. Robertson's suggestion that leaving New York would give 'Melo a better shot at winning a championship probably doesn't represent a grand revelation to the player in question; I'd wager that 'Melo had already conjured up that thought on his own.
As I wrote earlier this week, if Anthony truly wants to be on a contender immediately, the Knicks' present assets — in terms of players on hand, salary cap structure, future draft pick availability, etc. — make them seem like a losing bet, suggesting he may well be gone this summer. As our Kelly Dwyer wrote yesterday, there's not really a ready-made title contending fit out there for Anthony — the Rockets and Chicago Bulls come closest, but the fit could still be awkward and there's some salary-cap finagling to be done to make it work — unless he's comfortable with taking a more significant pay cut than just "playing for a smaller maximum contract." (The collective bargaining agreement allows the Knicks to offer Anthony up to five years and just over $129 million, while other clubs can offer at most four years and just under $96 million.)
Jackson's job will be to convince Anthony to both take that pay cut and that he'll be able to reconstruct a competitive roster (with very little flexibility in procuring upgrades) quickly enough to make it worth his while to stick around Manhattan. And if he can't, it'll be his job to convince Knicks fans that they're still "fortunate" and moving in a positive direction. These seem like two very difficult jobs. It's a good thing Jackson is very well compensated.
As Jackson goes about doing his job and Anthony weighs his options, Oscar Robertson will probably not have any role or impact in the proceedings. But now we know what he thinks, which is nice and, in conjunction with $2.50, will get you on the subway. Whether Anthony's of a similar mind is the much larger, and more significant, question.
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