Well, it didn't happen quite as quickly as one report indicated, but Carmelo Anthony made it official on Sunday, announcing in a brief note on his own website that he's returning to the New York Knicks. (No cloak-and-dagger as-told-to-SI essay here.)
Here's how 'Melo chose to start spreading the news, beneath a headline reading "MY CITY, MY HEART":
A few years ago I dreamed of coming back to New York City, the place of my birth, and on February 23, 2011 that became a reality. This organization has supported me and in return, I want to stay and build here with this city and my team. At this pivotal juncture in my career, I owed it to myself and my family to explore all of the options available to me. Through it all, my heart never wavered.
During this journey I met with some quality organizations who have amazing talent and leadership. I thank them for their consideration, belief in my talent, and opportunity to imagine the possibilities.
I will always remember this chapter in my life. In the end, I am a New York Knick at heart. I am looking forward to continuing my career in Orange & Blue and to work with Phil Jackson, a champion who builds championship teams. Madison Square Garden is the mecca of basketball and I am surrounded by the greatest fans in the world.
He will also be surrounded by lots and lots of dead presidents. The exact figure remains unclear, but it will apparently pay Anthony less than the absolute top dollar he could make — five years, $129.1 million — although not by a ton. Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Anthony accepted a five-year contract that will pay him at least $120 million to continue plying his trade in Manhattan.
Peter Botte of the New York Daily News reports that the deal, "perhaps [totaling] around $122 million," is structured so that Anthony's payout will drop in Year 2, allowing the Knicks "to free up significant cap space in the summer of 2015" after highly paid big men Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani come off the books. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports that it's "believed [Anthony] didn’t take [the maximum] annual 7.5 percent raise in Year 2 and may have taken a tiny pay decrease" for the second year of the contract, which "likely opens up about $2 million more in cap space for 2015."
That's not a huge haircut, but it's something, a compromise of sorts that allows Anthony to say he stayed (kind of) true to his All-Star Weekend statement that he'd take less money to help the Knicks' front office, which Jackson took over in March, build a winner.
“He did exactly what we kind of asked him to do, give us a break in the early part of his contract, so when we have some wiggle room next year — which will be, hopefully, big-enough wiggle room — we can exploit it and provide a more competitive team for our group,” Jackson told reporters at Las Vegas Summer League.
Building that more competitive squad around Anthony, whom Jackson called "the cornerstone of what we envision as a 'team of excellence'" in a team statement, will not be easy. As Grantland's Zach Lowe notes, bringing back Anthony will send the Knicks' payroll skyrocketing past the salary-cap and luxury-tax lines into the mid-to-high $80 million range this season, and while the reported second-year compromise affords some additional flexibility in a summer that could see a Knicks team with max cap space go big-game hunting for any of a number of starry names, the deal will still likely end up with Anthony ranking as the NBA's highest-paid player, with a salary in the neighborhood of $30 million, during a 2018-19 season in which he'll be 35 years old.
It's really, really hard to envision him being worth anywhere near that amount of money at that stage, to envision James Dolan being happy about signing those checks, and to envision a Knick team that doesn't hit home runs on virtually every other complementary move mounting an honest push for a championship, whether next year or in five years, even in an Eastern Conference where so much is in flux.
Those complementary moves would figure to start with finding a defensive centerpiece to replace, and ideally improve upon, the back-line play of the just-traded Tyson Chandler, and finding big men capable of thriving in the triangle offense that Jackson brought in new head coach Derek Fisher to install. This is why you're going to hear an awful lot of chatter about the Knicks wanting 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year/elbow-facilitating savant/2015 unrestricted-free-agent-to-be Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies over the next 12 months.
Also up near the top of the list: nailing the few draft picks they've got coming up, starting with a first-rounder in 2015, to provide young, low-priced, long-term-cost-controlled jolts to a roster that will feature 'Melo taking up a third of the salary cap and, in all likelihood, roughly that large a share of the Knicks' offensive possessions. This is why you're going to see an awful lot of attention paid to the development of sophomore point guard Shane Larkin, rookie wing scorer Cleanthony Early and rookie wing defender Thanasis Antetokounmpo, the trio of young players the Knicks received (along with veteran ball-handler Jose Calderon, whose court vision and long-range shot-making seems to make him a perfect fit for the triangle, and center Samuel Dalembert, who, um, is a center) in their recent trade with the Dallas Mavericks.
Even with Anthony back on board, the Jackson-and-Steve Mills-led front office and the Fisher-led coaching staff needs to get an awful lot of stuff right for the Knicks to rebound from 37-45 also-ran to something resembling an Eastern Conference finals contender. This is why it seemed to some that a sign-and-trade that would've sent Anthony elsewhere (read: to the Chicago Bulls) might have been the best option for both player and team. Ultimately, though, both sides preferred the devils they knew — Anthony getting the best available payday to stay in the city his family loves, Jackson holding onto a flashing-lights superstar whose presence all but assures a top-flight offense (Carmelo's teams have finished 12th or better in points scored per possession in nine of his 11 pro seasons) and who should prove to be a hand-in-glove fit for the triangle — to the devils they didn't.
And you know what? That's OK. As basic as this sounds, there's something to be said for retaining an excellent player, even if that retention by itself guarantees nothing beyond the right to pay that player.
The Knicks will continue to employ a man who averaged better than 27 points and eight rebounds a game on a team where he hardly had help, who hung 62 points on the league's sixth-best defense like it wasn't even there, who accepted the burden of being a one-man army on a going-nowhere team coached by a man who seemed adamantly opposed to the deploying the most successful possible version of his roster without complaint. They'll do so under a new regime that has thus far managed to keep Dolan ("the Knicks' very own Mount Etna") from erupting, that sounds committed to reducing Anthony's burden and being (you may want to sit down for this one) "fiscally responsible," and that has begun, in ways great and small, to face a "future [that] looks more tractable than many Knicks futures past."
They've bought themselves the opportunity to regain relevance, a puncher's/scorer's chance of bouncing back into the conversation in the shuffle-up-and-deal East, and the services of one of the world's most potent offensive forces. It might not be everything, but it's not nothing, either.
- - - - - - -