Other than LeBron James, this year’s most highly coveted NBA free agent was Carmelo Anthony. If you had added up the frequent flyer miles to get to all of Anthony’s rumored destinations, you’d have gold-elite-first-class-super status…and jet lag.
But in the end Anthony went nowhere, meaning he simply re-signed with the New York Knicks, his team since 2011. But are the Knicks any closer to their first NBA title since 1973? To help answer that question, Ben Golliver, who covers the NBA for SI.com, joined Bill Littlefield.
BL: Ben, Anthony had no shortage of options. What was the biggest factor in his decision to remain in New York?
BG: Well, Carmelo was born in Brooklyn, so there’s going to be a hometown tie, but the NBA also has constructed a salary setup where the incumbent team — in other words the team you played for the previous season — has a financial advantage in being able to pay you more money over more years than any of the outside suitors. In Anthony’s case he was able to get more than $120 million from the Knicks, the kind of money he couldn’t get anywhere else.
BL: Did Carmelo Anthony give himself the best shot to win an NBA championship by staying in New York or should he have gone somewhere else?
BG: Well, clearly if everyone wanted to win a title, all they would do is go sign with the San Antonio Spurs for a very, very small salary because that’s the best team in the league right now. So it’s always going to be a balance when you’re talking about this much money.
But if you look at Carmelo specifically, I mean going to the Bulls probably would have given him a better shot in the immediate short term. Maybe even going to the Rockets would have given him a better shot in the short term. Or he could have potentially tried to replace LeBron down in Miami.
BL: Anthony returns to a team that’s undergone some massive changes. Hall of Fame coach and former Knicks player Phil Jackson took over as team president in March. The Knicks missed the playoffs and just hired a new coach — new to them and new to coaching: former NBA player Derek Fisher. That situation seems more like transition than title contention, doesn’t it?
BG: There’s no question that they’re in a rebuilding or at least a retooling mode, but keeping Carmelo keeps the Knicks relevant to a certain degree. They might not be ready to go right now. There is going to be this process of finding some new players to play alongside him — also a process of him getting used to a new coach in Derek Fisher and understanding exactly how Phil Jackson wants to run things, but it’s better than the alternative which is starting from scratch without an A-list caliber player.
BL: Jackson has already made a deal sending center Tyson Chandler and guard Raymond Felton to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for two draft picks and four players, including veteran guard Jose Calderon. Is more change ahead?
BG: Their big focus is going to be on next summer. If they simply let some of their bigger contracts come to an end, it gives you cap space and it gives you flexibility to really go chase some star players. That Heat ‘Big Three’ of Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade had just been so difficult to unseat in the Eastern Conference that a lot of teams had just been biding their time until those three broke up. Now that it’s happened, a team like New York can really pitch to free agents and say, “Hey, we’re one player away.”
BL: Ben, let’s close with a long-term prediction. Will the Knicks win their first title in more than 40 years sometime during the Phil Jackson-Carmelo Anthony era in New York?
BG: I think it’s going to be very tough. The main issue that they’re facing is that the Western Conference has accumulated so much talent. I think if you’re a Knicks fan, the right approach to take is to be patient until next summer and then hope that you can find that second star and that right combination of role players around that star pairing of Carmelo Anthony and someone else, and then now you can compete for a chance to go to the Finals.
I mean making the Finals is a huge accomplishment in and of itself, and sometimes when the talent is so skewed like it is in the NBA right now — it’s just so skewed to the Western Conference — it’s not just title or bust. Sometimes you almost have to take the consolation-prize route.