After starting 14–10, the Knicks are crumbling: Not only are they losers of 14 of their last 18 games, they have the NBA’s sixth-worst defense, a starting point guard taking unexcused absences, and one of team president Phil Jackson’s longtime confidants writing critiques about Carmelo Anthony in online columns.
Melo was so irked by Charley Rosen’s FanRag piece that he and Jackson held a one-on-one meeting on Tuesday, according to The NY Daily News, where Melo reportedly expressed his desire to stay in New York and restated his aversion to waive his no-trade clause. The meeting was described to The Vertical as “calm” and “business-like,” which is probably how an anonymous source would’ve described this meeting between Cersei Lannister and Ned Stark.
“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground,” Cersei warned Stark. We know how that worked out for Ned. Who is who in this Knicks situation? Jackson better hope he’s not Stark, but it’s starting to seem like it. After all, Melo has a history of getting his way.
Anthony forced his way out of Denver to New York, which flushed the Knicks’ most valuable assets from the team. Then, after one of the team’s most successful runs with Mike D’Antoni at the helm, Melo’s unwillingness to relinquish control marked the end of Linsanity and led to D’Antoni’s resignation. When Anthony signed a five-year, $124 million contract extension in 2014, the Knicks also gave him a no-trade clause. “There’s a reason Melo wanted no-trade clause in his contract,” Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted Tuesday, “He wants to live and play in New York. He won’t let Jackson chase him out.” That no-trade clause could be the sword that ends Jackson.
Outside of Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks are the walking dead and Jackson knows it. He must. The Knicks are 208–256 since they acquired Melo. Under five different coaches and two front-office decision-makers, nothing has worked. Carmelo is still unwilling to abandon his prehistoric isolation-based style with over 40 percent of his shots coming via isolations or post ups (per Synergy). Those ball-stopping play types stunt offensive flow, and Jackson has stated publicly that Melo holds the ball too long. Anthony has been apathetic about playing power forward — though that could change, which would be ideal since it would push Porzingis to the 5. And even as Melo’s scoring prowess has declined, he still hasn’t improved as a passer or shown the will to be a playmaker.
Right now, Melo’s legacy will be that of a player who won a national championship in college, garnered multiple gold medals, put up Hall of Fame numbers, and never won an NBA title. And that’s OK. Not everyone can be LeBron.
Melo deserves a chunk of the blame for being at the center of the various failed experiments, but he isn’t entirely at fault. Jackson’s only impactful moves since being hired in 2014 have been the draft-night additions of Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez. Other than that, it’s been swings and misses: the Arron Afflalo, Robin Lopez, and Joakim Noah signings; the Derrick Rose and Tim Hardaway Jr. trades; and the hiring of Derek Fisher.
Jeff Hornacek was hired this past offseason, but Jackson still hasn’t stopped publicly touting the triangle system that he used in Chicago and Los Angeles. This, along with Melo’s reluctance to play the 4, has left Hornacek trying to fit square pegs into round holes. The Knicks are a team of past-their-prime stars and, in Jackson and Melo, two stubborn leaders with conflicting philosophies.
Even if Jackson wanted to trade Anthony, there’s nothing he can do about it. Carmelo’s no-trade clause gives him all the power until he becomes a free agent in 2019 (also the year Jackson’s contract is up). By then, Jackson could be gone if Knicks owner James Dolan runs out of patience, or the Zen Master decides to bounce by using his opt-out clause this summer.
And even if Melo considered waiving his no-trade, the possible landing places are limited. You’d have to imagine Anthony would want to play in a big market where he could contend for a title. With those parameters, there aren’t many landing spots for Melo. In fact, two of the most obvious trade partners — Denver and Houston — are no-gos due to burned bridges (D’Antoni and forcing his way out, respectively). He’d probably love a Banana Boat reunion, but a Melo trade would seriously derail the title hopes of the Clippers or Cavaliers. The Warriors and Spurs don’t really need him, much less want him.
Melo “wants to stay in New York and win in New York,” a source told the Daily News. The Knicks will have cap space this summer, but unless Chris Paul is willing to team up with his Banana Boat buddy, or Blake Griffin prefers Broadway over L.A., it’s difficult to see a viable path to contention with the team’s current roster. Anthony can play in New York if he wants to, but he won’t be winning anytime soon.