Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

New York Knicks: Why Carmelo Anthony Should Bolt in Free Agency

Three years ago, I was sitting on my living room couch when the news broke that the New York Knicks–my beloved New York Knicks–had traded for Carmelo Anthony. Without any hesitation, I began to parade around my house as I attempted to fully soak up the moment.

After ten long, miserable years of supporting the Knicks, I–along with New York fans across the globe–finally had a source of hope.

Carmelo Anthony was going to be the savior.

For the first time since the Patrick Ewing era, New York was home to a legitimate superstar. A legitimate superstar that, so long as a few of the right pieces were built around him, could potentially lead the Knicks to a championship.

It was a dream come true for the organization, it was a dream come true for New York fans, and–most importantly–it was a dream come true for Carmelo.

Not only did Anthony play his college basketball at Syracuse (where he won a National Championship in 2003), he was also born in Brooklyn. New York was and is his home. It’s where he always fantasized about playing professional basketball.

And on February 23, 2011, his dream became a reality. In his first game as a Knick–a game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Madison Square Garden–he scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead his new team to a six-point victory.

The evening’s most memorable moment? Prior to tipoff, ‘Melo was welcomed into the organization with a video tribute to the tune of P. Diddy’s “I’m Coming Home” during player introductions.

Perfection.

To say the very least, the future in New York was bright–maybe brighter than it had ever before been.

But, as Carmelo would eventually come to acknowledge, it was going to be a process–a one or two-year process–before the Knicks ultimately hit their peak.

In acquiring Anthony, New York parted ways with three starters (Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Raymond Felton), Timofey Mozgov (who himself started 14 times in 34 games played with the Knicks during the 2010-11 season), a 2014 first-round pick (which, for all we know, could allow Denver to land Jabari Parker this summer), and two second-round picks.

It was, by most accounts, an exhaustive overhaul of the roster.

And, as expected, the Knicks suffered, at least to some degree. They were swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs, and a season later, they were ousted in just five games by the Miami Heat, again in the first round. In fact, from when ‘Melo arrived in the Big Apple until the conclusion of the 2012 postseason, New York defined mediocrity, winning 51 games and losing 52.

By the 2012 offseason, however, the Knicks were able to assemble a team with savvy veterans, three-point snipers, several capable point guards, and a number of defensive-minded players.

It was a team tailor-made for Carmelo Anthony to lead to success, and succeed the Knicks did. Last season, they won 54 regular season games, captured the Atlantic Division crown, and even advanced past the first round of the playoffs.

At last, New York had a team to be proud of.

And then all hell broke loose.

Since the moment their 2012-13 season came to an end, the Knicks have reverted to the organization and the franchise that we all came to know–and hate–for the 12 years prior to last season.

First, in late-June, they agreed to deal three draft picks, Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, and Quentin Richardson to the Toronto Raptors for Andrea Bargnani. It wasn’t just a  move that will further stunt the team’s long-term growth, it was a move that proved to be non-beneficial in the short-run. Bargnani hasn’t played since mid-January and is averaging only 13 points per game on 44 percent shooting from the field and 28 percent from three.

The following month, the team re-signed J.R. Smith–the epitome of a team cancer–to a three-year deal. For whatever reason, the Knicks felt that Smith–the same guy who asked a fan on Twitter if she wanted “The Pipe” and the same guy who elbowed Jason Terry in Game 4 of the Boston series–would clean up his act.

Shocker: they were wrong.

In September, Smith was dealt a five-game suspension for violating the league’s anti-drug program. The only scenario in which the league administers a five-game suspension for a violation of the anti-drug program? A third positive test for marijuana. So, yes, that means J.R. tested positive three times (three times!) for marijuana. He’s talented, but as I said, he’s a cancer.

And, as if the summer months weren’t bad enough for New York, things only got worse when the regular season began. As of today, the Knicks are 21-39, and it’s looking more and more like they will miss the playoffs in a historically-egregious Eastern Conference.

Understand that losing is one thing. Understand that being 12-and-a-half games out of first-place in the Atlantic Division is one thing. Understand that being in the same company (record-wise) as tank machines like the Sacramento Kings and Boston Celtics is one thing.

But being a team and a franchise that consistently shows ineptitude–as the Knicks have this season and in seasons past–is an entirely different monster.

Obviously, there are several individuals within the organization that are at fault for the the team’s downfall, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the front office–specifically James Dolan–as the root of the problem. Dolan, the team’s owner, has acted outlandishly and often immaturely throughout his tenure in New York, and this season has been no exception.

Since the start of last offseason alone, Dolan has a) fired the general manager (Glen Grunwald) responsible for assembling the team that won 54 games, b) become so overly engrossed in his obsession with outdoing Mikhail Prokhorov and the Brooklyn Nets that he made one of the NBA’s worst trades (the Bargnani deal) of the last decade, c) ordered the Knicks City Dancers to stop…dancing, d) said he expected a Knicks championship in 2014, e) claimed that Isiah Thomas deserves another shot in the NBA, and f) said he didn’t regret Amar’e Stoudemire’s 100-million dollar contract.

Now, some of those claims/decisions/orders haven’t directly impacted the Knicks’ success this season, but they are each very telling, and they each make it clearly that Dolan still hasn’t a clue of how to run a professional basketball team. He just doesn’t get it.

But, with that being said, it’s not just Dolan. The head coach isn’t exactly innocent, either.

It’s almost as if Mike Woodson–who, in my opinion, was vital in the Knicks winning 54 games a season ago–has suddenly forgotten how to coach.

Despite the constant losing, Woody has rarely felt the need to alter his approach over the past four months. All season long, he has trotted out the same questionable lineups and expected different results. He still plays Amar’e and Tim Hardaway Jr. (the team’s worst two defenders) together late in close games, he doesn’t give Pablo Prigioni near the minutes the 36-year old deserves, he plays J.R. Smith (12.9 PPG, .388 FG%) 33 minutes per game, and the only thing stopping him from still starting Bargnani on a nightly basis is the Italian’s elbow injury currently keeping him out of action.

And rather than shoulder the responsibility for his team’s failures, Woodson has been blame-deflecting throughout the year.

In mid-December, after the Knicks’ first of many head-scratching losses–a 102-101 home loss to the Washington Wizards in December–in which Woody opted to not call a timeout prior to New York’s final offensive possession, he unjustifiably charged Beno Udrih with being accountable for the mishap, saying that “Beno grabbed [the ball and inbounded it to 'Melo]” before he (Woodson) could react.

Right.

Less than three weeks later, Woodson again threw Beno under the bus, this time blaming him for a three-pointer that J.R. took–yes, that J.R., not Beno, took–with 21 seconds left late in a tie-game, rather than holding the ball for the final shot. The head coach acknowledged that Smith probably shouldn’t have taken the three, but also asked, “Did Beno have to throw him the ball?” before adding, “You gotta look at that.”

Are you kidding me?

It’s a mystery to me how Woodson is still the Knicks’ head coach. He lost his grip on the locker room months ago, something that started to become obvious when Tyson Chandler–maybe the most respected voice on the team–publicly questioned the coach’s defensive schemes following a 103-80 home loss to Brooklyn. Days earlier, Carmelo seemed to also take a shot at Woodson after a 117-89 loss in Indiana, when he said the Pacers “made adjustments” in the second half and that the Knicks “didn’t make the adjustment back to it”.

The other players–the young players, especially–see comments like those from Tyson and ‘Melo, and they see how Woodson treated Beno (who ultimately asked for and was granted a buyout) and how he treated Metta World Peace (who was also granted a buyout), and it becomes increasingly difficult for them to respect the head coach. When they can’t respect you, they won’t listen to you.

And after watching the Knicks over the past two weeks, it’s clear that they’ve given up. They don’t have any heart or desire to win. There are bad teams every year–not just in the NBA, but in every sport–that fight until the final second of the final game, just out of love for their coach. The Knicks don’t even do that, which tells me they have quit on Woodson.

The team’s waving of the white flag, if you will, is also a sign of the dysfunction within the organization, something that–if it weren’t already obvious through Woodson’s stubbornness and finger-pointing or through Dolan’s incompetence–became evident last Tuesday morning, when Raymond Felton was arrested on gun charges.

Per The Wall Street Journal, Felton was arrested on New York’s Upper West Side for criminal possession of a weapon and originally faced three charges–second degree, third degree, and fourth degree. He was officially arraigned on two of those weapon possession charges, and was released on $25,000 bail.

To be clear, I have always liked Raymond Felton, the person. He has a good heart, and I’ll be rooting for him when his June 2 trial rolls around. But, despite all of that, this incident was inexcusable, and it represents what the Knicks have become.

This doesn’t happen to the Miami Heat. This doesn’t happen to the Oklahoma City Thunder. This doesn’t happen to the San Antonio Spurs or to the Indiana Pacers.

This, this level of stupor, can only be associated with the New York Knicks. And, quite frankly, it’s embarrassing.

The Knicks, simply put, are–from top to bottom–a disaster.

It’s fitting that Mike Woodson, James Dolan, J.R. Smith, and so many others are suffering through this period. With their decision making and with their actions, they had it coming.

Carmelo Anthony, on the other hand, deserves better. It’s that simple. Since he came to the Knicks three years ago, ‘Melo has routinely laid everything on the line for this team and for this city.

This season, of course, has been no exception–he is averaging 28.2 points per game (0.7 points shy of his career-high) and a career-best 8.7 rebounds per game. He gives it everything he’s got, night in and night out, and is rarely–if ever–rewarded for his dedication.

The seven-time All-Star will become a free agent this summer, and I believe that–for his sake–he should walk away from the New York Knicks.

It’s sad, really, because what was once Carmelo’s dream has become his worst nightmare. He’s stuck on a cellar-dwelling team with an owner he can’t trust, a head coach he can’t trust, and, worst of all, teammates he can’t trust.

A year ago, when the Knicks were busy winning 54 games, Anthony was aided by the Sixth Man of the Year in J.R. Smith, an NBA All-Defensive First Team member in Tyson Chandler, and a point guard (Felton) who had one of the best seasons of his career. This season, Smith, Chandler, and Felton (and Iman Shumpert, for that matter) are each having career-worst or close to career-worst seasons.

The lack of help has, not surprisingly, taken quite the toll on ‘Melo. He’s playing an average of 39 minutes per game, far more than any other player in the NBA. He empties his tank on a nightly basis and usually runs out of gas by the midway point of fourth quarters.

That type of over-expenditure might be worth it if the Knicks were fighting for a division title or even for a playoff spot, but on a team that is on pace to win fewer than 30 games? It has to be exhausting. I can’t imagine that any player in his position–having to carry such a heavy load while regularly enduring losing–would want to return to the same situation the following season.

In the midst of all of this havoc, Anthony has also been forced to watch so many of his peers and close friends–from LeBron James to Dwyane Wade to Kevin Durant–legitimately compete for an NBA championship.

The truth is that ‘Melo also deserves to compete for a championship. He’s too much of an exceptional talent, too much of a fighter, too much of a good person to not at least get that opportunity.

In fact, I’m going to suggest something that most Knicks fans–myself included–will probably hate me for: Carmelo should do whatever is necessary to join forces with LeBron.

Yes, I said it: Carmelo Anthony should take his talents to South Beach. Now, I realize that it would be very difficult to pull off, as ‘Melo, LeBron, Wade, and Chris Bosh would each need to sign for $14 million per year to make it work financially. But I also believe that, if anyone can make it happen, it’s Pat Riley. And if any four superstars are selfless enough to take less money in order to win, it’s ‘Melo, LeBron, Wade, and Bosh.

So, I’m not going to dismiss it as impossible.

And, maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it sure seems like LeBron has gone out of his way recently to be complimentary of ‘Melo–even more so than usual. During All-Star Weekend, ‘Bron was asked about his relationship with the Knicks star, to which he replied, “He can call me any time, any day, and whatever it is, I’ll drop whatever I’m doing to talk…If anything happened to him, I wouldn’t mind bringing his family on. It’s one of those relationships.”

This is one outsider’s perception of it, but to me, that quote sounded like one guy (LeBron) talking about not just a close friend, but a potential future teammate.

Less than two weeks following those comments, James praised Carmelo’s willingness to take a pay cut this offseason, saying, “What I got out of it is, he wants to win. Everyone says they want to win, but that’s what it’s about.”

Again, that sounded like LeBron might have been hinting–whether intentionally or unintentionally–at his desire to team up with Carmelo in the near future.

LeBron is a shrewd operator, and he knows that–if he wants to stay in Miami and continue to win championships–he needs help. Dwyane Wade is slowly but surely beginning to break down, and Chris Bosh just isn’t enough of a talent to be the second option on a championship team in today’s NBA.

Enter Carmelo into the equation and you don’t just get a contender, you get a team that will be the NBA’s prohibitive favorites for the next three-to-five seasons.

Personally, do I want to see the Heat win even more championships? No, but at the same time, a large part of me simply wants whatever it is that’s best for Carmelo. And, if it presents itself as a possibility, playing in Miami would be the most sound option for him. I believe that he (maybe the game’s best catch-and-shoot scorer) and LeBron (maybe the game’s best distributor) could make for the best one-two offensive punch in NBA history.

Best of all, Anthony would almost certainly win the championship that he deserves.

And even if he can’t find a way to sign with Miami, Carmelo’s options during free agency will still be aplenty.

He could sign with the Chicago Bulls, who have–reportedly, at least–become his preferred landing spot. The Bulls would likely need to make a few roster moves just to create the necessary cap space to sign him, but would a “Big Three” of Carmelo, Joakim Noah, and (presumably) a healthy Derrick Rose not make a title contender? I can’t envision a scenario in which that team wouldn’t at least be in the hunt.

If Chicago doesn’t pan out, Anthony could consider joining forces with James Harden and Dwight Howard in Houston. Like the Bulls, the Rockets will need to make a trade if they wish to gain enough cap room to offer ‘Melo the max. Fortunately for them, the contracts of both Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin are set to expire after next season. That should make it relatively simple for general manager Daryl Morey to pull off a couple of salary-dumping trades before (or during) this summer’s free agency period.

I’ve made the argument that the Rockets already have enough to compete for a title, but if they were to add Anthony in the summer, there wouldn’t even be a question–Houston would immediately become my pick to win the 2015 NBA Finals.

Among Carmelo’s other suitors will be both Los Angeles teams and, of course, the Knicks. He’s going to have a decision–a hard decision, I might add–to make. Obviously, as a die-hard fan of the ‘Bockers, I would be thrilled if he elected to stay in New York. But above all else, I just want him to win and to be happy.

I’ve watched nearly every minute of basketball that Carmelo Anthony has played since he entered the league in 2003. I’ve watched most of his halftime, postgame, offseason, and practice interviews. I’ve seen him mature from the kid who appeared in the 2004 video entitled “Stop Snitchin'” into the man he is today. I’ve grown to admire him not only as a basketball player, but as a person. Don’t let the media stereotypes fool you. He isn’t a ball-hog on the court, nor is he selfish or egocentric off of it. He’s a genuinely good human being who deserves success in the NBA.

And, though it pains me deeply to admit it, the quickest path to success for him is a path that he’s currently not on. He needs to play for an owner who values winning over attention, a coach who demands respect in a locker room, and teammates he can rely on, three things that the Knicks simply cannot offer.

So, Carmelo, for the good of your own legacy, get the hell out of New York, as fast as you can.

Tags: Carmelo Anthony LeBron James New York Knicks

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