When the clock struck midnight on July 1, 2014, the debate in Knicks-land centered around what they should do with their star high-scoring forward, Carmelo Anthony. New President Phil Jackson hinted at life without Anthony and even tweaked him in the media about taking less money to come back. Anthony hit the country, visiting Dallas, Houston, Chicago and Los Angeles and left the final visit for New York. He decided to take the money. On July 12, 2014, it became official and Anthony was returning to the Knicks on a five-year $124-million-dollar deal. At the time, he said “I am looking forward to continue 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.”
What has transpired since has been a disaster. Anthony dealt with a knee injury for the first half of the season before deciding to have surgery and shutting it down for the year after the All-Star game. The Knicks endured a 17-win season, which resulted in the fourth overall pick in June’s NBA Draft and Kristaps Porzingis. The pick of Porzingis did not reportedly put a smile on the face of Anthony, despite what he says on social media. Porzingis is a project that will need time to develop. Welcome to New York, Kristaps!
We watched Knicks cast-offs like JR Smith and Iman Shumpert have some playoff success as Cleveland went to the NBA Finals. Jackson’s initial choice to coach this team, Steve Kerr, won an NBA title with the team that beat the Cavs in the Finals. His second choice, Derek Fisher, showed his inexperience in his first season at the helm. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget that owner Jim Dolan brought Isiah Thomas back into the building to serve as President of the Liberty, to the reported chagrin of Jackson.
When Jackson was brought aboard and we all clamored for a stabilizing force. But there has been no such stabilization. The Knicks are the rudderless ship they have been for quite some time. When NBA free agency began last Wednesday, we thought Jackson would work his magic. Initially, Jackson brought the Knicks instant credibility and we believed his 13 championship rings would be a major selling point to potential free-agents. As of now, we were wrong.
So is New York the place to play? It was for Anthony because they could pay him the most. Of course, not everyone is wired like Anthony. NBA players want to get paid but most also want to win. MSG is no longer the drawing card that it once was. New York City no longer has the same appeal that it once did. Players can be global stars playing in cities like Cleveland, Miami and Oakland. The highest selling jerseys in the NBA right now are Steph Curry and LeBron James. Both obviously do not play in major markets. They can visit New York anytime they want, but that does not mean they want to live and work here. There is not as much stress and far less pressure in cities where the money is just as green and the playoffs are a realistic goal.
Did Phil make promises that he has yet to cash? Absolutely. Is the triangle offense old and antiquated? It is, and I do not need to watch a Spike Lee documentary on MSG to realize that. Is Carmelo a great recruiter that other NBA stars are clamoring to play with? You know that answer.
Early returns on Anthony and Jackson are not good ones to say the least. When free agent Greg Monroe signs with Milwaukee and not the Knicks because he wants to win, you now have a great understanding of where the Knicks are. The Knicks were founded in 1946 and have won two NBA titles in their history. Those banners were won in 1970 and 1973. It is now 2015 and we all need a reality check. NBA stars do not need New York. New York needs the stars. That was the case a year ago when Anthony decided to take the money and come back to the Knicks. He was the outlier. We have seen more and more examples of players wanting to put themselves in winning situations. Monroe was just the latest example.
The executives and the players change, but the story still remains the same. MSG is billed as the World’s Most Famous Arena and the Mecca of basketball. To the players who actually hit the court, it is just another building. We all need to realize that. Blame goes all the way around. Dolan, Jackson, Anthony, Fisher - just to name a few. This is no quick fix and Jackson has his work cut out for him. In selling the Knicks brand to players, it is the equivalent of trying to sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman wearing white gloves. Long road ahead indeed.