On Tuesday, Phil Jackson held his introductory news conference as he now takes over as team president of the New York Knicks. The last decade of the franchise could be described as clumsy at best, with only one playoff series victory since the 1999-2000 team went to the Eastern Conference Finals. Since that run, the Knicks have suffered the failed experiments of Lenny Wilkens, Larry Brown, and Mike D’Antoni, not to mention the embarrassment that was Isiah Thomas’ tenure as both executive and coach. The team endured the humiliation that was the pursuit of Carmelo Anthony, giving up a king’s ransom to acquire a second-tier superstar at the behest of team owner James Dolan despite the protestations of then-team president and brilliant basketball man Donnie Walsh. Yeah, things haven’t gone well.
So now Phil Jackson takes over. And now Jackson, arguably the greatest coach and most respected mind in basketball history, gets to fix the debacle that has been the New York Knicks. And his first order of business is to figure out what to do with free-agent-to-be Carmelo Anthony, who plans to opt out of the final year of his contract this summer. Anthony says he’d like to sit down and have a one-on-one conversation with Jackson before he makes up his mind on whether to return to the Knicks.
“I’m willing to do whatever,” Anthony said Monday. “As long as it’s gonna put me in a situation to win, I’m willing to do whatever. I’m not sold or stuck on my play. What I’ve been able to do these past 10-11 years has gotten me to where I am right now.”
He added, “If Phil wants to come in and change that this late in my career, if it’s going to help me out to win a championship, I’m with it.”
So at age 29, with all of three playoff series wins and one trip to the conference finals on his resume, Carmelo Anthony is finally willing to do “whatever” it takes to win. You can count me among the skeptical. While his draft class contemporaries LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh have racked up a combined 11 trips to the Finals and 7 championship rings, Melo has had to settle for good numbers, an annual trip to the All-Star Game, one scoring title, and a couple of gold medals. While all fine accolades, not a single one of those will place you in the conversation of the game’s great players.
And these quotes from Monday just further illustrate that Anthony deserves no place in such conversations. It should be disconcerting to Jackson that his arrival means Anthony is now serious about winning. His willingness to alter his game for the good of team success seems incredibly hollow, and just goes to show that Anthony’s biggest concerns continue to be about prestige, and not winning at all costs. Why is it that Anthony is willing to listen to Jackson, but considered himself above having to listen to Jeff Bzdelik, George Karl, Mike D’Antoni, and most recently, Mike Woodson? Bzdelik wanted Anthony to grow up. Karl wanted Melo to defend and rebound. D’Antoni wanted him to move the ball. Woodson has wanted to see more leadership. Each step along the way, Anthony has been resistant to adapt and grow as a player, stubbornly thinking that his scoring would be enough, that as long as he was getting isolation plays, then that was best for the team.
It never has been. It wasn’t in Denver, and has not been in New York. Carmelo Anthony is one of the great individual scorers in the last 20 years in the NBA. But he’s never been about winning, never been about the team, and never been about trusting 11 other guys to help put him over the top while also working to make them better. These are all the cornerstones of Phil Jackson’s philosophy. These most recent quotes sound as though Anthony is more concerned with the cachet of being attached to Jackson, and not what Jackson actually has to say. An unwillingness to listen to some very good basketball minds in the past makes it hard for me to believe he will listen to the Zen Master now. But hey, it will get him mentioned in Phil’s next book, and we know Melo is all about the recognition, just never for the right reasons.
We can lament the loss of Carmelo Anthony here in Denver all we want, particularly given the sorry state of affairs that is this season’s Nuggets. But I assure you of one thing: we didn’t miss out on any championships because Melo forced his way out.