The announcement of Mike Woodson being fired as head coach of the New York Knicks came as no surprise to myself or many other fans of the beleaguered franchise. It was the first of many decisions that will be made by newly appointed Knicks President Phil Jackson as he looks to build a championship caliber team in “The Big Apple”.
Jackson has numerous obstacles to contend with working toward that goal. The Knicks have no first round draft picks to work with, they have very limited salary cap space to bring in free agent players, and they have big money contracts committed to a few players which creates a situation where it is difficult to trade those players.
In addition, he has to deal with the free agency of Carmelo Anthony this summer. Jackson has to sell Anthony on returning to essentially the same team of players that had a sub- .500 record this season, play on another potential non-playoff team next season, and pitch the fact that the team will be much improved in 2015-16.
The Carmelo Dilemma
I am not sure if Carmelo wants to endure another bad season similar to the season the Knicks just plodded through, he has already been in the league for 10 years, and he is probably very mindful of the limited window he has to contribute to a championship winning team.
The other fact that needs to remain in the forefront here is that the Knicks, via the regulations set forth in the free agency process and the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), can offer Carmelo Anthony more money and 1 additional year to the contract term than any other team in the league. The Knicks can offer him $30 million more in a “max deal” than any other team in the NBA.
It is also worth noting that since this process of the “max deal” came into effect only one player has rejected the extra money and left to join a new team for less money, Dwight Howard, who last summer left the L.A. Lakers to join the Houston Rockets.
Conversely, there are some within the sports media landscape that believe that the Knicks signing of Anthony to a “max deal” would be a huge mistake. The rationale behind that sentiment is that if Anthony is making that much money, Phil Jackson will have no avenues available to build a championship caliber roster within the constraints of the salary cap.
In my view, Carmelo Anthony is a top flight offensive basketball player with an elite level skill set, but he does not play defense that well, and he is not known for rebounding either. Therefore, he would need a solid supporting cast of other players to contribute in those areas in order to have a championship level squad with him as the star.
That information leads me to conclude that I would not give him a maximum money deal at this point either, he has talked in the past to the media about taking less money to win a championship, if I were the Knicks management I would ask him to sacrifice the big contract in order to build a team.
In fairness, I also have to mention the other segment involved in the Carmelo Anthony dilemma, and that is the group which feels they should let him leave via free agency and start the whole process of building a roster over again. I could understand that rationale, and I could envision that happening if he gets a large offer from another contender, like the Chicago Bulls, and he asks the Knicks to counter by “maxing him out”. I would not do that if I were the Knicks, I would let him go to Chicago in that scenario.
However, to let him leave without even offering him a contract, that does not make much sense to me. Those people in that segment of the fan base have to remember that the Knicks gave up young talented players to obtain Carmelo Anthony in the trade with the Denver Nuggets in February 2011.
He is an elite offensive player, who will be hard to replace until the free agency bonanza in the summer of 2015, so the fans and the players would have to go through another bad season with a team without Carmelo on the roster next year. That could be a real issue for the organization in the short term with regard to the lack of suitable potential replacements in this free agent class; not to mention the negative impact another lost season will have on an already restless fan base.
The bottom line here, in my opinion, is that if Carmelo Anthony is truly serious about winning a championship, then Phil Jackson should be able to sell him on staying in New York for less money and building a team around him that can achieve that ultimate goal. In essence, Jackson’s pitch to Anthony has to be that he needs Anthony to sign for less money so that he can get two or three other top tier players to come to New York. His response to that pitch will provide the Knicks with a very good understanding of their organizational goals in the short term.
Next Up: Steve Kerr?
The search for the next head coach of the Knicks is underway and the likely candidate, as has been widely reported in the media, is Steve Kerr. We all know that the next head coach is going to have a strong relationship with Phil Jackson, and will have an excellent knowledge of the triangle offensive system, made famous by Jackson during his outstanding coaching career.
Steve Kerr fits all those criteria with regard to the Knicks coaching search, and he also is a very intelligent man, but he has no head coaching experience. In this case, I think Kerr can make the transition from the front office to the sidelines and implement the system he understands so well from his playing days with the Bulls.
However, these decisions are not up to us as fans of the team, these choices will be made by Phil Jackson, and it is going to be interesting to see how he builds this franchise in the weeks and months ahead.