Carmelo Anthony desperately wants to win a title for the New York Knicks. It’s been 40 years of New York agony. Phil Jackson wants to win a title for the New York Knicks but I am not sure how desperate he feels. He already won a title for New York. He followed that up by winning eleven titles as a coach.
It seems like forever since Phil was drenched in champagne and was celebrated but it was only six years ago. It seems like forever since Carmelo was drenched in champagne and celebrated because he never has been.
As a pairing, the Carmelo-Phil alliance felt symmetrical, that is if you are predisposed to think a person who has everything can pay it backwards and give to a person that has nothing. But, those are the fairy tale scripts written in rooms, edited and then left for dead on the cutting room floor. It’s matchups that matter, personality matchups. Phil never had a star player quite like Carmelo and the same can be said of Anthony who is both sensitive and edgy. He has always needed more finesse than a Kobe who can forgive Phil because winning mattered more, or Shaq who could forgive Phil because Phil could take him somewhere special or Jordan who could forgive Phil because he trusted him. This is where the relationship currently stands between Phil and his star player: trust is on the brink.
Anyone in a marriage knows what it feels like when trust doesn’t live there anymore. You start searching for places to go next. You want out.
There is an irony here with Phil making LeBron James want to forget Jackson exists and now doing the same with Anthony. But it is different. Carmelo has more invested than LeBron who can just walk away and shut Phil out. Carmelo is in a paradox. He couldn’t win in Denver. He couldn’t win in New York. Is it possible he just can’t win? Or is something larger at work here? Systemic organization failure where Carmelo at 32 years old is being asked to do special things with a simply wretched Joakim Noah, an average but mature Courtney Lee, a young and developing Kristaps Porzingis and the artist formerly known as Derrick Rose. Even when Kobe Bryant had Smush Parker the organization made key moves to surround Bryant with what he needed, Trevor Ariza, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown. Other than Odom, none were what you would call a star but they fit Bryant’s game and psyche.
It is Phil’s job to know how to restructure a team around Anthony as Anthony’s skills slowly and quietly devolve. On that end, Phil has yet to succeed in New York. But on a much wider scale Phil, as the President of Basketball Operations, in a city like New York, has to use verbal discipline. He didn’t with LeBron but so what? LeBron, though the face of the league, isn’t his player. The two can mutually co-exist and if LeBron wants to forget there is a man named Phil Jackson he can. But Carmelo is stuck in no-man’s land, asked about every Phil Jackson swipe, taking it personally because that is the kind of man Carmelo is. It’s unfair to ask him to be Jordan or Kobe, to let the shade just roll off.
Does Carmelo hold the ball too long? Of course he does. He will never be the reinvention of Klay Thompson. But Phil has a responsibility to make sure the face of the Knicks doesn’t feel as if he is being stabbed in the back whenever he does something on the court Jackson doesn’t approve of. If Jackson wants to coach, then damn it coach. If he has criticisms of Anthony’s play then trickle it down to Hornacek or Rambis. What other President of Basketball Operations criticizes their star player for his style of play? But, on the other hand, what other President of Basketball Operations has won 11 rings? It is those 11 rings that gives Phil the gravitas to say whatever he wants, whenever he wants. All he has to do is point to his accomplishments as justification for his slap. His other superstars were thick skinned but they also came into prominence during a different time where you dug deep and blocked out all the noise.
One more thing. Phil Jackson isn’t stupid. Has he figured out he can’t win with Carmelo ? And more to the point, Carmelo has a sensitivity to public critique. Was this just Phil pushing buttons?
Carmelo of the no-trade clause is hanging on tight to a boat with leaks. Perhaps he just needs a push. Is that what Phil is doing? Pushing Carmelo to want to bolt, to go somewhere else so Phil can do what many of the Western Conference teams have done, stocked up on lottery picks and developed young talent. In an ideal world wouldn’t it be a special transformation to have Porzingis play with a young talent like Devin Booker or Andrew Wiggins or Brandon Ingram in the same way Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden developed. Is Phil being cagey here? Get Carmelo out and do what I want to do.
It is easy to not like Phil Jackson. He does’t want friends. He has an arrogant demeanor and an insatiable ego. He has only been able to win when he had elite talent. He sits as if he is the King and his chair in the Garden is his throne. He is not very motivated to adapt stylistically to the current times, to accept Rome has burned, that this is a new modern style of playing. Get a small forward who can make shots and defend. Get an elite point. Forget the triangle. It is dead. Carmelo isn’t the problem. An old Joakim Noah is the problem. The Knicks are stuck with him because Phil was living in the past. The Knicks defense is the problem. The Knicks history of giving draft picks away so they have no young talent to develop other than Porzingiz, that too is the problem. But Carmelo is low hanging fruit, easy to single out as responsible.
Taking Carmelo’s side, which happens in all marital fights, someone is right, someone is wrong, is particularly easy. Carmelo can’t be someone he is not. Phil knew who he was when he signed him to the max deal and no-trade clause. He agreed to Carmelo. So stop undercutting him with these war games unless you want him out.
Does Phil want Carmelo out? Is that where all this is heading? Letting Carmelo go so the Knicks can stockpile multiple pieces, young talents who can grow together?