Last December, in a moment of extreme frustration, Carmelo Anthony likened Phil Jackson to a dark cloud. He said, “I feel like we are playing good basketball and to have a temporary black cloud over our heads….”
Phil as a black cloud is a piercing but wholly inaccurate metaphor because as Carmelo alluded to, a black cloud is temporary. It disappears. In this Phil and Carmelo six month passive-aggressive war, nothing has disappeared, and in fact, the temperature is Arctic ocean frozen, so frozen, Phil let the world know he and Carmelo cannot coexist. He wants him gone.
“We have not been able to win with him on the court. He is better off somewhere else.” (Phil Jackson)
It is easy and perhaps self-motivated for Phil to be the messenger one day before the playoffs are set to begin: the world first, Carmelo last- and it fits in with what Phil has been doing all year long, challenging Carmelo’s guts. Now it is no longer about Carmelo Anthony playing his last game for the New York Knicks. It is when and where to now? Phil beat Carmelo to the punch since Carmelo lacked the f____ you I am outta here gene; he took his time, Carmelo took too long. it was the classic case of a marriage viewed two different ways. One wants a divorce, the other wants to wait it out. Actually, as brusque as Phil’s comments were, they were a relief. A line has been drawn. Finally. The surrender flag is whipping in the wind. There will be no detente. Compromise has been shelved which isn’t extraordinary when you have two men who don’t want to give in, who want what they want. Jackson want’s his vision and Carmelo is just not that kind of player. Carmelo wants his New York Knicks life back, chaos free.
They both lose.
In the four months since the Carmelo description of black cloud took root not much has changed and that is how Jackson wanted it and how he played it. Phil Jackson always had the advantage only because James Dolan legitimized him for another two years as the man with the power, the architect of the New York Knicks. Today, Carmelo is being squeezed like a bitter lemon. Yesterday, he was being squeezed. Tomorrow he will be squeezed. Until he gets out of town, Carmelo is in no-man’s land, between a rock and a hard place. If he stays where he is loved and where he loves, he is constantly undervalued by the organization and belittled, dragged through the mud as the reason the Knicks are the Knicks, tortured by the front office, his reputation hanging by a thread. If he leaves, he has finally quit and Jackson has driven him to it.
Phil wins. Phil has won. Message delivered.
If you do the math correctly, this will be two teams Carmelo has had to flee and neither exodus can be called a successful separation. Divorces, in the end, are always ugly and are about wasted time. The stain of failure will stick to Carmelo as a part of his biography even with the egocentricity and arrogance of Jackson as the accelerant; Jackson after all has his eleven rings to justify his bias. What does Carmelo have?
Halfway through this dreadful season, it was clear Carmelo had it with the Zen Master criticizing him. It’s not the first time Anthony has heard criticisms of his game but the distinction is between church and state. Church gives you peace. State gives you war.
Today, Phil declared war.
Phil is linguistically a genius and a master at getting underneath players skin with his intellectual slings and arrows. What is underestimated about Jackson is how stubborn he is and how much he likes a fight. He made it out of North Dakota and had a NBA playing career. He coached the Albany Patroons of the CBA (Continental Basketball Association), and then directed two franchises to multiple titles. Dolan has given him leverage and authority to shape the Knicks in his image. Someone, then was going to suffer.
There is a train of thought that Carmelo still has all the leverage but really Carmelo is a cautionary tale. Elite players are going to look at the no-trade clause in a different light after seeing it through the Carmelo prism. In theory, the no trade clause returns the power to the player and not the whims of an owner and his reactivity. But what Phil Jackson has up his sleeve as a strategy is making Carmelo want to quit by passively-aggressively digging under Carmelo’s skin in a way only Phil knows how to do. Did it work for MJ and Kobe? No. Did it work with Shaq? A little. Has it worked with Carmelo? Absolutely. His brain isn’t wired to handle all the Phil death by paper cuts until you bleed out.
Phil, as a coach, mentored his elite talent to punish their opponents until they were broken. Phil wants to break Carmelo. Did he do enough today? Was he clear enough about his intentions?
So far it is a stalemate with each man taking a turn, trying to prove toughness. But Jax has age and experience on his side. He will never throw in the towel. His ego is the size of a dozen hyper-sized melons. He is built to withstand wars. Additionally, social approval doesn’t influence his behavior. In Chicago, he had a very public war with GM Jerry Krause that went on for years and makes this Carmelo interlude feel more like a distraction than an out and out blood sport. Rest assured, Phil Jackson can take whatever Carmelo dishes out.
Social media worthy, it’s going to get worse before it gets better, all divorces do, and they drag the innocent with them. One of them has to go. James Dolan made his choice, Phil stays. Phil has made his choice. Carmelo leaves. Now the ball is in Carmelo’s court. Suck it up and feign happiness. Be nonchalant. Try to wrestle some control. And then find a different place to play. End this dreary soap opera with no winners, only losers and another year out the playoffs.
photo via llananba