As the twists and turns of this summer’s NBA free agency continue to play out, so does the widespread speculation of differing opinions on where the league’s most coveted available stars will ultimately land.
Regarding the New York Knicks, the latest news as of late Sunday night had the Knicks as feeling extremely confident that their franchise player, Carmelo Anthony, would stay put and that Anthony had narrowed his choices down to the Knicks, Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers after he met with those teams, as well as the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets, in recent days.
Of course, Anthony may simply be one of the dominoes waiting his turn before others fall first.
Another possibility is Anthony simply returning to call Madison Square Garden his home for another five years.
What seems a little more cloudy about that prospect is the type of deal Anthony might sign if he does in fact remain a Knick.
The obvious consensus is that one of the key reasons why Anthony would choose New York is the Knicks’ ability to pay him more money (up to $129 million) over a longer term (five years) contract than any other possible suitors.
And that’s exactly where the pressure could start for Anthony.
New president Phil Jackson is getting paid some very good money himself ($60 million over five years) to make sure that no matter what Anthony decides, a legitimate title contender is built in New York.
But if that plan includes Anthony, the amount of money Jackson might bring Anthony back for could determine which of those two might feel the pressure to win the most.
Although the Knicks will have significant salary cap space available in the summer of 2015, and possess a few young talented pieces on their roster, signing Anthony to a max contract could still hinder them just enough to prevent them from becoming true contenders in the Eastern Conference down the road.
While Jackson is expected to truly earn the hefty sum of money that team owner James Dolan dished out for him, he would almost have somewhat of a built-in excuse for failure if he didn’t have the full cap space available to him as the result of Anthony signing for as much as he possibly could with the Knicks.
Or would he?
After all, Jackson is the one who publicly said the “Knicks would be just fine” whether Anthony stayed with the Knicks or not.
So Jackson should be held to those words even if the only way to keep Anthony is by signing him to a max deal.
Yet from a fan perspective, some other statements would probably be remembered more and carry even greater weight among Knicks fans — that of Jackson pushing for Anthony to take less money in order to give him more room to operate and Anthony saying he’d absolutely be willing to do so.
Back in February, as reported on ESPN.com, Anthony said during All-Star weekend:
“If it takes me taking a pay cut, I’ll be the first one on Mr. Dolan’s steps saying, ‘Take my money and let’s build something strong over here.'”
Most Knicks fans are appreciative enough to recognize that after a stellar 11 years in the NBA, Anthony is fully deserving of trying to get the maximum contract the market will bear for him.
However, they also know that Anthony has made a bunch of money in the league already, and will continue to do so through any new contract he signs as well as adding to the large endorsement sums he’s received.
And they’ll also recall Anthony saying in an interview with Sage Steele and Tim Legler on ESPN’s SportsCenter:
“I’m going to make money. I have money. I’m good if I want to retire right now. As far as the money, it don’t really matter to me.”
Well then, if he does resign with the Knicks, it’ll be time for Anthony to put the money where his mouth was.
Regardless of what Jackson stated earlier, the normal fan temperament is to blame the star player who actively seeks the most money when things don’t work out.
It’s why New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, even as a two-time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, automatically received an inordinate share of the blame even when his offensive line did a poor job of protecting him and several other areas on his team — many which were beyond his control — failed to produce as much as he did last season.
Thus, if Anthony, as Jackson had urged him to do in the past, sticks to his own words and agrees to take a decent pay cut that could help each of them and the rest of the Knicks achieve their goals, the burden will then be more on Jackson to make that happen.
However, if Anthony insists on forgetting what he said earlier and demands that his only route back to New York is in the form of a max contract, the weight of trying to carry the Knicks to significant success might be tougher to endure than anything he’s known in his Knicks (or even in his NBA) career to date.
Before any of that, though, first thing’s first.
Does Anthony even want to stay in New York under any circumstances, max contract or not? How serious is he about bolting the Knicks for the Bulls or Lakers? And how much is the Heat in the picture, depending on whether Bosh defects Miami for Houston?
Those questions and others still need to be answered before Anthony and New York can think about discussing the terms that would keep the Knicks’ best player in their uniform.
If it does go that way in the end, Knicks fans will undoubtedly be happy to have their star back. But the exact terms of such a reunion could determine just how much they’d expect of Anthony, and how much will be placed on his shoulders going forward.