What Carmelo Anthony's Return Means for the Knicks
After weeks of speculation, rumors, unnamed sources and intrigue, the dominoes are starting to fall. On Friday, LeBron James announced that he was going home to Cleveland. Now, news is out that Carmelo Anthony will be staying home, reportedly agreeing to a five year, $120-plus million deal to stay in New York.
After all the public needling from Phil Jackson imploring Anthony to take a discount, the options were obvious all along: Melo was either going to find a way to get his money on an instant contender, or he was going to take the extra year and money and stay in New York. While the Knicks might have benefitted from working a sign-and-trade deal to bring in some extra assets, they’ll instead bring back one of the most gifted scorers we have in the NBA.
Despite missing out on an all-NBA selection in 2014, Melo reached a new level of efficiency as the Knicks floundered. Anthony has refined every aspect of his game to become perhaps the most well-rounded scorer in the league. While only a league average shooter from beyond the arc for his career, Anthony has become a deadly marksman from deep over the last two seasons. Playing most of his minutes as a stretch power forward in 2012-13, he set a then-career high by hitting 37.8 percent of his shots from distance, upping that even more by topping 40 percent for the first time in 2013-14.
Anthony has become a dominant scorer with his back to the basket, as well, especially on the right block, where he hit 48.3 percent of his attempts. He’s not bad on the left side, either, hitting around league average at 40.2 percent, per NBA.com. Add in Melo’s unstoppable mid-range game, where he hit 44.2 percent of his shots, and there’s really no winning when you defend Anthony. You can’t take everything away from this gifted of a scorer.
The knocks on the Knicks’ leading man are well documented. On top of some less-than-stellar defense, he has a tendency to be a ball-stopper that was exacerbated by Mike Woodson’s poor offensive schemes. Melo has had a usage rate of at least 31.8 percent in each of his Knicks seasons, but it’s not because he can’t dish the ball. Anthony was second on the Knicks in secondary assists last year behind Raymond Felton, despite playing on a team that went from fifth in the league in three-point shooting in 2013 down to 10th.
It’s those kinds of skills that make Anthony a natural fit for the triangle offense, which is what everyone assumes Phil Jackson disciple, Derek Fisher, will be running in his first year as coach. The triangle requires players who can both score in the post and step outside, sharp three-point shooters and smart passers.
Replacing Felton with Jose Calderon should be a major boon. Last year in Dallas, Calderon shot a blistering 45.9 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, the kind of looks he’ll get if the Knicks can move the ball smartly when Anthony passes out of double teams.
All of the other options Anthony had in front of him never really added up. The Lakers could have offered a max deal to play alongside Kobe Bryant, but Anthony would have been joining a barren roster that would need loads of work before becoming a contender while sacrificing the fifth year available in New York that will pay him better than $30 million. The fit in Houston was dicey alongside another ball-dominant player in James Harden who also plays awful defense, even with Dwight Howard backing them up.
Chicago stands as the biggest loser with Anthony’s decision, as the Bulls would have been a fantastic fit for Melo’s skill set. In Tom Thibodeau’s defensive system, Anthony’s shortcomings on that end would have been well hidden, and it’s probably safe to assume that he would have exerted a little more effort than he did under Woodson. Anthony also would have provided an offensive punch on the wing that the Bulls have sorely lacked since, well, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Playing alongside a presumably healthy Derrick Rose, the Bulls would have been a force to be reckoned with. After posting an offensive rating of 102.5 as a team last year, third worst in the league (Anthony hasn’t had an offensive rating that low since his rookie year) the offensive improvement Anthony would brought would have made the Bulls the heavy favorite in the wide open Eastern Conference.
Our projections have Anthony being worth between four and seven wins to a team. Initial projections had the Knicks at a bit over 42 wins last season, a number that they of course didn’t reach. Removing Anthony from the team lowered our projections to 36 wins, and after seeing how poorly the Knicks played even with Anthony it’s hard to imagine them coming anywhere near that number.
Add Melo to a Bulls squad that went 48-34 last year, plus add in the boost they’ll get from a healthy D-Rose, and, well, you get the picture. From the outset, though, the cap gymnastics the Bulls would have had to pull off to acquire Anthony were daunting. Unloading Carlos Boozer while ideally finding a way to keep Taj Gibson and finding a way to properly compensate Anthony was always going to be a difficult task, but hoops junkies can always dream.
Instead of that exciting scenario for basketball fans, Melo opted for the extra year and extra $40 million or so that the Knicks could offer. Instead of jumping to an instant contender, Anthony heads back to New York, where the Knicks will have loads of cap space to fill in around him next summer. They certainly won’t be contending for the 2015 championship, and it’s fair to say that Anthony took money over W's. Personally, he wasn’t going to win either way, sacrificing either dollars and years or the shot at a championship.
When Anthony is 35 years old making $30 million, the Knicks could very well regret this deal. If the Zen Master is unable to lure a second star to play alongside Anthony, Melo could be the one who looks back longingly at this juncture in his career. The Knicks are in for at least one more rough season, wasting another season of Anthony’s efficient prime. He better hope they can build a real team around him before the contract cripples them.