Jackson playing risky game with Knicks star Anthony
Imagine NEW YORK you are James Dolan.
You are on tour with your band, feeling pretty good. A nice set the night before, the coffee is place in front of you and you start picking up newspapers searching for band reviews, and in each paper, after seeing that the New York Knicks pulled out a gutsy 110107 win against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday, you spot a disturbing series of articles about the brewing face- off between Knicks President Phil Jackson and the star you worked so hard to bring to Madison Square Garden, Carmelo Anthony.
And you start to remember your promises on that day when you introduced Jackson as the new savior, how you were no basketball expert and this was all in Jackson’s hands and you hope that at least if the star you gave up half the franchise to get and then have paid out the contract that Jackson told you that you had to pay to keep Anthony, would bring back the pieces to remake the Knicks and keep those high- priced seats filled.
But you see a story from ESPN that the Cleveland Cavaliers turned down Jackson’s idea of an Anthony- for- Kevin Love deal. And then the New York Daily News reports that Jackson was open to sending Anthony to the Los Angeles Clippers and not bringing back any of the team’s three stars.
And you start to think that maybe you’d better get back to New York. Trust in Jackson only goes so far. Jackson has run through three incarnations of rebuilds already, and this latest one was a win- now affair. And now, just after the season hit its midpoint, he is looking to break it down.
Understandable, because the experiment hasn’t worked, and the Knicks have not looked anything like contenders.
The solution for Jackson seems to be to try to prod Anthony to give up the notrade clause that Jackson provided when Anthony was on a free agent recruiting tour. And despite his insistence that he wants to stay in New York, Anthony has at least hinted that he will listen.
But the Knicks know that he’s not going just anywhere — if he agrees to go at all, as Jackson has made it increasingly uncomfortable. Anthony met with Jackson and general manager Steve Mills on Jan. 17 and told them he wanted to stay. But, as the situation has escalated, he sounds more and more open. He said Friday that he had not spoken again to the front- office staff.
“Being able to go out there and play basketball, that’s the fun part for me,” Anthony said. “I don’t have to worry about anything at that point. I try not to think about it. It’s a little difficult not to think about it.”
The fans who might have tired of the struggles and Anthony’s style seemed to turn back to him Friday night. Maybe it was the presence of the last star that the Knicks shipped out, Patrick Ewing, who got a huge standing ovation at Madison Square Garden in his role as a Hornets assistant coach, but there was a lot of, “Keep Melo,” and “We love you, Melo,” shouted from the stands. And then they booed when he missed two consecutive free throws in the fourth quarter.
“As a student of the game you know what people go through in their own respective situations,” Anthony said. “Knowing the history of the game and knowing the history of here and the players, he was one of those guys who kind of can relate to what I’m going through. Being able to still try to perform at a high level and block everything out. I mean, that’s somebody I can say understands what I’m dealing with.” And he left? “It wasn’t his fault,” Anthony said, laughing for a moment before repeating, “It wasn’t his fault.”
Back to Dolan, though. If Jackson’s plan is to ship out Anthony and at least gain roster flexibility by ridding the roster of the no- trade clause, Dolan no doubt knows that Anthony remains the star and the face of the franchise. He has scored 30 points or more 11 times in 47 games, and his numbers are not far off from last season — averaging more points but with dips in rebounds and assists.
Anthony, though, is still a star, and the notion of giving him up just to get rid of him is confounding. How will that talk go over with Dolan when he is told that from the Clippers they can get Austin Rivers as the key piece coming back? Or maybe the Boston Celtics will give up Amir Johnson?
How does that get the Knicks closer to the Cavaliers at the top of the East? Or does it start the trigger for a Derrick Rose deal, a much easier move with him productive offensively and holding an expiring contract?
What it looks like is Jackson doesn’t quite know where the team is going or have them any closer to even the level they were at when he took over.