With his signature on a gigantic contract, Carmelo Anthony may have sealed his fate as this generation’s Dominique Wilkins: lots of points, little success.
At this point in his career, Anthony is one of the most polarizing players in the NBA. Is he a superstar? Is he too selfish? Can you win a title with him? He could have answered these questions once and for all by committing elsewhere, with a team that is built to win right now (Chicago). Instead, he took the money and with it, let go of his Championship aspirations.
Now, that doesn’t mean Carmelo believes that. While he has to realize that the upcoming season will be another disappointment, I have to trust that he thinks New York is on to something. He did, after all, structure his contract to allow more flexibility for the Knicks to sign additional marquee free agents in 2015 and 2016, when the Knicks will shed the carcasses and contracts of Amare Stoudemire and Andrea Barganani.
We all know he loves New York, and now he has Phil Jackson at the helm. A man who is certainly a proven winner and great basketball mind. Time will tell how well he does in the front office, but thus far he’s off to a good start.
So all Carmelo Anthony needs to do is suffer through one more season of losing and then it’s all peachy keen, right? Trust in the triangle offense, Phil Jackson, and free agency, and all roads lead to the Larry O’Brien Trophy, right?
Two words: James Dolan.
If history, especially recent NBA history, has taught us anything, it’s that well-run organizations, especially from the ownership position, are the ultimate key to winning the NBA Championship. It’s why LeBron James didn’t win in his first go-around with the Cavs but found success in Miami; why the Spurs continue to win through multiple decades; why the Lakers are now struggling to field a competitive team; why the Clippers stunk for so long; and of course, why the Knicks have missed the playoffs 9 times in 15 years.
For the uninitiated, here’s a quick sampling of some of the basketball related moves that have occurred under the Chairman of MSG’s supervision since he took over in 1999 (the last year the Knicks made the NBA Finals):
- In 2002, the Knicks traded Marcus Camby, Mark Jackson, and Nene in exchange for Antonio McDyess, Frank Williams, and a second round pick. Camby went on to earn a Defensive Player of the Year award and Nene ended up on the All-Rookie First Team and blossomed into a borderline All-Star. McDyess and Williams barely lasted for two seasons, and the Knicks missed the playoffs in both seasons.
- Allan Houston was signed to a $100 million contract, which was about $25 million over market at the time. Houston would barely be able to play any games under that contract due to serious knee problems over the next four years, and in 2005 he retired.
- Patrick Ewing, the face of the franchise, was traded away. To add insult to injury, his $18 million expiring contract was exchanged for bad multiyear contracts that would prevent the Knicks from signing free agents for several years after.
- Jerome James was signed to a five year, $30 million deal based off an above average postseason tacked onto a subpar regular season. In his 4 seasons with the Knicks, he played in 90 games.
- Eddy Curry. I don’t have time or space to dive into this one.
Now, a lot of these moves occurred under the reign of Isaiah Thomas as Team President. Isaiah was a close friend of Dolan and was able to keep his job in spite of the fact he was really, really, really bad at it.
But things didn’t get better when supposed guru Donnie Walsh took over in 2008. Despite an impressive run as President for the Indiana Pacers, Walsh was still forced to conform to Dolan’s edicts. As such, the Knicks continued to make bad moves, like Stoudemire’s contract, and trading for Carmelo when they could have just signed him the following summer and kept their young assets as well.
Stoudemire’s contract wasn’t even that bad at the time. He was a star player and it signaled the potential renewal of New York as a free agent destination. Sadly, his already fragile knees got the Knicks stink on them, and the rest is history.
So the big question I would ask Carmelo is: How can you believe anything will change as long as James Dolan is still involved?
Why is Phil Jackson immune? Donnie Walsh wasn’t. Larry Brown – who was given a 5 year/$50million deal to coach the Knicks back to relevancy, but only lasted one year after going 23-59 – certainly wasn’t.
The Knicks haven’t won a championship since 1973 and since 1999 have been the laughing stock of the league. That does not cut it in the NBA. One player cannot single handedly outperform a tradition of failure.
The lack of organizational competency has deterred free agents for years. While Phil Jackson may be a strong draw for some, for most it’s the guy with the real power that ultimately scares them away. With that kind of reputation, how can Anthony expect to receive the cast he needs to compete for a Championship?
Carmelo may have chosen some combination of the money, Phil Jackson, and New York, but with it he also chose James Dolan. And that choice will end up forever tarnishing his legacy as he suffers through the myriad of managerial follies ahead.