Well after almost a week of hearing teams’ pitches and another to decide where he will be taking his talents, Carmelo Anthony made the decision most thought he would make all along, to stay with the New York Knicks.
It would be basically impossible to criticize Anthony for staying, Chicago would have been a $50 million pay cut after all. And for those saying he “doesn’t care about winning” it is possible to like both winning and money. After all, Carmelo’s job is to sign the biggest offer, show up, and play his best basketball. The organization is the one in charge of building the team.
Oh yeah, the organization. The one with zero titles since 1973 and a first time team president. The one that tanked for two years for LeBron, whiffed by a laughably large margin, and panicked by out bidding Amar’e Stoudemire’s next biggest offer by $35 million and two seasons.
After almost five months of talking about Melo taking less, the Knicks got their man on more or less the maximum amount. Reports are Carmelo left anywhere from $4-6 million on the table but it remains to be seen if that kind of pay cut actually helps the Knicks lure in bigger free agents.
Anthony is coming off perhaps his best individual season on 2013-2014. His PER and raw scoring numbers took a small hit but his rebounding rate was the best of his career and it was his third consecutive year of having an offensive rating at least four points higher than his defense rating, something he never did before his first full season in New York.
Carmelo though continued his iffy shot selection, opting to take 55.6% of his shots from 3-10 ft, 10-16 ft, and 16-23 ft (just inside the three point line) where he wasn’t very good, failing to crack 45% in any area (32% from 3-10 ft) per basketball-reference.com. He was exceptional from three, shooting 40.2% and pretty good at the rim at 58.9% but didn’t go to either shot nearly enough.
Tendencies like these are what bring the contract into question. It is not so much the money, though an average of $25 million a year must be given cautiously to any player not named LeBron James in Kevin Durant. Anthony is a fairly efficient shooter who over his career has made up for his love affair with the midrange shot with excellent three point shooting and up until this year at least 25% (and usually a lot closer to 35%) of shots at the rim (last year was 19%).
Giving a 30 year old with shoulder issues a five year max contract when he is likely in the second half of his prime is an iffy proposition. What happens if by year three or four, Anthony’s ability to get to the rim is diminished and he has to rely more on that mid-range game (by that I mean neither at the rim nor from three)? He already takes roughly 50% of his shots for his career from 3-23 feet. This isn’t to say Anthony is a bad player, he is no lower than a top 12-15 player but for long on this new deal will that remain?
Then there is his defense. It has been no secret that Carmelo Anthony is not a huge fan of playing defense. When a player can deliver offensively as well as Anthony has over the past two years that’s not a huge deal but for every slip on offense, a player’s lack of defensive ability becomes more and more alarming.
Carmelo’s defensive rating last year was 108, which isn’t great but not unplayable by any means. Last year’s Knicks team was a disaster defensively though so to pick on he individually for the season would be a bit unfair. Even if he played Tony Allen level defense there were more than enough holes to expose on the Knicks on that side of the court.
The long term worry though is when his game starts to slip, will it be so easy to play and aging stretch four who doesn’t defend $25 million a year? If this contract was just two years shorter it would be a lot easier to deal with. It seems reasonable to expect Carmelo to be at least around this level of play for two or three more seasons and then he and the Knicks can negotiate on how he should be paid on the back end of his career.
As currently constituted though, the Knicks need great coaching and talent around Anthony ASAP because the team’s ideal scenario is a title in the next few years while Anthony still is at the peak of his powers. Once he starts to slip his contract becomes a real burden on the team’s ability to add talent, whether by multiple max deals, or one other max and a bunch of very good role players.
The team to consider is the 2010-2011 Dallas Mavericks. That team had one absolute superstar player in Dirk Nowitzki, a defensive anchor in his prime in Tyson Chandler, a very deep and talented supporting cast, and a top three coach in the NBA in Rick Carlisle. That is likely the type of team it would be most feasible (but in no way easy) to try and emulate of the past champions for New York.
The issue is they have a rookie coach, rookie team president, a weak supporting cast, and a total question mark of roster construction after this upcoming season. Now Phil can dominate the next couple of off-seasons and build a championship roster but it is far from a certainty. The Knicks better hope so though because judging by the contract they gave Anthony, you’d think they already had one.