At the start of free agency, the most favorable potential outcomes of Carmelo Anthony’s free agency saga could be ranked as follows:
- Melo stays with the Knicks at less than his max contract
- The Knicks sign-and-trade Carmelo to the Chicago Bulls for young players (Jimmy Butler, et al.) and picks
- Melo re-signs with the Knicks for his max contract
- Melo walks for nothing
Carmelo choosing option #1 can be seen as nothing but a great victory for Phil Jackson.
It was Carmelo who first promoted the notion that he would be willing to take less than the maximum contract he was eligible for, stating at All-Star Weekend in February:
“As far as the money, it don’t really matter to me… My concern is to be able to compete on a high level, a championship level, coming in this last stretch of my career. Any opportunity I have to build that up in New York, I’d do it. I told people all the time, always say, 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.’”
Phil Jackson took those words and applied pressure on Carmelo, through the media in April:
“The way things have been structured now financially for teams is that it’s really hard to have one or two top stars or max players and to put together a team with enough talent you’ve got to have people making sacrifices financially… So we hope that Carmelo is true to his word and we understand what it’s going to take and we will present that to him at that time.”
And then again in June:
“When I take his word, he’s the one who opened that up, that it wasn’t about the money… So I challenged him on that, because I wanted our fans to see he’s a team player, that he was going to do what’s best to get our team ahead farther and faster.”
In an era where organizations often bend over backwards to cater to star players, it was refreshing to see Phil Jackson playing hardball with Melo. A sharp contrast indeed for the organization who had to guarantee a contract to J.R. Smith’s brother in order to sign the enigmatic shooting guard, just a season ago.
And Phil Jackson’s game of hardball worked. In the end, the Knicks got their star player back and added financial flexibility in next year’s free agency. Although the financial sacrifice may not have been as large as some expected, Carmelo was never going to leave tens of millions of dollars on the table. Would you?
But what he did was give the Knicks a few extra million dollars in spending money next summer, which also diminished his salaries the following three years. In the words of the Zen Master:
“He did exactly what we kind of asked him to do. Give us a break in the early part of the contract when we have some wiggle room – hopefully big enough wiggle room – next year when we can exploit it.”
Now, with his superstar back in the fray, it’s time to see what Phil can do with this added flexibility.