For a time, Carmelo Anthony and Phil Jackson tried to play nice.
In the wake of a recent article by Jackson’s longtime confidant Charley Rosen, the nine-time all-star and the 11-time champion coach-turned president of the New York Knicks tried to break bread and put their differences behind them — or, at least, put a positive public face on them.
It didn’t work.
Over the past two days, what was already suspected has become exceedingly obvious: Jackson is done with Anthony and wants to move the superstar forward out of town between now and the Feb. 23 trade deadline.
The irony is that as badly as Jackson wants to move on from Anthony, Jackson is also the reason why Anthony remains a Knick. The Knicks president has made several poor decisions since taking over the franchise with which he won two championships as a player in the 1970s, but one crucial misstep will likely decide the biggest move he will make since returning to New York: When Jackson re-signed Anthony in July of 2014, he gave him a no-trade clause.
By giving Anthony that clause — at a time when the Knicks were offering Anthony the most money of any team by far, and it was clear he was going to return after recruiting visits with several other teams — Jackson handed over all leverage in future negotiations to his star player. He’s now learning the hard way just how little power he has because of that choice.
Because Anthony can determine his next destination, including remaining in New York, if he so chooses, Jackson’s hands are tied in any possible negotiations. That’s why the two teams with which the Knicks have been linked thus far, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers, are likely the only ones that will have any realistic trade discussions between now and next month’s deadline.
The presence of LeBron James in Cleveland and Chris Paul in Los Angeles — two of Anthony’s three pals from the infamous “Banana Boat” picture a couple of summers ago (the other, Dwyane Wade, has his own headaches to deal with in Chicago) — means there’s at least a chance Anthony would consider joining either team.
But what would Jackson be able to get in return? That’s a much more difficult question to answer.
Cleveland could offer the best prize: Kevin Love, an all-star power forward who would be an excellent long-term fit next to budding young star Kristaps Porzingis in New York. This is why the Cavaliers were quick to rebuff New York’s initial inquiries, even if James would likely relish the chance to play with one of his best friends, who would also fit better than Love against Cleveland’s main rival, the Golden State Warriors, in a presumptive third straight showdown in the NBA Finals.
That’s why New York would probably have to sweeten the pot to engineer such a deal. Doing so while making the money work, however, is easier said than done — both because Anthony is making more than Love already and because the Cavaliers are loath to take on more salary when they’re already well into the luxury tax.
But even if the Knicks took on dead salary such as Chris Andersen, out for the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and reserve guard Jordan McRae and gave up, say, rookies Willy Hernangomez and Mindaugas Kuzminskas plus a protected future first-round pick, would that be enough for Cleveland to bite on a Anthony-Love deal?
Talks with the Clippers are complicated for other reasons. Los Angeles would love to get its hands on Anthony to go with its star trio of Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, and it won’t be dealing any of them for Anthony. It also wouldn’t make sense to include J.J. Redick in such a deal, which leaves Jackson looking at the rest of a very unappealing list.
Jackson and the Knicks met with guard Austin Rivers last summer, before Rivers returned to Los Angeles on a three-year deal to keep playing for his father. Would Doc Rivers then trade his son, along with veteran Jamal Crawford and a future protected first-round pick, for Anthony?
Even if he would, that would be an awfully low return for Jackson. At 32, Anthony is still averaging close to 23 points per game and shooting over 37 percent from three-point range.
And, if Jackson does agree to any trade, he would still need to get Anthony’s approval — and Anthony would also likely have to waive the 15 percent trade kicker in his contract, worth several million dollars this year and for the last two of his deal, for the trade to work financially with either the Cavs or the Clippers.
This is why, for all of the drama surrounding the Knicks, and for all indications that Anthony’s time in New York is coming to a close, this situation will only be resolved as Anthony sees fit. Try as he might, Jackson can only move on from Anthony — who is known to love New York — if Anthony will let him do so.
And should Anthony remain in New York, all signs point to an epic showdown with Jackson this offseason. Jackson has a mutual option in his contract, which could usher the president out.
While Anthony hasn’t won much on the court in New York, he has been undefeated in one area: power struggles inside The World’s Most Famous Arena. The fact that Jackson is taking all of the fire for owner James Dolan is known to be a point in Jackson’s favor, but the owner has also always liked Anthony personally.
So now the basketball world will watch as Anthony and Jackson go back-and-forth in the media and count down the days until the trade deadline to see whether a trade materializes — or whether an already sorry Knicks season will only be dragged down further.