By John Schmeelk
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“We need to talk.”
Those are the words that anybody in a serious relationship dreads. It means things are about to go south very quickly in a very personal way. You can try to avoid that conversation using tricks and other delaying tactics, but it is inevitable.
James Dolan can stay away from New York as long as he wants, but over the next 27 days, preferably sooner than later, the conversation is going to happen. Carmelo Anthony is going to walk into Dolan’s office, sit down, and say “Jim, we need to talk.”
That countdown clock leads to the Feb. 20 trade deadline. By then the Knicks need to decide what their plan is for the future and whether Anthony is going to be a part of it. Anthony needs to make that decision, too, and then needs to inform the Knicks what he is thinking.
Assuming Melo doesn’t just walk in and say ‘I’m gone,” the conversation not only needs to be about whether he wants to be a Knick, but also whether he is willing to be part of a true rebuilding effort to win an NBAchampionship.
Anthony will ask what that means. Dolan will then have to give Carmelo some bad news of his own. The Knicks can’t afford to pay him his maximum potential salary if he wants to come back to the team:
“Sorry Carmelo, but if we pay you an average of $25 million a year, and eventually $30 million at age 34, it’s impossible to build a championship team around you. If you come back, we will give you a five-year contract, but we would like for it to average around $20 million per season.”
More than likely, this would send Anthony to the door. He would be insulted that the Knicks wouldn’t pay him what he thought he earned after playing so well and showing loyalty despite the Knicks putting bad players around him. If, by chance, Anthony remains in the chair and continues to listen, Dolan would have to continue:
“You also have to accept the fact that we are going to be awful next year. We need to trade Tyson Chandler to get a draft pick and a young player. We’ll also look to move anyone else of value on the roster to get assets that can help you win a championship in 2015. Every move we make will be to put the right players around you to help you win a title. A top point guard and a top rim protector would be our two priorities. After that, we’ll surround you with shooters to help spread the floor to allow you to operate with as few double-teams as possible. This is our plan, and we would like you to be the centerpiece of it. We don’t believe we would be able to execute this plan if we gave you a maximum contract. That’s why we are asking to sign for under $100 million for five seasons.”
It is not a great pitch, but it is the best one the Knicks can make. If by chance Anthony agrees to it, the Knicks shake hands and everyone wins. The Knicks still have a legitimate star to build around, and Anthony comes out smelling like roses as a guy who showed loyalty and took less money to sign with the Knicks.
Is this ever going to happen? Probably not. For one, I think Carmelo wants his money and he’ll get his maximum contract either from the Knicks, or from someone else — even if leaving means fewer years and less money. Secondly, Dolan would never have an honest conversation like that with Anthony. Instead, he would say something like this:
“Melo, Steve (Mills) and I are here for you. We’ll hire the coach you want, and bring in whatever players you want. We will use our resources to try our best to win every single season no matter what. New York allows you to maximize your earning potential off the floor, and be a real star. Please stay!”
I think Anthony is too smart to buy into that same old pitch, and he’ll tell Dolan he will walk because he knows he’ll have a better chance of winning elsewhere as I discussed earlier this week. If he tells the Knicks that he doesn’t want to be back, they need to trade him as I discussed here. I’ll talk about places he could go next week. They would also need to trade Chandler and anyone else with value for draft picks and young players with the goal of getting ready to win again in 2015. Since the Knicks actually have their own pick next season, they would be best off tanking and trying to get a top pick, hoping to land a superstar. With Carmelo on the roster, this would be tough but they could try. With cap space in 2015, they can add veterans to a young core and build a team the right way.
None of this is ideal, but this is the way the Knicks and Anthony need to handle this situation. It’s what’s best for Anthony, and it is what is best for the Knicks. The clock is ticking to Feb. 20. What the Knicks do in the next four weeks could very well determine their future for the next few seasons. For once, they need to handle things the right way.
Don’t hold your breath.
You can follow me on Twitter for everything Knicks, Giants, and New York sports at @Schmeelk