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Phil Jackson’s Carmelo Anthony Conundrum

Are the New York Knicks more or less likely to re-sign Carmelo Anthony now that Phil Jackson is calling the shots?

Tommy Beer

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When he accepted Jim Dolan’s incredibly lucrative offer, Phil Jackson was well aware he’d have to wait roughly 16 months before he could begin re-shaping and upgrading the New York Knicks’ roster. Jackson’s hands are essentially tied until July of 2015 because, regardless of any moves he may make this offseason, New York will be well over the salary cap during the 2014-15 campaign.

The triumvirate of Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and Tyson Chandler will account for $50 million in salary next season, which means it is essentially impossible for Jackson to get under the cap prior to these contracts coming off the books. However, that doesn’t mean Jackson won’t have the opportunity to make an immediate imprint on his new franchise.

A very important decision will be made this upcoming summer. This decision, which will be Jackson’s first major move as an NBA executive, will have enormous short-term and long-term ramifications on the future of this franchise. On July 1, Carmelo Anthony will opt out of his contact and become an unrestricted free agent. What happens in the aftermath of Anthony exercising that option will determine the future trajectory of the Knicks.

Once the hiring of Jackson was officially announced, many Knicks fans were extremely excited. One of the primary reasons for elation among a certain segment of the Knicks faithful was the belief that Jackson’s appointment greatly increased the likelihood of Anthony re-signing with New York. These supporters of Knicks and Anthony surmised that the All-Star small forward would feel far more confident committing to the Knicks knowing that the uber-respected Jackson would now be making all basketball-related decisions. The supposition was that ‘Melo would have faith in Jackson’s ability to right the ship, get under the cap and surround Anthony with a strong supporting cast.

However, examining the opposite side of the coin, could the argument also be made that Jackson’s arrival in NYC actually makes it less likely that the Knicks ink Anthony to a massive five-year deal? Is it feasible that Jackson eventually determines this course of action would be best for the long-term prosperity of the franchise?

When Knicks fans discuss his impending free agency, the ‘pros’ for wanting to keep Anthony are obvious. He’s been the organization’s most dynamic player since Patrick Ewing in his prime. This season, despite the Knicks unimaginable struggles, Anthony is playing arguably the best all-around basketball of his career.

In fact, Anthony is on pace to become the first player in over 10 years to average at least 27 points, eight rebounds and three assists per game throughout a full NBA season. He’s also set to become just the fourth player in NBA history to average over 27 points a night while shooting above 45 percent from the floor, 40 percent from the field and 82 percent from the free-throw stripe. The other three members of that incredibly exclusive club are Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant.

However, although the mere thought seems somewhat counter-intuitive, there is certainly a sound argument to be made against keeping Carmelo. The Knicks will have to weigh these considerable ‘cons’ before handing Anthony a blank check.

First, let’s start with the particulars of what a max contract for Anthony would look like:

In year one of his new deal, his new contract would pay $22.457 million. If they give him the maximum allowable raises, his yearly salaries would be as follows:

2015-16: $24.1 million
2016-17: $25.8 million
2017-18: $27.5 million
2018-19: $29.2 million

How effective and efficient will Anthony be in 2019, at 34 years old, banking $29 million? How many NBA forwards would Anthony be able to even stay in front of at that stage of his career? Well, considering he’d be taking up such a large percentage of the Knicks’ cap, he’d better be incredible.

Back in February, Anthony intimated he would be willing to take less than the max. The question is: how much less? It’s rare to see an athlete accept significantly less than what he feels he is worth. What salary would Anthony have to agree to in order for the deal to make fiscal sense for the Knicks?

Remember, the Knicks looked liked geniuses over the first few months of the Amar’e Stoudemire deal, when STAT was playing like a legit MVP candidate (he averaged 26.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game over the first half of the 2010-11 season). However, over these last couple of years, injuries relegated Stoudemire to a shell of his former self, and his onerous contract became an albatross.

It is also important to consider the Knicks’ performance this season. Again, New York’s awful record certainly shouldn’t be pinned directly on Anthony, but the fact remains: they will finish the 2013-14 season at least eight games under .500 and on the outside of the playoff picture in a horrid Eastern Conference. This despite the fact that ‘Melo is in his prime, playing at an extremely high level and stayed relatively healthy for the majority of the season. What happens when Father Time begins to catch up with Carmelo?

It’s clear the burden of carrying the Knicks this season has weighed heavily on Anthony. Head coach Mike Woodson, desperate to save his job, has ridden Anthony relentlessly. ‘Melo currently leads the NBA in minutes played, averaging 39 minutes a night. And it’s not solely the sheer volume of minutes that’s distressing; the Knicks also lean forcefully on Anthony whenever he’s on the floor. He’s the focal point of their offense attack on nearly every trip into the offensive end, and he’s also been forced to guard bigger and stronger power forwards on a nightly basis.

How will Anthony’s aging body respond to this excessive wear-and-tear? This a question Jackson has to ask himself this summer.

Consider this: Anthony is on pace to become just the second player since 2010 to log over 3,000 minutes in one season after turning 29 years old. The only other player to have matched that feat is Kobe Bryant, who played over 3,000 minutes in 2012-13. (As we know, Bryant tore his Achilles in April of 2013 and managed to play a total of just six games in 2013-14 before a knee injury ended his season).

As noted above, the Knicks are cap-strapped, which means next year’s roster will likely look eerily similar to this season’s. Thus, Anthony, if re-signed, will again have to shoulder a significant load for another whole year, months before Jackson can bring in much-needed reinforcements.

Which brings us to another relevant point: If the Knicks are going to commit to expeditiously tearing this team down and rebuilding the right way, next year is the ideal time to bottom out because the Knicks actually own the rights to their first-round pick in the 2015 draft. For a franchise that has traded away a majority of their picks for a better part of a decade, this is not an insignificant detail.

Without Anthony, the Knicks would effectively have to sacrifice a season, but they could take solace in the fact that they would enter that summer of 2015 armed with a likely lottery pick and loads of cap space to lavish on a potentially terrific free agent crop.

Under this scenario, the Knickerbockers would enter July of 2015 as major players in the free-agent market, when such stars as Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Tony Parker, Goran Dragic, Roy Hibbert, DeAndre Jordan (and possibly LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh), may be up for grabs as unrestricted free agents. If Anthony is not on the hook for $20+ million, New York could be looking at upwards of $45 million in cap space, which would allow them to go on quite the shopping spree.

And this is where the presence of Phil Jackson makes things that much more interesting. Prior to Jackson’s arrival, extreme trepidation toward trusting the Knicks’ front office to successfully navigate free agent waters was understandable. However, with Jackson calling the shots (instead of Dolan or CAA, etc.), the chances of the Knicks completely striking out in free agency are greatly decreased, as NYC is a far more desirable location for prospective players now that Jackson is the new face of the franchise.

A common counterargument from the “keep Carmelo at all costs” camp is that free agency is too much of a crapshoot and it’s unlikely that New York would be able to reel in a player on par with Anthony no matter how far below the cap they get.

Well, the fact of the matter is that the Knicks would not necessarily have to sign a player better than Anthony in order for them to improve their overall roster. With mountains of cap space, the Knicks could construct a “team” that was far more balanced and not reliant on a single scorer.

If the free agent class of 2015 is star-studded, and the Knicks had more cap space than any team in the NBA, what kind of team could Jackson put together? The opportunity to play in New York City for a team run by one of the most respected minds in all of basketball would be an intriguing combination for prospective free agents.

Clearing and preserving cap space by letting Anthony walk is an inherently risky proposition, but if you have a competent front office in place (not a maverick owner masquerading as a GM), that cap space could actually be considered more valuable. In other words, if the idea of not re-signing Anthony made sense a few months ago, does it make more sense now?

Even if Anthony gave the Knicks a hometown discount and signed for “only” $110 million (roughly $20 million less the max), would that be the most efficient allocation of funds? For argument’s sake, which would be the better investment: Committing to pay a player such as Kevin Love $18 million per season in his mid-20s or paying Anthony $21 million at age 32?

Or what about a spending the money earmarked for Anthony on the combination of Goran Dragic, Marc Gasol and Danny Green?

Is it possible Jackson is attracted to the idea of starting with a blank canvas? If he keeps Anthony in the fold, his options are relatively limited, as the roster would have to be constructed with Anthony as the centerpiece.

All that said, it remains unknown if this nuclear option of letting Anthony walk is even a possibility. We know Dolan (who moved heaven and earth to bring Anthony to New York) would certainly prefer keep Carmelo, as losing him would obviously hurt ticket sales and TV ratings next season. Does Jackson have the true autonomy he was promised when Dolan hired him? Dolan has said yes, even when asked specifically if Jackson had the power to let Anthony walk. But saying that and allowing it are two different things.

If Jackson did decide to part ways with Anthony, he would face immediate challenges on a few fronts. Firstly, from a public relations standpoint, Jackson would have to assuage the concerns of fans angry at the organization for failing to retain their best player, and fans depressed at the idea of watching a non-competitive product next season.

Furthermore, if ‘Melo did decide to leave, would Jackson be able to secure a sign-and-trade? If so, what kind of return could he derive?

This situation could resolve itself in any number of ways. There are far more questions than answers at this point. The only thing that seems certain is that it will be incredibly fascinating to watch it all play out.

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.

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VIDEO: Tobias Harris – 2018 NBA All-Star

New LA Clipper Tobias Harris talks about the trade from Detroit, his mindset after being traded a few times and more.

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New LA Clipper Tobias Harris talks about the trade from Detroit, his mindset after being traded a few times and more.

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Rest Assured, the 1-16 NBA Playoff Format Is Coming… Kinda

Based on Adam Silver’s comments, it’s safe to assume that the NBA will soon reformat the playoffs.

Moke Hamilton

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If there’s one thing Adam Silver has proven in his four years as the NBA’s Commissioner, it’s that he isn’t afraid to do things his way.

And if Silver has his way, the league will eventually figure out how it can implement a system that results in a more balanced playoff system. On Saturday, though, he revealed that it’s probably closer to a reality than many of us realize.

During his annual All-Star media address, Silver admitted that the league will “continue to look at” how they can reformat the playoffs to both ensure a better competitive balance throughout and pave the way for the league’s two best teams to meet up in the NBA Finals, even if both of those two teams happen to be in the same conference.

“You also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in the Finals,” the commissioner said on Saturday night.

“You could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the conference finals or somewhere else. So we’re going to continue to look at that. It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways.”

Since Silver took over the league, he’s been consistent in implementing dramatic changes to improve the overall quality of the game. Although Silver didn’t take over as the league’s commissioner until 2014, he was instrumental in getting the interested parties to buy into the notion that the “center” designation on the All-Star ballot was obsolete.

As a result, beginning with the 2013 All-Star Game, the Eastern and Western Conference teams have featured three “frontcourt” players, which essentially lumps centers in with forwards and eliminates the requirement that a center appear in the All-Star game. That wasn’t always the case.

From overhauling the league’s scheduling to reducing back-to-back games to implementing draft lottery reform to, this year, eliminating the traditional All-Star format which featured the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference, it’s become clear that Silver simply “gets it” and isn’t afraid to make revolutionary changes if he deems them to be in the overall best interest of the league.

At this point, everyone realizes that something needs to be done about the league’s current playoff system.

Last season, for example, the Western Conference first round playoff series featured the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder squaring off against one another. Only one series—the Los Angeles Clippers versus Utah Jazz—went seven games.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the first round series that were contested weren’t exactly compelling.

The Cleveland Cavaliers steamrolled the conference to the tune of a 12-1 run to their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. It wasn’t the first time that the public questioned the wisdom behind separating the playoff brackets by conference, but the dominance of the Cavs and LeBron James specifically (who is expected to win the Eastern Conference for the eighth consecutive time this season) has caused renewed scrutiny.

The most common solution offered to this point has been to simply take the 16 best teams across the league, irrespective of conference, and conduct the playoffs as normal.

From afar, this solution seems simple enough, but the obvious concerns are twofold.

First, if the Celtics and Clippers, for example, were pitted against one another in a first round series, the travel would be considerable. Private charter flight or not, traveling is taxing, and the prospect of having to make five cross-country trips over the course of a two-week span would certainly leave the winner of such a series at a competitive disadvantage against the opponents they would face in subsequent rounds, especially if the future opponent enjoyed a playoff series that was contested within close proximity.

Atlanta to New Orleans, for example, is less than a one-hour flight.

Aside from the concerns about geographic proximity, the other obvious issue is competitive balancing of the schedule, which seems to be an easier issue to fix.

Using the Pelicans as an example, of the 82 games they play, 30 are played against the other conference—in this case, the Eastern Conference. The other 52 games would all be played within the conference. If playoff seedings were going to be done on a simple 1-16 basis, the scheduling would have to be realigned in a way to essentially pit all teams against one another evenly. It wouldn’t be fair for a team like the Celtics to be judged on the same standard as the Pelicans if the Celtics faced inferior teams more often.

On Saturday night, Silver revealed that the league’s brass has been thinking about this and is trying to find a solution, and in doing so, he may have tipped his hand.

* * * * * *

As a multinational conglomerate, the NBA values the inclusion of as many markets as possible. Wanting to improve the overall quality of the product, though, there are interests that may not align fully.

What’s obvious with this year’s All-Star game is that the NBA has found a way to balance the two.

Rather than eliminating the conference designations altogether and simply choosing the “best” 24 players to be in the All-Star game, the league still chose All-Stars based on their conference, but then distributed them within the pool to allow for better competition.

That’s exactly what Silver revealed the NBA is considering doing with the playoffs. It makes perfect sense, and it’s probably just a matter of time before it’s implemented.

A report from ESPN notes that the idea that the league is kicking around would essentially do exactly what the league did with the All-Star selections with the playoff teams: choose the best from each conference, then disburse them in a way that allows for competitive balance. 

The proposal would have the league’s teams compete as they normally do and would still feature the top eight teams from each conference getting into the playoffs.

Once the teams are qualified, however, they would be re-seeded on a 1-16 basis and crossmatched, on that basis.

It’s not perfect, but compromises never are. The travel issues would still persist, but the league would accomplish two goals: the less dominant conference wouldn’t be underrepresented and discouraged from competing, but the two best teams would still be on opposite ends of the bracket.

An NBA playoffs that featured 11 or 12 teams from the Western Conference would be a ratings nightmare for the league. Eastern Conference cities are less likely to stay up past midnight during the week to watch playoff games, and less competitive markets would frown at the prospect of having to compete against the other conference for a playoff spot. For many small market teams, the millions of dollars generated from a single playoff game often has a significant impact on the team’s operations, so there would naturally be discord.

This system would at least eliminate that contention.

On the positive side, it would allow for the Rockets and Warriors, for example, to meet in the NBA Finals. In both the NFL and MLB, geography hasn’t been a determining factor on which teams battle for the league’s championship.

Why does it have to be in the NBA?

* * * * * *

With the league having begun regular season play earlier this season, at the All-Star break, most teams have played about 57 games. A lot can change over the final 25 games of the season, but if the seeds were frozen today and the league took the top eight teams from each conference and then crossmatched them, the Los Angeles Clippers would be the team that got the short end o the stick.

Although the Clippers have the 16th best record in the league, they would be the ninth-seeded Western Conference team and would thus be eliminated from postseason contention by the Miami HEAT. The HEAT have the 17th best record in the league but are the eighth-best team in the Eastern Conference, so to preserve the conference weight, the HEAT would win out.

This is what the seedings and matchups would look like…

(1) Houston Rockets versus (16) Miami HEAT

(2) Golden State Warriors versus (15) New Orleans Pelicans

(3) Toronto Raptors versus (14) Philadelphia 76ers

(4) Boston Celtics versus (13) Portland Trail Blazers

(5) Cleveland Cavaliers versus (12) Denver Nuggets

(6) San Antonio Spurs versus (11) Oklahoma City Thunder

(7) Minnesota Timberwolves versus (10) Milwaukee Bucks

(8) Washington Wizards versus (9) Indiana Pacers

Here, the Celtics would face the nightmarish scenario of having to travel to and from Portland for their playoff series, while virtually every other series would feature much more friendly travel (especially the Spurs-Thunder and Raptors-Sixers).

The Cavs would have a very tough road to the Finals, having to beat the Nuggets, Celtics and Rockets if the seeds held. The Celtics would have a similarly tough road, as they’d have to get past the Blazers, Cavs and Rockets.

At the end of the day, the Rockets and Warriors would be aligned in such a way as to avoid one another until the championship, but each of the two would face daunting competition. The Rockets would have to go through the HEAT, Wizards and Celtics, while the Warriors would have to face the Pelicans, Timberwolves and Raptors—again, assuming the seeds held.

It would be a benefit to all observers.

One of the unintended consequences of implementing this system would be to make every single game count. If the Celtics were able to move up to the second seed, for example, their road to the Finals, in theory, could become much much easier, comparatively speaking.

The end result would be less resting of players during the course of the season and certainly less instances in which star players take the final week of the regular season off in other to be fresh for the postseason.

Everyone wins.

No, there’s no perfect solution, but just as the league has found a clever way to serve multiple interests as it relates to the All-Star game’s competitiveness, Silver has revealed that the league is at least considering following suit with the playoffs.

Best bet?

It’s only a matter of time before we see it actually see it happen.

It simply makes too much sense, and if there’s one thing the commissioner has already proven, it’s that he isn’t afraid of changing tradition.

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NBA All-Star Saturday Recap

Brian Slingluff recaps All-Star Saturday from Los Angeles.

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Basketball Insiders is here to recap an eventful All-Star Saturday that led to three first-time champs in the various skills contests. Let’s get right to it.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

In Saturday night’s Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the “Bigs” team, boasting 3 All-Stars, set out to claim a third straight title. The competition kicked off with Joel Embiid coming from behind to best Al Horford, and sharpshooter Lauri Markkanen swishing his first 3 point attempt to eliminate Andre Drummond. On the Guard side, Buddy Hield had an early lead before losing out to Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jamal Murray upset hometown favorite Lou Williams.

In the semifinals, Markkanen was able to dispatch Joel Embiid, who struggled with the pass portion of the competition, and Dinwiddie topped Jamal Murray by making his first 3 pointer for the second consecutive round.

In the Final round, Dinwiddie finally missed a 3 pointer, but it did not matter as he finished with a wire to wire victory over Lauri Markkanen. Dinwiddie, competing in front of his friends and family, was able to end the Bigs’ two year win streak in impressive fashion.

JBL Three Point Contest

The event started off with Tobias Harris scoring a solid 18 points. Wayne Ellington was next, sporting the hot new alternate Miami Vice jersey. Ellington started off cold and heated up on his last three racks, ending up with a score of 17. Devin Booker and former three-point champion Klay Thompson tied for a round-high 19 points. Paul George, Bradley Beal, and Kyle Lowry struggled from the start and never found a rhythm, falling short of making the championship round. Defending champion Eric Gordon never got it going, and would not defend the title, scoring only 12 points.

In the Championship round, Tobias Harris was on fire through the first 3 racks, but quickly got cold, scoring 17 points. Devin Booker was next and could not miss, scoring 28 points, leaving Klay Thompson a high number to match. Thompson fell just 3 points short, and Devin Booker was crowned the 2018 JBL Three Point Champion.

Verizon Slam Dunk Contest

The final and most anticipated event of the night started with Donovan Mitchell bringing out a second hoop, bouncing it off the second backboard and finishing with an impressive windmill dunk, scoring a 48. Victor Oladipo followed with a difficult look-away alley oop dunk attempt that he was unable to complete, totaling 31 points from the judges. Dennis Smith Jr. had a nice reverse double pump that got 39 points and Larry Nance Jr., in a throwback Phoenix jersey, payed homage to his father’s cradle dunk, nailing it almost exactly for a score of 44 points.

Oladipo started the next round of dunks by borrowing Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther mask, and scoring 40 points with a tomahawk windmill dunk. Smith Jr. hit a seemingly impossible reverse 360, through the legs, switching hands dunk for a perfect score of 50. Nance Jr. pulled off a Vince Carter level windmill, nearly missing a perfect score. Mitchell jumped over comedian Kevin Hart to advance to the finals against Larry Nance Jr.

In the Finals, Nance started things off with a windmill alley-oop with some help from Larry Nance Sr., garnering a score of 46. Mitchell completed the difficult one handed alley-oop he had attempted in the previous round, scoring a perfect 50. Nance Jr. answered with an incredible double pass off the backboard dunk, scoring yet another 50 points.  Mitchell ended the contest with a Vince Carter tribute dunk, coming out on top by just two points. It capped off an exciting Saturday night, setting things up for the main event on Sunday, Team LeBron versus Team Stephen.

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