According to rumors that ran rampant in the days and weeks after the draft, it appeared that the relationship between the New York Knicks’ two most important players would get off to a rough start. Published reports indicated that the Carmelo Anthony was unhappy with the moves his team had made, including the decision to draft a highly touted, but unproven, seven-footer from Latvia named Kristaps Porzingis.
Anthony is the undisputed face of the Knicks franchise. He has been since the day he arrived in New York. Phil Jackson made sure that would remain the case when he signed Anthony to a massive $124 million contract last summer. Jackson and Anthony were hoping that the Knicks would be able to rebuild the organization around ‘Melo while still putting a competitive product on the floor.
However, in the first year of that new deal, the Knicks imploded, finishing a nightmare of a season with a franchise record 65 losses. Anthony missed most of the season due to a debilitating knee injury that required surgery.
This past offseason, Jackson seemed to reverse course and commit more earnestly to a more traditional rebuild.
It was understandable that Anthony would have some apprehension, as he watched from afar.
During the summer of 2014, Jackson’s biggest offseason move outside of re-signing the then 30-year-old Anthony was trading for 33-year-old veteran Jose Calderon.
This past offseason, Jackson’s many moves included drafting a teenager, trading away Tim Hardaway Jr. in exchange for a first-round draft pick and signing young bigs Kyle O’Quinn, Derrick Williams and Kevin Seraphin.
Jackson was clearly thinking long-term. The reports that Anthony wasn’t thrilled with the direction of the franchise weren’t all that surprising. Carmelo had participated in the postseason in each of the first 10 years of his career. Yet, the Knicks have failed to qualify for the playoffs in 2013-14 and 2014-15. Will 2015-16 make it three straight seasons that end in April? How many more years does ‘Melo have left in his prime? How much longer will his ‘window’ remain open?
This offseason, Jackson was able to start re-stocking the franchise’s shelves. Over half of the players on the Knicks roster are 25 years old or younger.
How would Anthony handle this shift in the franchise’s focus? How would he handle the arrival and emergence of Porzingis?
Well, Carmelo was determined to put such speculation to rest right away on Media Day. Right from the start, after he assured the assembled media that he was fully recovered from knee surgery, ‘Melo went out of his way to confirm that he and Porzingis have already bonded in the short amount of time they’ve spent together.
It may seem as though Porzingis and Anthony have little in common (Porzingis was just 8 years old on the day ‘Melo was selected third overall by the Denver Nuggets), but they are more alike than one might think.
Like Porzingis, ‘Melo was also drafted into the NBA as a highly-touted teenager with enormous expectations on his shoulders. However, Anthony had the advantage of growing up here in America, and having the NBA community already quite familiar with his game. In this respect, ‘Melo has been sympathetic to the what Porzingis is going through.
“I kind of feel bad for him because there’s so much pressure on him,” Anthony said recently. “The guy hasn’t even played not one minute in the NBA.”
Anthony made it clear that he has not only welcomed the Knicks rookie, but that he also plans to shield and protect his protégé.
“I’m going to try to be a big brother to him and kind of take the pressure off him a little bit,” Anthony said. “There’s going to be so much pressure he’s never experienced yet. He’s 19 years old, first time in the NBA. This is new to him. A newcomer in New York. That’s tough. I don’t think he knows what he’s getting himself into. I have to be that wall for him. I’m just there to be that sounding board and let him know what’s to come.”
Anthony also assertively affirmed that he still has faith in Phil Jackson’s vision, and that he believes Phil still has faith in him.
“I think Phil believes in me because I’m still here,” Anthony said. “Being the centerpiece of this, I respect that. And I don’t want to let him down.”
Over the summer, Anthony invited Porzingis to work out with him on multiple occasions at Anthony’s gym (Terminal 23) in Manhattan. They played plenty of one-on-one games and ‘Melo walked away impressed by the kid’s toughness and competitive intensity. Carmelo also invited Porzingis to join him and many other Knicks at Anthony’s charity softball tournament in Puerto Rico.
At Media Day, Porzingis explained he welcomed any and all advice ‘Melo would throw his way.
“I’m trying to learn as much as I can from him, asking him questions – how to do this and that,” Porzingis said. “Being around him all day long is great. I’m trying to get as much information as I can.”
‘Melo and “KP,” the Knicks present and the Knicks future, clearly seem to be getting along well with each other this summer. The question is will they still be buddy-buddy this fall and into the cold New York winter?
Anthony has stated time and again that his preference is to stay in New York and build a winning team that NYC can be proud of. The reality is, he may need Porzingis to chip in sooner than expected if that dream is to become a reality.
This season will likely have an enormous, long-standing impact on the future of the franchise. Despite having upwards of $28 million to spend on free agents this past summer, the Knicks failed to lure a superstar to NYC to pair next to Carmelo. Yet, due to the salary cap spiking next year, the Knicks will once again have plenty of cap space for Phil to spend in order to secure a stud in July of 2016. Eventually, signing role players will only get the organization so far. In order to take that next step, they need to bring in max-level talent. And in order to greatly improve their chances of persuading an elite superstar to sign, the Knicks have to show they are on the cusp of turning the corner. Would a significant step forward in the standings in 2015-16 entice a top-tier free agent to come to NYC?
Would an impressive turnaround into a team competing for the postseason, sparked partly by the play of Porzingis, be enough to persuade a superstar to accept the Knicks’ offer of a massive contract?
On the flip side of the coin, if the Knicks struggle mightily again in this upcoming campaign, might Jackson and company consider committing to a full and complete rebuild, which would involve trading Anthony at the February trade deadline or the following offseason? This upcoming season could determine which direction the franchise ultimately heads in going forward.
Is it possible that Porzingis’ prime coincides with Anthony’s open window?
How many minutes will the youngster be able handle? What kind of production can Porzingis provide while adapting to life in a new country and competing against stronger, more mature veterans?
“My window is open,” Anthony told reporters at Media Day. “I don’t think it’s closing.”
Given the limited level of talent currently on the Knicks’ roster, in order for Carmelo’s window to remain open in New York, Anthony’s new buddy may have to shoulder some of the load sooner than expected.
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