Carmelo Anthony has until June 23 to notify the New York Knicks of his intention to opt in for the final year of his contract or opt out and test free agency. Anthony and his people met with Knicks officials Thursday night, and reports indicate Anthony still intends to become a free agent on July 1.
Losing a top player like Anthony is never good -- especially if he leaves the Knicks for nothing in return -- but it may not be entirely bad for the Knicks. It would afford the team the opportunity to rebuild their roster in 2015 when they currently have just over $12 million committed to salary. It could also potentially make life easier on rookie head coach Derek Fisher.
Now before everyone pulls out their pitchforks and torches, this isn't an indictment on Carmelo Anthony. To our knowledge, Anthony is cool with the hiring of Fisher, and though Melo has had brushes with past coaches, he wouldn't necessarily make life on Fisher tougher.
However, Anthony has stated that if he stays with the Knicks, he wants them to be competitive and approach title contention; he doesn't have time for a rebuild. If Anthony is a member of the Knicks next season, it will be because he feels they are capable of winning and winning soon (or they gave him a shitload of money, but that's beside the point).
The Knicks have largely the same roster from a 54-win season and a 37-win season, which, if we meet somewhere in the middle, makes for about a 46-win team -- not exactly Eastern Conference Elite. Minus Melo, however, the Knicks wouldn't even be expected to compete for the playoffs. Losing Melo would not only lower expectations for Fisher and the team, it would also dissolve the coach-and-star-player-relationship drama. Imagine the media reactions about Anthony's feelings toward Fisher if the Knicks find themselves in a six-game tailslide. Phil Jackson entrusted this rookie coach to get the Knicks back to winning?!
With the diminishing of expectations comes the freedom to experiment, too. It's obvious that Fisher and Jackson want to run the triangle, but Fisher did admit they'll look for a system that best suits the team's needs. Without Anthony -- who Fisher said would be perfect in the triangle -- the Knicks look even less like a team suited to run the traditional triangle offense.
For instance, Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire are both excellent big men in the pick-and-roll (10th and 11th, respectively, in points per play as roll men, according to Synergy), and Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni are both capable as pick-and-roll ball-handlers. Combined with shooters like J.R. Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr., the Knicks are still pretty well configured to play a spread pick-and-roll offense. Perhaps with some time and experimentation, Fisher (and maybe Jackson) would find that the Triangle isn't the best option for this roster. If winning lots of games isn't necessarily the priority, it would allow Fisher to experiment with playing styles and see not only what fits the team, but what he feels comfortable coaching. It would essentially be a throwaway year, so Fish could stalk the sidelines and get a feel for the whole routine without much consequence.
Additionally, with the Knicks set to rebuild in 2015, giving Fisher the freedom to experiment might be good for internal growth. Without a go-to player like Anthony, other players would have to step up their games and expand their roles. This could be particularly beneficial for young players like Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. who would take on greater responsibilities and get to make their cases as part of the future foundation of the team. Ditto for Toure' Murry, who the Knicks may re-sign as Fisher recently stated that Murry has a lot of "potential and versatility." Or, what if, given the opportunity, Andrea Bargnani balls out for 45 & 26 a night? Affording players the chance to show their stuff could make for an easier rebuild in 2015, dictating who could carry over into the next era. Like an 82-game Summer League!
Jason Kidd and Jeff Hornacek both serve as samples of rookie head coaches with different experiences in very different circumstances. Kidd did well in his first year, but for the first two months, there were growing pains and the Brooklyn Nets simply weren't that good until the latter half of the season. Kidd was highly respected around the league and a far better player than Fisher, yet he still struggled a bit in the coaching role and with a better roster than what New York currently has. The Nets, while a good team, didn't live up to championship expectations.
Hornacek, meanwhile, came onto a team without much expectation; most people figured the Phoenix Suns would be Western Conference bottom-feeders. Instead, Hornacek developed a system that fit the roster, gained the trust of his players and management, and was able to experiment and get a feel for the job. The Suns narrowly missed the playoffs, but with experience and a system in place, Phoenix now has a clearer outlook on their rebuilding process and could be back in playoff contention sooner than most people expected.
The Knicks gave Fisher a five-year contract, which evidences: A. They believe in his long-term capabilities, and B. They expect some struggles in the beginning. This isn't to suggest the Knicks are better off without Anthony; without him, they'll suffer in several areas. But when it comes to the development of Derek Fisher the coach, easing into the process without the burden of expectations might be a good thing.