The latest ESPN feature on Carmelo Anthony isn’t likely to help the 35-year-old convince a team to take a chance on him, but it does illuminate Knicks-related issues like Anthony’s failure to recognize his potential as a power forward and James Dolan’s decision to meddle during the Melo years.
The lengthy feature on Anthony, penned by ESPN’s Baxter Holmes, who has a terrific name, is mostly focused on the reasons why Melo has failed to make it back to the NBA after his stint with the Houston Rockets came to a crashing conclusion just 10 games into last season.
Spoiler alert: The Rockets cut bait due to Anthony’s poor defense, and other teams are wary of signing him because he’s a defensive liability.
What’s most interesting for our purposes, however, is the large chunk of the story that pulls back the curtain on parts of the Melo era in New York. Deep down we already knew a lot of what is written, but it’s always nice to get confirmation that everything you feared was exactly what was happening, right?
Let’s take a look at three significant Knicks-related revelations from The burnout of the shooting star Carmelo Anthony.
Melo didn’t want to play power forward
The 2012-13 season was the best year for the franchise since Patrick Ewing was on the team, in large part because of Anthony’s ascendance as a power forward who also had small forward skills. The NBA was a much different place back then, and most teams fielded fours that were big burly dudes who Melo could pretty easily scamper past with a dribble or two.
Melo played 78 percent of his minutes at the power forward position that season, according to basketball-reference.com, up from 26 percent the prior year. He finished third in MVP voting, behind only second place finisher Kevin Durant and winner LeBron James, and his statistics were superb: a league-leading 28.7 points per game, to go along with 6.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists. Meanwhile, the Knicks went 54-28, good for second place in the Eastern Conference and easily the best season of the Melo era.
One might think Anthony would have recognized his penchant for playing power forward and lean into it, but one would be wrong, according to ESPN. The story notes that the only reason Anthony played so many minutes at the four that year was because Amar’e Stoudemire sat much of the season with knee injuries. In a sign of what was to come, Anthony’s own inability to see what should have been obvious led to his Knicks teams failing to live up to expectations
Anthony, several members of those Knicks say now, had always envisioned himself as a small forward; he’d stubbornly preferred to play that position, even though members of the coaching staff and front office say they had long viewed him as a stretch power forward who could space the court with his shooting.
In 2013-14, when the Knicks fell off a cliff because they decided Andrea Bargnani was the missing element, Anthony still played more power forward than usual, but the 78 percent figure dropped to 62 percent. In 2014-15, he played 79 percent of his minutes at small forward. In 2015-16, 91 percent of Melo’s minutes came at the three.
James Dolan had Anthony’s back when it came to the power forward thing
From what it sounds like, many people inside the Knicks saw what we were seeing. As a power forward, Anthony had a supreme advantage against most of his opponents. And after 2012-13 there was a heap of evidence to back that up.
Unfortunately, the man at the top of the totem pole was team Melo.
But Knicks insiders say that ownership -- namely Jim Dolan -- wanted Anthony to play the small forward position while A’mare Stoudemire played power forward. This frustrated some members of the coaching staff, who viewed it as driven only by Dolan’s desire to have star power on the court, according to sources on those Knicks teams.
The story notes that STAT’s knee troubles “forced everyone’s hands -- Jim’s and Carmelo’s,” when it came to Anthony playing power forward in 2012-13.
No matter how much any of Melo’s Knicks coaches might have wanted him to play the four, Anthony himself didn’t want it and Dolan had his back. You might say Mike D’Antoni, Mike Woodson, Derek Fisher, Kurt Rambis and Jeff Hornacek all found themselves between a rock and a hard place.
James Dolan didn’t just meddle when it came to Melo’s position
Most educated people believe that Dolan has meddled with the inner-workings of the Knicks more than he’s admitted, and the ESPN story shines light on some of the specifics of that meddling.
The Knicks experienced a drastic amount of roster turnover in 2013-14, including the aforementioned Bargani trade, plus the loss of Jason Kidd to retirement, among other changes. Still, in 2012-13 it seemed like the Knicks had hit on something, with Anthony acting as an almost Dirk Nowitzki-like presence on offense.
That year, the Knicks could just give him the ball in the post and let him work his man, and when help defense came Melo did a pretty good job kicking it out. When he did that, the team’s plethora of experienced point guards — Kidd, Pablo Prigioni and Raymond Felton, to be specific — would whip the ball around the perimeter until someone, perhaps J.R. Smith or Steve Novak, was wide open, usually for a three.
So, what the hell happened?
But as quickly, or accidentally, as it came together, it fell apart. The reason? Staffers wanted to keep several of the veteran players, but Dolan, they say, didn’t. “Every time we brought up veteran names, he’s like, ‘I don’t want any of those guys back,’” one Knicks source says. And GM Glen Grunwald was fired just days before training camp began. “That threw everything for a loop,” the Knicks source says. “That, I think, started the beginning of the end.”
In the aftermath of the team’s collapse as an Eastern Conference contender, Dolan eventually succumbed to public pressure, hired Phil Jackson and said he was done meddling. Well, he didn’t really admit to meddling, but did say he was going to stay out of basketball-related decisions.
From the get-go, it seemed like Jackson didn’t even want to re-sign Anthony, yet he still gave him a hefty five-year contract. Perhaps Dolan demanded it. In the end, Melo’s time with the Knicks ended in an extremely unsatisfying way for all sides.
The Jackson era is in the rear view mirror now, and we’re onto Scott Perry and Steve Mills. It seems like they’re operating without much meddling from ownership, but you never know when Dolan might get tired of touring the country with JD & The Straight Shot and decide it’s time to start making basketball decisions again.
God help us.