Keep Melo, Fire Phil
Over the past four years, Carmelo Anthony has endured a particularly dark brand of adversity. On the court, the Knicks have been drowning in an ocean of endless losses and drama since 2013. Off the court, Melo has most recently been embroiled in a very public uncovering of his infidelity to his high-school sweetheart, LaLa Anthony. Judging from the intensity of his effort to apologize to his wife, it’s clear that Carmelo understands the gravity of his actions and feels remorse. Yet, cheating on his wife should go down as perhaps the only deserved blemish on Carmelo Anthony’s legacy. Instead, people like to profess of many. Unfortunately, they’re being fed this perception by the very people who wish to cast attention away from their own glaring blemishes.
To restate the utterly obvious, the Knicks have been an unwatchable dumpster fire since 2013. Unsurprisingly, when a franchise records 211 losses out of 328 games over a four-year period, their fanbase harbors anger. To ensure that that anger doesn’t translate to lower revenue, management must publicly frame an attribution of blame to some party, so that that blame can be addressed and seemingly rectified. This has been the Knicks’ prescription for the restoration of its fanbase’s faith and, with it, the renewed pledge for season tickets, time and time again. Traditionally, coaches have made for the easiest targets: Jeff Hornacek is the Knicks’ 6th coach in 10 years. Indeed, firing a coach both attributes the blame onto someone, and “seemingly” rectifies the issue by bringing about “change.” When a season is the worst in your franchise’s history (such as the Knicks’ 17–65 in ‘14-’15), you go one notch higher and bring in Phil Jackson, winner of 11 rings. Something has been done, and times are changing. Right?
Wrong. Let’s face it: the Knicks suck because they can afford to suck. If a small-market team like the Minnesota Timberwolves lost 211 out of 328 games, the franchise could ostensibly fold (in the form of literally no one buying tickets to games, and therefore not being able to turn the lights on). Yet in NYC, there is an inelasticity to the demand for tickets. You can lose 328 out of 328 games — them Garden lights ain’t never going out. The result is that a franchise can afford to become complacent. In Phil Jackson’s case, that complacency is revealed by his ability to collect his $12M/year check without traveling with the team. His complacency is revealed by forcing onto the team some elusive system that worked for him many eons ago, without actually coaching it. His complacency is revealed by hastily flipping Tyson Chandler for Jose Calderon, seemingly on an impulse. His complacency is revealed by inexplicably granting a Joakim Noah who seemingly played his then-previous season on his death bed $72M/four years. Yet, Phil isn’t stressed, because Phil understands the Knicks’ prescription for the restoration of faith. Phil knows that all he has to do is cast the blame off his shoulders and onto someone else’s. We’re on our 6th coach in 10 years — that prescription’s been used up one too many times. Who’s the next easiest target in this melodrama? You guessed it.
The truth is, Phil’s public assertion that Melo is a perennial ball-hog is his way of saying “we’re losing because Melo hogs the ball. We need to get rid of Melo, and then everything will be fine.” It’s a shame that people are so easily duped. It’s a shame that Knicks management’s prescription is so easy to fill. Phil needs to take his outdated triangle and get the hell out of New York. And don’t get it twisted: Melo deserves to stay.
I’m tired of hearing about people buying into this narrative that Melo is anything short of great. Let’s address Phil’s claim that Melo is a ball-hog. After all, Phil isn’t the first to make this claim — people have been calling Melo a ball-hog since his Syracuse days. The truth is that they’re holding him to some standard he doesn’t need to adhere to. Melo is a SCORER. The dude is absolutely lethal offensively, both as a shooter and as a creator. He may play Small Forward due to his frame, but in all honesty, it’s better to think of him as a Shooting Guard. You don’t need your Shooting Guard to be an assist-monster. You need him to be a good shooter, a good scorer. A reliable source of offense. The reality is that prior to Kristaps, Melo’s next-most prolific scoring ally during his tenure in New York was J.R. Smith. What about on the only other team Melo has played for in his NBA career? Also J.R. Smith. There have been no other consistently reliable offensive weapons for Melo to defer to. There has been no flow to the offense, not because Melo stagnates it, but because of the lack of offensive threats assembled by Phil. The fact is that Melo is a damn good scorer, a damn good creator. He deserves to go down as one of the NBA’s best pure scorers of all time, and his legacy should recognize this fact.