HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — It’s time to cut Carmelo Anthony some slack and stop cynically scoffing at his return to the New York Knicks as being, perceptually anyway, for no greater reason than to gobble the millions of dollars other teams couldn’t give him.
If we’re going to lather such thick praise upon LeBron James for the heartfelt letter as he told it to Sports Illustrated in which he was clear his return to Cleveland was more about the tug of his hometown and his family’s happiness there than his immediate quest to collect championships, then why can’t we be equally happy for Anthony for choosing the place he and his family feel most at home?
That the Knicks could offer more money, by rule of the league’s collective bargaining agreement, than the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers or any other team, is completely out of Anthony’s control. The $30 million or so more that he could earn in New York (Anthony signed for $124 million, about $6 million less than the max), plus getting a fifth year as opposed to a maximum of four years anywhere else, are both worthy enticements to return, just as they are meant to be.
But what if Anthony’s love for the city, where he spent his early years and where his wife LaLa grew up, and his son calls home, was his true calling? What if his desire to one day bring a championship to the long-struggling franchise, just like the one in Cleveland that James so admirably wants to lift up, was Anthony’s deeper motivation for re-signing?
Anthony, like James, talked about his family’s happiness in an interview with VICE Sports before his free agency tour of Chicago, Houston, Dallas and Los Angeles began:
“The average person just sees the opportunity to say, ‘Melo should go here, Melo should go there.’ But they don’t take into consideration the family aspect of it, your livelihood, where you’re going to be living. Do you want your kids to grow up in that place? Do I want to spend the rest of my career in that situation, in that city?
“My son goes to school and loves it here (in New York). To take him out and take him somewhere else, he would have to learn that system all over again. I know how hard it was for me when I moved from New York to Baltimore at a young age, having to work your way to try to make new friends and fit in and figure out the culture in that area.”
I can hear the scoffing from here. But why are James’ intentions viewed as pure, while Anthony’s as only greedy?
I understand. You don’t have to be John Hollinger to recognize that adding Anthony as the missing, high-scoring wing to the Bulls, with coach Tom Thibodeau‘s defensive philosophy stamped all over the club, with Joakim Noah as the fiery, emotional leader and former league MVP Derrick Rose returning, would mean big, big trouble in the Eastern Conference.
It seemed a natural fit. Of course, the Bulls, by virtue of the CBA and their own cap situation, could only offer Anthony around $75 million. That’s significantly less money than his New York deal and one likely any rational human being, or businessman, wouldn’t consider for long.
But because this is basketball and not a Fortune 500 company, we want Melo to take less and go to the Bulls because it just makes too much basketball sense. And clearly it seems Anthony grappled with the decision.
He knew he could join an instant contender in Chicago, while the 2014-15 campaign in New York will be a learning one with rookie coach in Derek Fisher and an incomplete roster. Reaching .500 would seem a realistic goal.
But what if Anthony decided to stick with the team that unloaded a package of talented players in the trade to get him out of Denver just three years ago? What if Anthony decided to trust in new president Phil Jackson — the franchise’s first respected voice of authority in years — and give him a chance to assemble a roster in 2015 and 2016 when for the first time under this CBA, the club will boast cap space?
What if the money wasn’t the overriding factor, and visions of becoming the first Knick to hoist the championship trophy since, well, a much younger Jackson in 1973? And how much more meaningful it would be to do it in New York than anywhere else (just as LeBron said about Cleveland)?
Again, I hear the scoffing.
Maybe in the end, the money really was the only thing that mattered.
But just maybe, at age 30 and with a family, and understanding his legacy is far from complete in the game, Anthony embraced the bigger picture, the greater challenge ahead in New York, the city he and his family call home.
Maybe, like LeBron’s sentimental decision we ate up, Anthony’s, too, came from his heart; the extra wallet padding only New York could provide being nothing more than a bonus.