NEW YORK -- Phil Jackson spent his first day as the new Knicks president sounding a lot like a motivational speaker, talking at length about sharing, moving and creating opportunities.
Which leaves us with the potentially awkward marriage between Jackson and Carmelo Anthony. In his first public recruiting pitch to Melo, Jackson said there’s “no doubt” he wants to build around Anthony.
So now we have the answer to the first part of the great question about Anthony’s future. Jackson wants Melo, likely out of necessity. But does Melo want Jackson and the Knicks?
The great thing about Jackson is that he typically speaks his mind, even when the truth is harsh. When asked for his thoughts on Anthony, the grandmaster of team basketball praised Melo by calling him “maybe the best individual isolation player in the game.”
Words that begin with an “I” -- “individual” and “isolation” among them -- might as well be derogatory terms in the Jackson basketball dictionary. So Jackson wasn’t exactly gushing about Anthony. But that's not his style. He never treated Michael Jordan like the god MJ became in Chicago. So it wouldn't be surprising if Jackson was delivering the message to Melo through the media that he wants him back, but sees plenty of room for improvement.
Jackson’s triangle system may be built on teamwork. But his 11 championships were won with an elite scorer on the floor.
Jackson needs Melo even if this will be a marriage of inconvenience. His job of turning the Knicks into a winner will be made easier with Anthony. In order to rebuild the Knicks, Jackson must lure other stars to come play in New York in 2015. Anthony can help him win in the short term, and help bring in a supporting cast in the future.
Jackson knows 6-foot-8 guys who average 28 points and 8.3 rebounds just don’t fall into your lap.
“There’s no doubt about Carmelo being one of the top scorers in the league, maybe the best individual isolation player in the game,” Jackson said. “I have no problems with committing to saying Carmelo is in the future plans.
“I think there are a number of things I see Carmelo doing as he moves forward,” Jackson said. “And I think I was on record saying a year ago that I think Carmelo, as great a player as he is, still has another level he can go to. And I hope together, with the team we create, he can get there.”
If there is anyone who has perfected the art of turning a great individual talent into an ultimate winner, it’s Jackson. If there is another level Anthony can reach, Jackson might be able to unlock it even from a front office seat, with help from his lieutenants and a hand-picked coaching staff.
But does Anthony want Jackson? If Anthony hopes to win a title right away, he has to leave New York for teams that can use one final piece to win, like the Clippers, Rockets and perhaps the Bulls. The cap-strapped Knicks aren’t going anywhere next season.
Anthony, who will turn 30 later this month, certainly can’t like the idea of toiling with the Knicks for one more season before getting reinforcements –- and that is if Jackson can find help.
In the past few days, Anthony has sounded genuinely excited about the prospects of teaming up with Jackson. He wanted to attend the Jackson news conference but couldn’t due to practice.
He knows he can only learn and improve under a man who turned His Airness and Kobe Bryant into champions. Jackson got two of the most stubborn scorers in the history of basketball to buy into his team-first system.
Carmelo said Monday if Jackson feels he needs to alter his playing style in order to win a title, he is open to doing whatever Jackson wants him to do. That is provided Melo re-signs with the Knicks to a max deal worth $129 million over five years this July.
Jackson has signed on with the Knicks for five years and is willing to walk down the aisle with Melo.
Now we wait to see if Carmelo says yes.