And as only the Zen Master can, Phil managed to deliver a not-so-subtle reminder to Carmelo Anthony that being a team player means taking less than max money.
If the past two days are any indication, the Knicks president isn’t going to sit back and wait to see what happens when Melo hits free agency July 1 or until next summer to improve the Knicks.
Jackson isn’t messing around. He’s getting things done now, making it clear he will run the team his way.
“Well, we want to send a message to all of our players that we are on the move and we are making changes,” Jackson said Thursday night. “And we are making changes to move forward in the direction that we want to go.”
Whether it is through his moves or his carefully measured words, Phil is ready to remake the Knicks in his vision. He’s hired a coach, and this week he began purging some of the negativity on the roster that plagued the Knicks last season.
Instead of holding onto Chandler’s $14.5 million expiring contract and waiting for summer 2015, Jackson shipped Chandler and Felton to Dallas, citing chemistry issues. Chandler wanted a fresh start somewhere else, and Felton certainly needed the same.
Even though Phil was around the Knicks for just the final month of the regular season, the Zen Master had apparently seen enough to justify parting with Chandler’s contract and his defensive presence.
“I think we saw that what we wanted to get accomplished was we had to change some of the chemistry on this team,” Jackson said. “To do that we felt [it was] important to bring in some new personnel and start with some character guys that we feel can carry this forward.”
So instead of holding onto Chandler’s expiring deal, which certainly could have been an asset, Jackson felt restoring harmony and a team-first attitude was more valuable.
“Watching them play, I saw guys that looked at each other like, you didn't back me up, you weren't here when I needed help,” Jackson said. “There just wasn't the right combination or feel [where] it felt like everybody was in sync all the time.”
Remember, Jackson is all about teaching. And while the lessons are delivered in a variety of methods, the core of his message is always the same. He is trying to establish a culture and a spirit built on teamwork. As an executive, Jackson is responsible for fiscal responsibility and managing the cap smartly. But he showed this week he will likely do so while standing on his valued principles of not letting ego or selfishness poison his club.
Jackson traded his center and Felton to the Dallas Mavericks for Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington and two second-round picks. He acquired another second-rounder Thursday night and used the three picks on Wichita State's athletic forward Cleanthony Early, prospect Thanasis Antetokounmpo and French center Louis Labeyrie.
So begins the influx of some new blood into a team that is in vital need of a transfusion. Jackson recognized this and pulled the trigger on the Chandler trade despite having to take back Calderon’s contract. Calderon’s deal is by no means a crippling one. The former Mav is a slight upgrade over Felton, but he’s also a $7 million point guard. Calderon, 32, will make $7 million this coming season, $7.4 million in 2015-16 and $7.7 million in 2016-17. So Phil is adding some money for 2015 when the Knicks can really be a player in free agency.
Of course, if Phil has his way, Melo will help him land another free agent in 2015 by staying and taking less than the max to give the Knicks some flexibility. Jackson was asked once again for his feelings about Melo accepting less money to help the Knicks, and Jackson once again wasn’t shy.
“When I take his word, he’s the one who opened that up, that it wasn’t about the money,” Jackson said. “So I challenged him on that, because I wanted our fans to see he’s a team player, that he was going to do what’s best to get our team ahead farther and faster.”
Come July 1, teams will be lining up to kiss Anthony’s you-know-what, doing whatever they can to persuade him to come to their city.
Jackson wants Anthony back. At what price remains to be seen. It might not be at $129.1 million over five seasons –- the most the Knicks can offer.
“We haven’t come to that,” Jackson said when asked if he will give Melo the max. “But the perception is we want Carmelo to be as interested in winning. When saying he’s competitive and wants to be on a competitive team to also being able to demonstrate that if push comes to shove in a situation where he may have to take a little bit less and we’re more competitive to bring in another player to help us bring this concept along.”
Any other first-time executive trying to keep a talent like Melo would bend over backward to keep Anthony happy. Jackson, though, has 11 rings. He isn't and will never be any ordinary first-time team president. So when he says he wants Anthony back, he also throws in a Zen Master test for Melo, as well.
Jackson won his rings preaching team-first and getting some of the most incredible individual talents the NBA has ever seen to buy into his system. He pushed, challenged and tested Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal with championship results.
Now Melo is the latest star whom Jackson is asking to sacrifice some personal gain for the good of the team. It just happens to come at the most pivotal time of Carmelo's career.
We will soon find out if Melo will buy into Phil’s vision. But if Anthony would rather sign somewhere else, Phil will keep things moving.
Fixing the Knicks is tougher than spelling Antetokounmpo. But judging by what he did Wednesday and Thursday, Jackson has put his plan into motion.