GREENBURGH, N.Y. –- As Phil Jackson continues to strip down the Knicks and reconstruct them piece by piece, Carmelo Anthony is rehabbing his knee in an effort to play again.
This is a good thing, because Anthony's role in this rebuilding process is only about to begin. With his team at 5-35, Melo has nothing left to play for this season. Like Jackson, Anthony's eye has to be fixated on the future, first and foremost this summer.
That's why Anthony needs to play in next month’s All-Star Game if his knee will allow. Representing New York in the Big Apple gala would certainly be one bright spot in what very well could be one of the worst seasons we have ever seen in New York professional sports history.
New York needs Melo in the All-Star Game to begin the recruiting process and start getting in the ears of future free-agent All-Stars.
Melo doesn’t even need to leave his home to recruit. Instead, the stars are coming to him and the Garden. For one weekend, New York will be the center of the NBA universe and Melo can serve as the host.
Knicks fans should hope Melo will be playing tour guide to the stars for Manhattan’s finest restaurants and swankiest spots for all the glitzy parties that come with All-Star Weekend.
Anthony was asked Monday whether he can be persuasive as a recruiter later this summer.
“I don’t think that'll be an issue, just as far as me trying to persuade guys to come play in New York and play for the Knicks despite kind of getting them to overlook what’s going on right now,” Anthony said. “I think I’m a good salesman. But we’ll see what happens when that time comes. I mean, it’s a long time until that comes.”
Still, Melo can get a head start at All-Star Weekend by practicing and playing alongside the galaxy of Adam Silver's superstars. Yes, we all know that NBA rules don’t allow any recruiting before midnight at the start of free agency.
But let’s be real: Players talk about it all the time and at some point during that weekend, a few NBA buddies might discuss the crazy notion of forming the next superstar trio to take the NBA by storm.
In today’s NBA fishbowl, the stars all talk to one another and are all boys either from their AAU days or from Team USA experience.
Kevin Love said last month that the idea of one day playing together came up while he worked out with Kevin Durant and Anthony in Los Angeles last summer. So it happens all the time. (And that would be the same Love who might opt not to stay in Cleveland this summer as one player and an executive said they’ve been hearing lately ... although a lot can happen between now and July.)
The point is, the best players in the game are always looking for whatever advantage they can get to win rings and cement legacies. And that means aligning themselves with as much talent as possible.
If the South Beach Super Friends merger taught us anything, it’s that it is possible for megastars to play their own version of fantasy basketball and hatch plans to play together. This summer, Melo has to be as persuasive of a recruiter as Dwyane Wade was back in 2010. No matter whose idea it was for LeBron James, Wade and Chris Bosh to team up, it was Wade and Pat Riley who made it happen.
The minute Phil took James Dolan's millions to try to turn the Knicks around, he knew he would need to form the same kind of union Wade and Riley have with his franchise player.
Jackson persuaded Anthony to stay. Now Anthony has to help Jackson recruit another star or two to come.
Phil can put all 11 of his rings on the table in front of any prospective free agent. But Jackson isn’t returning to coach as far as we know. And if any prospective free agent doesn’t think he can win with Melo, Phil's bling and Dolan's checkbook won't matter.
“Who wants to play with Melo?” one Western Conference player recently asked. Anthony is one of the friendliest stars in all of sports, someone who gets along with dozens of stars around the NBA. But Anthony might also have a a bit of a perception to battle when it comes to persuading a star to join his team -- one of a potentially difficult player to win with.
“I haven't had a complaint yet in my 11 years in this NBA about playing with me,” Anthony said in October 2013. “I think people would love to come to play in New York. And when that time comes we'll be working on that. I have a big black book. I have a big Rolodex."
Like Wade taking a step back and putting aside any ego about being the man in Miami when James and Bosh joined him, Melo has to be ready to sacrifice if necessary in order to win a championship. Phil has alluded to this before when talking about Anthony and what he has to do to take that next step to become a winner like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
Melo has shown he can share the spotlight with stars on Team USA. Now he likely will have to show he can share his own team, city and spotlight, if he wants to play alongside another star and win -- something I think he is willing to do, and more important can do, after these past two nightmarish seasons.
Anthony hopes to return to the court Thursday against Milwaukee in London. The plan is to keep playing after that, but Melo acknowledges he very well may have to shut his season down eventually and head into surgery.
Knicks fans should hope Melo can stay healthy enough to play in February's All-Star Game and remind prospective free-agent All-Stars how good he is when healthy, to start planting the seed about coming to New York whether it be this summer or next (the summer of Durant).
Come July, a weekend of Melo practicing, playing and partying with fellow All-Stars in February could end up being the best thing to happen for the Knicks during this forsaken season.