You couldn't blame Carmelo Anthony if he enjoyed the warm praise washing over him this week when the Knicks' hiring of Phil Jackson became official.
Duke legend Mike Krzyzewski raved about what a selfless teammate Anthony was coming off the bench for the U.S. Olympic teams he coached, and predicted the marriage would work.
Kobe Bryant was among those who said Anthony and Jackson will be a success. And Kobe should know, right? He's close friends with both men.
But the smartest thing Anthony could do is ignore the flattery.
If Anthony really wants to win the title -- not just rake in the extra $33 million the Knicks can pay him -- he has to mean it when he said he's "with" Jackson's reimagining of the Knicks as a "system offense." And he especially needs to skip the war of wills that Kobe had with Jackson when they were both with the Lakers.
Simply put: Anthony needs to be all in from the beginning.
Or he really should move on down the road.
Anything short of full compliance will only waste both Anthony's and Jackson's time.
Remember, even Bryant and Jackson -- for all their professed love of each other now -- went through a destructive standoff when they were both with the Lakers. And it actually festered to the point that Jackson termed Bryant "uncoachable," and in 2004 took what he, this week, called a coaching "hiatus."
Jackson took a break, all right. But only after essentially telling late Lakers owner Jerry Buss to choose between him or trading Bryant, same as Buss once had to choose between Kobe or Shaq.
Buss chose Kobe, of course, which prompted Phil to take a two-month trip to the South Pacific.
Jackson and Bryant reunited in 2005, after Rudy Tomjanovich lasted less than a year in purple and gold, and won the final two of their five titles together. So Jackson has won titles without Kobe. But Bryant has never won one without Phil.
Anthony should keep all of that in mind because, barring a miracle, he's about to miss the playoffs for the first time in his 10-year pro career. He's not getting closer to a ring. And yet, another thing he's heard -- especially during the Knicks' current seven-game winning streak -- is what an admirable season he's had while the Knicks team around him has stunk, exonerating him from blame even though some advanced metrics show he's roughly been the same player and ball stopper he's always been.
Both Anthony's player efficiency rating (which attempts to boil down all of a player's contributions into one number) and his PER rank against his league peers have actually improved each of the past two years.
But Anthony's usage rate (30.6) -- the best stat to measure a player's ball-hogging ways -- is not good. It's a bit down from last season (a league-high 32.2) when he won the NBA scoring title, but that isn't saying much. He's also tied for 105th in the league in true shooting percentage (LeBron and Kevin Durant are fifth and seventh respectively), a stat intended to more accurately calculate a player's shooting as a whole (FGs, FTs and 3-pointers). He was 88th last season.
What that all means is, at minimum, Anthony would be wise to tune out the people pumping up the season he's had so far. A Melo critic could say that one definition of insanity in the NBA is believing a superstar should continue playing in the same manner even when the team around him perennially falls short. A Melo supporter could argue it's actually impressive that Melo's PER is up and his usage rate has barely changed considering the second-string teammates he's been playing with.
This is where the statistical stuff gets fuzzy or complicated if used alone. But still, Anthony would be better off dwelling on one solitary line out of Jackson's introductory news conference: the moment when Phil -- who is supposedly not into analytics -- said that Melo is great at isolation plays, but his game can still reach a higher level.
While it may indeed be just an eyeball assessment for Jackson, the numbers back it up.
And there are more numbers that should trouble Anthony besides missing the postseason for the first time. He's the only top-five pick from his 2003 draft class who is still without a title. (Even Darko Milicic has a ring, for goodness' sake!) Anthony will be 30 next season and Jackson will be a creaky 69 and has literally called himself "lame."
If the ring really is the most important thing, Anthony has to jump all in with Jackson's tweaking of his game and skip the preliminary skirmishing. Or else go.
Just have the sense to get out.