Jackson: Melo carrying big burden

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Knicks president Phil Jackson said Thursday that Carmelo Anthony has been bearing a lot of pressure on his shoulders -- and it doesn't have to do with the star player's future.

Jackson said he has had discussions with Anthony over the past two weeks and noticed Anthony feeling the bulk of the burden of the team's topsy-turvy season.

"We've had a couple occasions to talk," Jackson said at the team's practice facility. "We haven't really delved into the future as much as what's gone on, getting to know each other type of thing. Trying to see how he's feeling about playing.

"He's had to carry a big load. It's been a tough year for him. But it's been a tough year for everyone. It's not just isolated with him. But I think he feels the weight of it a lot more on himself."

Jackson has been assessing the Knicks (33-43) and he's seen them go on a tear of late, winning 12 of their past 15 games and climbing into the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot by percentage points ahead of the Atlanta Hawks (32-42).

Center Tyson Chandler has repeatedly said that if the Knicks make the playoffs, teams won't want to face them in the first round. Jackson agreed.

"Well, with J.R. [Smith] playing at the level he's playing at now, yes," Jackson said. "When Carmelo had to carry the load in scoring, a lot of times on his own back, and other people weren't stepping into helping him carry that load, which Amar'e [Stoudemire] and J.R. have done, it could be a struggle. But now they have more than one option out there on the floor, and I think that we'll give teams trouble."

Jackson said he plans to be at every playoff game if the Knicks qualify.

As far as Anthony is concerned, Jackson already has made it clear he wants the prolific scorer back. Anthony plans to opt out of his contract and become a free agent after the season. Dealing with the All-Star's future will be Jackson's first major decision as team president. Anthony has expressed his excitement of having Jackson rebuild and lead the franchise.

Jackson is slowly immersing himself in his role. He has spent his first couple of weeks on the job talking daily with general manager Steve Mills and having occasional conversations with players. Jackson said he also recently met with the scouts in the organization to discuss future prospects and what they've seen from the NCAA and NIT tournaments.

"Well, yes, it's on the docket," Jackson said when asked how much he has been involved with the Knicks on a daily basis. "Having to check in and see what the team's doing and see what's the health situation with the players.

"I think you're always assessing the team and the players and how they fit together and what's the mood," Jackson later added. "Who's not playing up to the level you want to see them play at, and who can produce more if they get an opportunity. So those are ongoing things. But we have an assessment at the end of the year that kind of synthesizes all that and then we can go forward from there."

Team owner James Dolan said after hiring Jackson that fans should not be surprised if Jackson is able to make some moves for next season despite the Knicks' lack of salary-cap flexibility. The team is expected to have cap space to make significant moves after next season.

Jackson also said that the franchise's strong ties to Creative Artists Agency -- which represents Anthony and several other Knicks players and executives -- will not restrict him from making moves to improve the roster.

Pointing out a play made by Anthony during a recent game against Sacramento, when he drew the defense in and found Stoudemire for a dunk, Jackson intimated that Anthony has a chance to emerge as a leader.

"Carmelo's really stepped into another level of trying to help players," Jackson said. "I think that's one of the things that we see that Carmelo can do and that he's grown as he's gone along. Those are issues that are not only on the basketball court. They're off the basketball court, they're in practices, they're in the training room, in the locker room, where players learn to lead and push the team forward with their energy.

"And I've been fortunate to have coached two of the great ones who have been able to do that in Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant," Jackson added. "But there have been other players, too. There's not just those players that do that. There are other players that have to be leaders on your team, and that's what we have to assess as we go forward."