The New York Knicks have perhaps the most uncertain offseason ahead of them of any NBA team. After they failed spectacularly to guarantee themselves a top-four pick in the upcoming draft despite being embarrassingly awful all season, they can’t count on Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor to come save them.
That’s one of the reasons they’ve been linked to damn near every available free agent, though they are every year they have cap room, and they haven’t gotten anyone good since Tyson Chandler three years ago — Carmelo Anthony doesn’t count, since he was acquired via trade and re-signed. The other reason is that they have a total of six players under contract for next season: Carmelo Anthony, Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin, Tim Hardaway, Cleanthony Early and Langston Galloway — and only ‘Melo is a sure bet to return. They’ve got a lot of cap space, as you can imagine.
Building a team takes more than cap space, though. It takes players to fill roles, and those players would ideally fit with each other within the system in place (antiquated though it may be). The question of fit will come up constantly as free agent rumors continue to flow, and Carmelo is at the center of them. He’s an all-time great scorer who doesn’t defend well and doesn’t pass as often as he should. And according to his former teammate and current ESPN analyst Chauncey Billups, he’s not a vocal leader, which most people would expect out of the highest-paid, biggest-name player on an NBA roster. Billups explained his viewpoint in detail on the “Knicks Blog with Anthony Donahue” radio show, as reported by Ian Begley:
Melo’s a good friend of mine, one of the best players I ever played with, but he’s not the guy who’s going to stand up in the locker room and give this rah-rah speech and get the team to rally. That’s not who he is.
One thing he is, he’s going to come to play every single night, he’s going to practice every single day. He is who he is, He’s not that guy [who leads vocally]. But for who he is, he’s great. You’ve got to find another guy to make speeches, and another guy to do most of the leading. [Carmelo’s] going to most of the time lead by example. He’s not going to be vocal, he’s not going to rock the boat.
Was that not the #HotTake you were expecting? Billups’ stance is very reasonable, and it’s one we’ve seen come up a few times before, notably with LaMarcus Aldridge, another pure scorer who some have connected with the Knicks this offseason. Personally, I think that would be a horrible idea, especially if the Knicks manage to luck into a spot where they could take one of the two marquee big men in the draft.
Billups went on to say that Anthony would be “best served” by having another player brought in to lead the Knicks in more vocal fashion, and that seems right on the money. Even though Carmelo is a phenomenal player, he’s been a member of multiple Knicks squads that seemed to have contempt for the basic concepts of team basketball. When Tyson Chandler was around (and engaged), Anthony was the best player on a playoff team, which he could be again. But at this point, he’s proved that he is not the type of person who can set the tone in the locker room.
Begley suggests David West, who would be intriguing (and well suited to the Triangle offense as I understand it), but showed obvious signs of decline this year, and often occupies the midrange space ‘Melo favors. But you know who else is an unrestricted free agent this offseason? Tyson Chandler, that’s who. Greg Monroe, who’s been strongly connected to the Knicks in rumors, does not strike me as the leadership type, considering the Pistons’ pre-Stan Van Gundy status as a Knicks-ian train wreck. Of course, Carlos Boozer is the most vocal player in the NBA, even if his version of “vocal” is closer to yelling ‘And One’ on obvious misses when he isn’t even fouled than actual leadership. Still, he strikes me as more of a Knicks target than West, who would probably react to a Knicks phone call like this:
It bears repeating that if Anthony isn’t a vocal leader at age 30, he isn’t going to be one, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. But if Phil Jackson approaches free agency with the expectation that ‘Melo will morph into Chris Paul, he’ll be doomed from the start — which would be about par for the course for the Knicks.