- Ian Begley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Phil Jackson is well aware of Carmelo Anthony's on-court value to the Knicks.
"We recognize his talent and his skill is the kind of skill and talent that gets you through playoff games,” Jackson said last week. “Things get sticky, grind out and basketball becomes a force game, and suddenly you need to have a player who has the capabilities of scoring with someone hanging on them in a situation that’s critical. He’s one of those players, one of the few players who can do that."
Jackson also sees Anthony's value off the court.
The Knicks president believes that Anthony, a free agent-to-be, can help the Knicks immensely in attracting other free agents to New York.
"I think it really helps. I haven’t been a major recruiter as a basketball coach. I’ve had players who could recruit by their talent; that’s my great fortune. We didn’t have to send out Michael Jordan to go out and recruit people. People wanted to play with him. Or Scottie Pippen. We didn’t have to do that with Shaq [O'Neal] and Kobe [Bryant] in those situations, and they’re willing to do it. As a result, we ended up with [Karl] Malone and Gary Payton on a basketball team at one time.
"So I’ve been in situations like that. But one of the reasons I never went to college [is] because I never wanted to get into that world of promises and dreams. I want to be in reality most of the time, and I think that really helps. The reality of knowing a player is going to come in and he sees what’s done and sees how players get to play, sees the kind of effort that players put out on the floor is something that goes around this league pretty quickly and guys want to be a part of it."
Free agency is expected to be a major facet of the Knicks' rebuild over the next two or three seasons.
Anthony, of course, is the team's top priority in free agency. The Knicks are also expected to target top free agents in the summer of 2015, provided that they have the cap space. LeBron James, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rajon Rondo all may test free agency that summer.
But before the Knicks can begin thinking about the class of 2015 (James also has the option of opting out this summer), they need to figure out Anthony's situation.
Anthony has said for much of the year that he plans to opt out of the final year of his contract and test the waters this summer. Jackson hopes he will consider opting in and accepting less than a maximum contract to give the Knicks a better chance to land marquee free agents.
“We have an opportunity in the next couple of years to get back in the hunt for free agents that are headline players,” Jackson said last week. “This year, not so. But we’re going to make improvements on this team regardless. But next year and the year after, we think that we're going to have that opportunity. Can we get two [players] instead of just one? Yeah, that’s a possibility.
“[The] reality of how to do that involves Carmelo’s compliance. It may not be a $20 million player, $16 million player, $12 million player; it may be a $10 million ballplayer. But that’s the way things work out now. There’s a possibility we can do that."
If Anthony opts in and then re-signs with the Knicks, New York would have approximately $20 million in cap space in the summer of 2015 (accounting for the 2015 first-round pick and salaries for J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr.). That's based on the assumption that Anthony signs a max contract.
The 30-year-old veteran has said that he is open to taking less money from the Knicks -- or any other team he chooses to sign with -- if it helps that team attract free agents.
Anthony also said during the season that he would work with the Knicks to attract other free agents.
“I think people would love to come to play in New York, and when that time comes, we’ll be working on that," he said. "... I have a big black book. I have a big Rolodex. People that talk about what’s going on with me in the offseason, this and that, I should be getting people to come here. I am. I’m trying.”
It sounds like that’s the kind of effort Carmelo's team president would truly appreciate.
You can follow Ian Begley on Twitter.
2dIan O'Connor, ESPN Senior Writer