Carmelo Anthony spent hours talking with Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. He listened to persuasive pitches from the Rockets and Mavericks. He contemplated what life in Hollywood would be like alongside best friend Kobe Bryant.
He might have even allowed himself to fantasize about teaming up with LeBron James somewhere.
But after a long -- and perhaps agonizing -- wait for the Knicks, Melo is staying in New York.
He chose Phil Jackson, Derek Fisher and the New York Knicks.
No matter what his reasons were for staying –- at least $122 million in salary, according to ESPN's Chris Broussard, the intoxicating feeling of being The Man in New York and playing on the Garden stage, or the idea of leading the Knicks to a long-awaited championship under Jackson -- Melo turned down multiple opportunities to compete for a title right now.
Instead of going for the instant fix and joining a team like ready-to-contend Chicago, Melo opted to be patient. He followed a Zen Master virtue.
So now that Melo has said yes to Phil’s plan, it’s all on Jackson and Fisher to deliver. Anthony listened to what Jackson and Fisher sold on their vision for turning around the Knicks. And he bought in.
Sure, Anthony still has to show he can play in the triangle and may have to make adjustments to his game much like Michael Jordan and Kobe once did for Jackson. But he could've taken his career 25.3 points per game elsewhere.
Now Jackson and Fisher have their first season together without the weight of win-now expectations. Melo signed on knowing the deal: The Knicks aren’t expected to be serious contenders this season. Anthony knows he’ll have to wait until next summer or maybe the trading deadline at the earliest before the Knicks can add some more serious firepower.
Who knows? Fisher could get the Knicks to the playoffs this season with a healthy and motivated core of Anthony, J.R. Smith, Amar'e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Tim Hardaway Jr., Iman Shumpert and Jose Calderon –- assuming Jackson doesn’t pull any more rabbits out of his magic hat this summer. And Fisher and Anthony will have a season to learn one another in the triangle and build a formidable union.
Meanwhile, Jackson will spend this season learning the ropes of being an NBA executive, acclimating to the landscape of general managers and agents.
Jackson’s first few months on the job have seen some wins and losses. He lost out on Steve Kerr as coach and his Lamar Odom signing didn't last past July. But he got Anthony to stay (a major win), hired Fisher, traded Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton and drafted Cleanthony Early in the second round.
Melo’s return also puts some of the onus on Jim Dolan. Right now, Jackson and Dolan are still in the honeymoon phase of their working relationship -- another part of the risk Melo is taking by re-signing with the Knicks. There are no guarantees Jackson will be able to lure another star to New York next year, and you can never predict what Dolan will do.
Back in 2003, Jason Kidd spurned San Antonio and Tim Duncan to stay with the Nets. He hoped to continue building a title contender of his own in New Jersey. But not too long after the ink had dried on his max contract, the Nets were sold to new ownership, Kenyon Martin wasn’t re-signed the next summer and New Jersey never got back to the NBA Finals.
Dolan likely isn’t going to sell the Knicks, but he can be hands-on with basketball decisions. Dolan has said he will let Jackson handle all basketball moves, but will he keep his word?
By next summer, Melo must hope Jackson and Dolan will be on the same page, that Fisher will be every bit as good as Phil believes and that Jackson will be able to execute his vision as planned. The Bulls, Mavericks, Rockets and Lakers all spelled out their plans for the future to Melo. Anthony hopes the Knicks' plan will be the right one.
A year from now, Fisher and Jackson will not only be stronger and more experienced at what they do but they hopefully will have something to sell to another star player on how potent their potential can be alongside Melo.
And by next summer, Jackson, Fisher and Anthony will have a better idea of the Eastern Conference landscape. LeBron staying in the East and joining Cleveland’s stable of No. 1 overall picks makes Jackson’s task of winning a title daunting.
But as LeBron smartly stated in his essay in Sports Illustrated, the Cavs could have plenty of growing pains with a stable of talented former No. 1 overall picks that haven’t won anything yet. With LeBron out of Miami, the East is open again -- at least until James' team of the future matures and learns how to win, or if Kevin Love lands in Ohio.
It would have been easy for Anthony to counter LeBron’s move and say yes to Chicago. Anthony could’ve chosen to battle LeBron for years with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Thibs. Like a cup of noodles, all the Bulls needed was to add Melo to make an instant title contender. But there are no guarantees Rose’s body will hold up.
So Melo put his trust in Jackson and his ability to build him a stellar supporting cast.
Jackson might make Anthony better, too. Perhaps Jackson, with Fisher's assistance, can help Melo follow in MJ’s and Kobe’s footsteps as incredible individual scoring talents who bought into the Zen Master’s methods and preaching to win their championships.
If after a year or two Anthony doesn’t like what he sees, he can always demand a trade and still get the money he wanted and land with a contender.
But Melo is taking a chance, hoping to blaze his own trail and cement his legacy in the concrete jungle.
"In the end, I am a New York Knick at heart," Anthony said in a statement on his website announcing his return. "I am looking forward to continue my career in Orange & Blue and to work with Phil Jackson, a champion who builds championship teams."
He put his trust in the triangle tandem. Now Phil and Fish have to do their part.