Commentary

Knicks' only choice? Keep Carmelo!

Respectability, marketability -- and yes, maybe even LeBron -- rest on Anthony

Updated: June 12, 2014, 10:56 AM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

Now that the New York Knicks have both a president of basketball operations and a coach with a championship pedigree, one would think there should be no problem luring players with winning ability to a city that's been starving for a title since 1973. But as we sit here today, the focus having shifted to compiling a roster that should reap such dividends, the attention now rests squarely on Carmelo Anthony.

Unfortunately, none of us are sure if Melo's attention is aimed primarily at the Knicks. But the Knicks would need it to be if they're hoping for any success in the near future.

With yet another NBA Finals taking place without the Knicks' participation, their new coach, Derek Fisher, did everything he could to paint a picture of a franchise moving forward, desperate to eradicate a culture of losing. But while winning is the priority, it would do well for the Knicks' new coach to remember that it is players who get it done for you -- and that Melo is his best chance.

You want to be respectable? You keep Melo.

You want a gate attraction? You keep Melo.

You want, at least, a shot at LeBron James? You definitely keep Melo.

No matter how far-fetched that chance is.

To be clear, Melo wants to play with LeBron James. And, from what I'm being told, LeBron James wants to play with Melo. Assuming circumstances are ideal for them to do so. Sources tell ESPN's Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein that the Heat are preparing to make a run at Melo this summer in free agency, hoping to add him to the Big Three of LeBron, Wade and Bosh.

As far as Melo and LeBron are concerned, they would've been together already had Melo embraced the advice from James, one of his friends in the league, back in 2006, to sign a contract in 2007 with an opt-out after three seasons -- just like James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade did -- to make himself available for summer 2010.

It was Melo's decision to refrain, to take the five-year, $80 million deal offered by the Denver Nuggets, throwing a proverbial monkey wrench in James' plans. Essentially, the Big 3 could've easily been James, Wade and Melo ... instead of Bosh.

Melo blew it!

But that was then. This is now. And Carmelo Anthony, back then, didn't have the 11 years of NBA experience or the stable, business-savvy family life he has now.

Melo is a different man. With a far more substantive arsenal.

The future is just as important as right now. And quality of life is far more important than dollars and cents.

Here comes LeBron James.

Understand, the possibility of getting LBJ is slim. Annually, James is competing for championships. He's doing so surrounded by palm trees and gorgeous weather, for a first-class organization led by a first-class executive in Pat Riley with five titles on his resume. He's doing it in a place devoid of state income taxes and with a cheaper cost of living, with all of it serving as its own recruiting tool for prospective free agents-to-come.

By all accounts, LeBron can go wherever he wants. Whether he decides to leave Miami or stay, any team in the league will exhaust all options to make room for his arrival.

Still, LeBron doesn't care about money because he knows he'll get it. He doesn't care about where he lives because if he's adjusted to departing Akron, Ohio, for South Beach, he can adjust to almost anything.

What LeBron cares about is the roster he's playing with. The organization assembling it. And being happy, because the future is bright wherever he lands.

Winning is almost everything.

Winning with friends is everything!

Melo knows this, which is why the waiting game here in New York has lasted so long.

Melo knows before he does anything, he needs to talk to LeBron James when these NBA Finals are over. He needs to find out if LeBron is interested in coming to New York, or if he's staying in South Beach. Or if he has another destination in mind, where both of them can get their money and leave enough room for a strong supporting cast.

Such decisions may require that Melo opt in for an additional year with the Knicks before becoming a free agent next summer.

Or it may involve him becoming a free agent now, then leaving to go wherever he knows James will end up.

Remember, folks: No matter what the Big 3 in Miami says, they all knew they were meeting up in Miami months in advance. This is a similar scenario.

James kept his word to the fellas back then. According to sources, he always does. What LeBron James says and promises, he's known for delivering.

How else would we know about his crew (and management firm) LRMR -- LeBron, Randy, Maverick, Rich -- his boys from childhood?

"If you're LeBron's man, you're his man," one trusted confidant of LeBron's has said. "He's honorable on that level. He's an incredible friend. He means what he says. He does what he says he's going to do. And he does not break his word ... although it's hard as hell to get it!"

Dwyane Wade trusted this. Chris Bosh trusted this. And -- bet the house -- Carmelo Anthony trusts that what LeBron James says he'll do, he will do.

Don't think for one second that these sentiments have not been conveyed to MSG chairman James Dolan and the New York Knicks.

Knowing this, keeping Melo must be paramount. Unless Phil Jackson finds a young Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant somewhere, Melo qualifies as the Knicks' best option.

The Knicks can talk all they want about Jackson's brilliance, his 11 titles, his triangle offense and all it has reaped, but choreographers are nothing without someone to dance to their routines.

Melo's the best dancer the Knicks have. For now and the foreseeable future.

So it's nice to see Fisher as the Knicks' new $5 million man. To know him is to be sincerely happy for the Knicks' new coach, who's epitomized nothing but professionalism and competitiveness throughout his 18-year playing career.

But Fisher can only coach what he has. Jackson, in all likelihood, only wants to preside over something worthwhile. And the best way for him to pull that off now is to keep Carmelo Anthony in a Knicks uniform for several years to come, utilizing his "connections" to help formulate a roster worth paying to watch at MSG.

There's an awful lot at stake if the Knicks fail in this quest. And, obviously, there's a chance we might not just be talking about Melo.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, a co-host on First Take" and a regular on "SportsCenter."

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