LAS VEGAS — Phil Jackson grinned at the inquisition, amused — as we all are — at the avalanche of information that continues to pummel NBA Free Agency, which hit its moratorium deadline today.
Since 12:01 a.m. this morning, free agents could be officially signed. But as of 2 PM local time here in Las Vegas (5 PM Eastern), there has been no word from Carmelo Anthony.
“Mercury is in retrograde? I think that’s what happens,” Jackson said. “Communication broke down.”
Jackson said he has texted Melo since they last spoke last week, but he has not received any replies. Asked if he expected a decision today, Jackson seemed to be as in the dark as the rest of us.
“I am,” he said. “I expected one yesterday and the day before yesterday. We’re waiting.”
Jackson likes Tom Petty, but doesn’t need him to know the waiting is the hardest part.
And being extremely careful with your words isn’t easy, either. That’s why Jackson gave little indication about reports that have said Anthony will decide to stay in New York for the maximum contract of five years, $129 million.
What he did was repeat what he said before about his pitch to Melo and reveal that, no, the Knicks are going to have to play the role of the Tortoise in this race to a championship.
“I felt really good about my conversation with Carmelo,” he said. “We really struck a chord. The two of us feel really passionately about what we’re trying to get accomplished. It’s his ability to stay, be patient, lead and watch us develop a winner.
“There’s no instantaneous winner that we think is going to happen to the Knicks right now, but we’re going to be a lot better.”
What Melo wants is to never have a season like the last one — the first time in his career that he has ever experienced a losing record and failed to make the playoffs — and also to do what all stars in their prime should do in this league: get their maximum salary according to the CBA.
That, to me, has been the most underreported part of this year’s free agency: the idea that the high-end players should take less and “sacrifice” for their team to add other players. Shouldn’t it be that other players sacrifice to play with the star player? Shouldn’t it also be that teams are willing to pay the higher tax amounts in order to build a winner around that star?
A lot has been, and will be, made of the Knicks offering the max to Melo. Jackson said the media “made a much bigger thing about this, about what would happen, it’s not really a big thing.”
He then said when it comes to Melo’s contract, “there are, maybe, five different options” and said he and Melo “will talk about that when the time comes.”
The options involve chipping off a few bucks each year by dipping the percentages in the raises, he said. “It’s about the percentages, less than one percent that’s available in a series of dollars that grow over a period of five years,” he explained. “It’s no big deal, it just gives us more flexibility, that’s all.”
In other words, the Knicks won’t ask Melo to talk $16 million per year like the Bulls would have to if he wanted to go to Chicago. They’d keep him very close to the max number annually.
Jackson also said Melo and his representatives were “amenable to what we’re trying to get accomplished” which might be the strongest statement of the day.
As for statements with the roster, Jackson seemed to suggest the first move has to come from Carmelo.
“That’s the first kind-of kingpin we have to have in this whole situation,” he said.
PAU-WER PLAY GOAL?
There have been reports that the Knicks were trying to move another big salary — Amar’e Stoudemire or Andrea Bargnani — to create an ability to sign a high end free agent such as Pau Gasol. But Jackson seemed to surrender any hope of that kind of effort.
“Not possible clearing money right now,” he said. “Everything’s pretty much set. We’ve run around a little bit and tried to figure out a lot of different strategies. Right now, we’re pretty set.”
So reported efforts to send Amar’e to the 76ers or Bargnani to the Magic went unrealized.
What that means is that Pau Gasol, a free agent that Jackson said the Knicks are interested in, would have to take a significantly lower salary to come to New York. Jackson forecasted Gasol’s asking price to be “somewhere above $10 million,” which is over $6 million more than the Knicks can offer (the most they have is a $3.2 million Taxpayers Mid-Level Exception) after Melo re-signs.
Jackson didn’t completely surrender his interest in Gasol, with whom he won two NBA Championships in Los Angeles. Gasol is said to be garnering interest from the Spurs, the Thunder and the Bulls, who can give him some of the money they would have offered Melo.
“We don’t have that kind of money,” Jackson said.
But Jackson allowed hope that Gasol, who serves as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations and puts a great deal of time in for UNICEF, might be lured to New York because of the presence of the UN headquarters.
“That’s a platform,” Jackson said. “Pretty soon he’ll be Secretary for the United Nations. Your career is headed that way and this is a good platform for you. I don’t know if that’s going to buy him into New York or not, but we’d like him to be there.”
Gasol could, theoretically, sign a two-year deal at the TMLE with an opt-out and then re-sign next summer when the Knicks have more cap space. The team could also attempt to make a run for his brother, Marc, in 2015.
Jackson said he did talk to Pau recently, to offer birthday wishes last week (he turned 34). Oh and maybe a few other thoughts, as well.
“I told him in the right system, and the right coach, he could probably play a couple of more years,” Jackson said. “He got a laugh out of it.”
But did he express interest?
“He knows what he has here and what is possible,” Jackson said. “I think he’d like to play with Carmelo. I think he’d like to play for a winner. We can’t guarantee that, but with him we guarantee a much better chance.”
AROUND THE NBA
- Speculation remains rampant about LeBron James’ impending decision but one point LeBron seems to be making with all of this is that he will do whatever he does on his own terms, conditions and schedule. James was here in Las Vegas for meetings with Nike and then Pat Riley and the Heat before running his annual basketball camp. I’ve talked to a few people who have told me in confidence that James will, as Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com has reported, choose to return to the Cavaliers. But others have also said James has not talked with anyone in the Cleveland organization, which makes this impossible to report with any conviction.
- Chris Bosh, as I said in the previous Fix, is expected to bolt for Houston if James leaves for Cleveland, but would the Heat make an effort to keep Bosh with a max offer and make him more of an offensive focal point like he was on Toronto?
- The Heat may also receive some interesting sign-and-trade offers for Bosh from teams that aren’t under the cap. Keep an eye on that market. There will be a great deal of fallout if LeBron does leave the Heat.
- There will also be a flurry of moves to follow, as LeBron’s move – and in some ways, Melo’s too — will unlock free agency. This weekend could be extremely busy around the NBA with signings and transactions.
- The Cavs would like to be in the hunt for Kevin Love, but I still get word that the Boston Celtics won’t give up on their pursuit of Love and the Golden State Warriors also have a bevy of talent and assets to offer the Timberwolves, as well. Flip Saunders would like to settle the issue, but expect him to be stingy, as he should. Love might not go anywhere until either before training camp or perhaps even during the season.
The Knicks begin their NBA Summer League schedule here on Friday at 4 p.m. ET on MSG Networks. We’ll have all the Knicks games for you and, of course, the latest on Carmelo Anthony and everything else.