Carmelo Anthony’s season ended after the All-Star Game in February, which gave him a lot of unwanted free time. Melo’s restlessness led him to watching NBA games on the West Coast late into the night. Enough that his wife, Lala, would have to tell him to turn off the TV and go to sleep.
When he was around the training center, Melo would linger around Steve Mills’ office and discuss players around the league that caught his interest. Players who might fit well with him and the way the Knicks hope to play next season.
And now with this Knicks season over, the focus on the critical offseason now shifts to the all-important execution phase.
“This next season, for me, for the organization, for Phil [Jackson], this is where we earn our money,” Melo told reporters on Thursday. “This is where it starts out.”
It begins with the NBA Draft Lottery, which takes place May 19. The Knicks sit in the second position and have a 19.9% chance of getting the first overall pick. The worst they can fall is 5th overall, which would still represent the highest pick the franchise will make in 30 years.
After the lottery then comes the first – and maybe most – critical decision: what to do with the pick.
While he can’t – and wouldn’t – name names, he did allow for the idea that the Knicks would consider trading the pick if the right deal came along. And here’s where it gets real.
While some fans cringe at the idea of the Knicks trading away yet another first round pick, it’s not as if Jackson suggested he would be shopping the pick around. Instead, he simply made it known that he’d listen.
“You have to just sit back and see what comes toward you,” Jackson said.
Mills then revealed that two calls have already been made to the Knicks asking about the pick.
“You don’t have to say you’re up to discussing these things,” Mills said. “The calls are going to come in.”
Make no mistake; it would take a significant offer to engage the Knicks into trading their pick. Mills even made reference to learning from the mistakes of the past and not being so quick to give away draft picks.
But Jackson did point out that draft picks are still somewhat of a risk, despite the value that is put on possessing these picks.
“There have been some superb busts for first round picks that have come over the last 15 years,” Jackson said. “You look at these things and say, ‘How did that happen?’”
There is a lot of work put into the draft, especially when you have a top-10 pick, and yet history has proven the draft to be dangerously unpredictable. Consider that from 1990, when the current weighted lottery system was put in place, to 2012; only 37% of the players selected in the top-10 went on to be All-Stars.
Look at it another way: 63% of the time you make a top-10 pick, he doesn’t become an All-Star.
So, really, how valuable are these picks?
The Knicks don’t have a first round pick next season and, obviously no one wants to be in the lottery in consecutive seasons. So this is a rare opportunity to land a franchise-changing player the way the San Antonio Spurs did in 1997 (Tim Duncan) or the Chicago Bulls did in 2008 (Derrick Rose).
The opposite happened to the Los Angeles Clippers (Michael Olowokandi, 1998) and Toronto Raptors (Andrea Bargnani, 2006).
“We don’t want this to happen to our organization,” Jackson said. “A first [overall] draft pick can move a whole organization as Patrick Ewing did here in the 80s.”
Does this draft have that kind of player? Jahlil Okafor and Karl-Anthony Towns are talented big men with potential, but neither appears to be franchise movers right now. In fact, D’Angelo Russell, the freshman guard from Ohio State, has the potential to be someone that, five years from now, makes us look back and say he was the best player in the draft.
After the NBA Combine (May 12-17), the Knicks will bring in each of these players, plus several more, for workouts to make further assessments. However, the idea regarding what type of immediate-impact help they could get in a trade will linger.
Even Melo admits it’s something he’s thought about, too.
“How many rookies have been impactful?” he asked.
Later, he added of the decision, “It’s a lot of pressure.”
There’s also a lot riding on free agency, where the Knicks will have about $25 million in cap space to spend on free agents. Melo said he will be as active as Jackson and Mills needs him to be in the process.
When asked what players he wants, Melo replied, “Players . . . GOOD players.”
In other words, not just shooters. MAKERS.
Meanwhile, this critical offseason also involves Melo and his recovery from knee surgery, which led him to having all this idle time to consider the many options the franchise has to build around him. He expects to be able to return to his regular basketball work on the court in June and is completely confident he will be ready to go for training camp in October.
A lot was made of Melo admitting there was a time during this season that he second-guessed his decision to return to New York, but during these last few weeks of watching NBA games, bouncing ideas of Mills and engaging in discussions with Jackson, Melo insists his passion has not waned.
“If I lost my drive during this time,” he said, “I shouldn’t even be here.”
Not now. Not when it’s only just begun.