Sunday, June 22, 2014

Corey Rockafeler NBA RAW: Melo and Knicks- Time for a "conscious uncoupling."

Yes Gwynenth, I have appropriated your relationship nom de guerre-albeit one drenched in pretense. Everything on this planet has a shelf life. That includes sports. A parting of the ways- a "conscious uncoupling"-if you will, between the New York Knicks and  Carmelo Anthony would be best for all involved. Melo has fulfilled his pre-season promise of opting out of his contract to get his first ever taste of free agency. Congrats big guy! Who can blame Melo? He is coming off one of his best offensive seasons ever. He was an offensive beast on a team so poorly coached  it was painful. Despite ex-coach Mike Woodson's excruciatingly perfunctory and unimaginative offensive play calling, Melo was a awesome . He posted careers highs in everything from offensive rating:113%, offensive win shares, 8.1% , win shares, 10.1% , and 3-point percentage at 40.1 % . In addition, Melo had the second highest PER( player efficiency rating) of his career at 24.4 % and nearly eclipsed his previous career high in true shooting percentage- 56.8%. Who can forget his offensive outburst against the Bobcats where Melo dropped 62 points, breaking a franchise record held by Hall of Farmer, Bernard King.

Defensively, Melo played with a passion and grit seldom seen. It showed as he snatched a career high 8.1 boards during this past season and showed the vocal on court leadership many had previously called him out on. But after making the post season every year in his 10-year career, the "close but no cigar" season was a complete air ball . Melo gets no blame. Instead it  falls on a structurally flawed Knick team and abysmal coaching  for this major disappointment.  To exacerbate matters, the Knicks receive no recompense for their mediocrity. They traded their first-round pick to the Toronto Raptors in the disastrous Andrea Bargnanni trade. Such is life under a dysfunctional, poorly run organization where true leadership is non existent amid the paranoia of clueless owner Jim Dolan.

Now enter Zen master, Phil Jackson as president and the latest savior asked to resuscitate a flat-lining organization.  Who can doubt  Jackson's basketball DNA? He is the owner of eleven championship rings, guiding the careers of a few guys named Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, Kobe and Shaq. You would think this is a match made in hoops heaven  right?  Now add  new Knick coach, acolyte Derek Fisher, Phil's star pupil ( or second star pupil, the first guy  Kerr didn't exactly work out as planned) and now we're cooking.  The right  people finally seem to be in the right seats, right? Therein lies the rub. Despite the over public overtures and media genuflections for Melo's game, Jackson is not sold  . In private, Phil has significant reservations on Melo being the cornerstone of a championship team. Phil, like many enlightened hoops purists, see Melo for what he is-a dynamic prodigious scorer, elite-but only one side of the ball . One of the best scorers in the NBA, Melo's has some Mount Everest  sized holes in his game. He is an iso-heavy, ball dominant, volume scorer who does not elevate the play of those on the court. Melo's game ,as presently constituted, does not make his teammates better. He  attacks to score- not to make plays for teammates. Melo is not proficient in creating scoring opportunities for others. He has yet to master that delicate balance.

One can say, what about rebounds? OK, point well taken. But consider, Melo is now a stretch  four. Averaging 8 boards a game is expected. Defensively, Melo has gone from bad to average. He defensive rating of 108% and defensive wins shares of 2.5 are nothing to write home about . Melo represents he general managerial conundrum- how do to justify giving a non-franchise player, franchise  money? Yes he will put fannies in the seats, but as one GM said privately, " you will not win a championship, with Melo as your best player. Don't' think that sentiment is lost on Phil  Jackson . There is a reason Melo has only been past the first round of the playoff only twice.

This is why Jackson has called Melo out on accepting  less money, to give the team financial flexibility to chase two max players in 2015 . Jackson knows at 30 years old, Melo is who he is. Giving him a max $ 129 million, 5-year contact  will not win this Knick team any rings -unless LeBron  comes aboard. One source says, " Phil likes Melo at  $ 16 to $ 17 million  per  on  back-loaded deal."  He adds, " Phil will not lose sleep if Melo leaves."

Conversely Melo's declaration of " winning is the only thing matters, " also rings hollow. Melo forced his way out of Denver to New York team that had to be gutted to pay him. The depleted Knick team was lacking depth , assets, and financial flexibility. All the things they would have had if Melo was more strategic  and waited until the off season when he would have been an unrestricted free agent  With the lock out looming, Melo wanted to get paid. Lets not fool ourselves.

In addition, what has Melo been doing for the past ten years in the league? Working on his defense? Nope! Learning  how to make plays  for his teammates? Nope! Leaning to move without the ball and be less iso-heavy? Nope!  Was he taking a page out of Jordan, or Kobe's book and always adding to his overall game? You have that answer.

Houston or Chicago  may offer a more playoff ready team built to contend now for a 30-year Melo with a shrinking window. But Melo the Knicks are better off without you and you without. It will finally allow the Knicks to do something they have not done in years-build organically with the right leadership .

Melo you rode into Gotham city was super hero poised to deliver a ring  for championship-famished city.But along the way you forgot Robin needs his Batman. And although we love you and will miss you, your are not Batman. Some times the truth is uncomfortable and not easy to digest. Good luck Melo. We wish you all the best with your quest for a ring.

PS Phil, every one has a plan until they get hit. Its your ball, and the clock starts now.

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