Cool or Drool: Phil Jackson Targets Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony

Dan Bisno, Columnist

As a 10-time NBA All-Star, three-time Olympic gold medalist and former NCAA Champion, Carmelo Anthony commands respect. But he’s received anything but from New York Knicks executive Phil Jackson.

Ever since Jackson joined the Knicks organization in 2014, he has been eager to take cheap shots at Anthony whenever possible. As the poster child of the Knicks for six years, Anthony is an easy target. He is a once-in-a-generation talent without an NBA title to his name. Prior to an early-April exit meeting with the Knicks front office, Anthony hinted that basketball is becoming less fun for him — echoing the sentiment shared by players who left teams headed by Jackson in Chicago and Los Angeles.

There is no question that Anthony feels slighted by Jackson’s unusual management tactics in New York. As the Knicks finished the season with a 31–51 record, many question whether Jackson has a win-now mentality or is looking to build a championship team after Anthony’s departure or retirement. One of the NBA’s most contentious issues is the rise of intentional tanking to amass high draft picks. After all, Jackson has made a series of poor acquisitions since arriving in New York, including trading for an injury-prone Derrick Rose last summer.

Last week, Anthony finally spoke up for himself.

“If somebody was talking bad about you indirectly at your job, what would you do?” he said in an interview to ESPN. “You would feel a certain way. You would want that person to come [be] straightforward with you.”

Given Jackson’s reputation as one of the biggest trash-talkers in basketball management, hurling inappropriate criticisms at players in the media and in his many books, Anthony is justifiably uncomfortable. Jackson intensely criticized Kobe Bryant in The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul.

Unfortunately for Anthony, more trash talk could be coming his way. He may have unleashed the fire-breathing, 71-year-old “Zen-master” menace of Manhattan.

Several days after Anthony’s ESPN interview, Jackson shot back in a press conference, “I think the direction with our team is that he’s a player that would be better off somewhere else.”

Jackson confirmed Anthony’s worst-case scenario — he really does want Anthony out of New York. However, Anthony has regularly expressed frustration about the fact that he has minimal contact with Jackson. Given that Jackson had ample opportunities to work with Anthony directly to improve the situation, Jackson’s backhanded comments are strikingly petty. Despite Jackson’s 11 championship rings, his signature triangle offense and all of the hype that builds him up as the greatest coach ever, perhaps it’s Jackson, not Anthony, who is the poor fit for New York.

Anthony currently has two years left on a five-year, $124 million contract. More importantly, he possesses the sought-after no-trade clause, which allows him to veto any trade that Knicks management wants to make. Only veterans and future hall-of-famers like Anthony are in such a position of power in contract negotiation, which is presumably why Jackson has put so much pressure on Anthony in the media.

As Jackson’s comments began to take a toll on Anthony, Michele Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, became Anthony’s knight in shining armor. Roberts privately addressed the commissioner’s office regarding Jackson’s snide comments.

In addition, Roberts released a statement this past week that read, “If players under contract cannot, under threat of league discipline, speak openly about their desire to be employed elsewhere, we expect management to adhere to the same standards.”

The way Anthony has been treated under Jackson’s reign in New York has been unfair. Not only has Anthony been at the forefront of philanthropy in the NBA, recently addressing political issues with his powerful voice, he has also tried to adapt to Jackson’s basketball ideologies, including playing more minutes at power forward. Jackson’s comments reflect poorly on his ego, which has swelled like a balloon since Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant earned him 11 rings. It might be time for Jackson to realize that his beloved triangle offense might not work in New York and that treating players with respect might make his job easier. Until Jackson apologizes to Anthony and begins to voice his concerns internally, he earns a drool for his inappropriate comments in the media.