How Do You Solve A Problem Like Carmelo?

Summer love has turned into a winter of discontent, as Carmelo Anthony leads the Knicks to the worst start in franchise history. 

The Knicks are off to their worst start in team history. Their Zen Master of a team president vacillates between coasts, while their coach tries desperately to sell a system to a group of players that mostly won’t be here next year. And their overpaid star player Carmelo Anthony is apparently grumbling about wanting to be traded. In short -– another typical year for the Knicks, a franchise whose dysfunction is amplified this year by the absolutely abysmal showing of every other New York sports team.

When Phil Jackson came on board in the spring of last year, the Knicks were in their standard late-season tailspin. Players were unhappy, playoffs were no longer a possibility, their coach was a lame duck, and Anthony was talking about walking, leaving the Knicks with nothing to show for their costly acquisition of the Brooklyn-born player in 2011. After testing the waters of free agency, and perhaps sensing the toll that all those pointless playing minutes took on his body last year, Anthony decided to take all of the Knicks money, approaching the maximum of what anyone in the league could have offered him.

Perhaps his thinking was: Get paid now, you’re not getting any younger. Or, as the narrative the Knicks management was quick to trumpet, perhaps Melo was confident in the Knicks ability to rebuild around him, attract another star player in 2015 and make a run for the championship while he was still in his relative prime.

Only 24 games into the season however, and the Knicks have only won four games. Melo’s knee might need surgery, and he threatened during a game to beat up a younger player over rebounding and which of them played worse defense. Whatever plan the Knicks might have had isn’t working – at least not in the short-term. If the idea was the Knicks could be marginally competitive in an incredibly weak Eastern conference (the Hawks have the second seed right now, yeeeeeesh), then that’s obviously not working out. If the plan was to tank in order to secure a draft pick, then the Knicks have not yet accepted this course of action, as, unlike the Sixers, they seem actively interested in winning games.

Just this morning, another tired trope of Knicks basketball reared its ugly head, the same way it always does: a sports writer said Melo would be willing to waive his no-trade clause, Melo went out of his way to deny it and committed himself to the team. And yet here Melo is, without a functioning knee on a completely dysfunctional team, having the worst season of his career. It’s not a matter if Melo wants out, now it’s a matter of who would want Melo?

Ignoring for the moment the guaranteed contract Melo has with the Knicks, which team has a need for a high volume scorer that can’t really play defense and demands isolated sets on offense? At a time in the NBA when the pass-happy Spurs, the talent-heavy Warriors, and the absolutely gelling Thunder are the favorites to win it all (not to mention the Grizzlies, who just plays harder than anyone), who on earth would actually want Carmelo Anthony?

The solution to the problem of Melo is fairly obvious: Put people who can play basketball around him. The Knicks haven’t been able to do so, and Jackson luring a player to share the stage with an aging, increasingly mercurial Melo might be harder than solving the most complicated of koans.

The Knicks might be right back at the beginning again – looking to unload a once-valued star as the team looks forward to a multi-year rebuilding process. While the fans have become used to waiting for a championship-caliber team, Melo’s window is quickly closing, a fear of retiring ring-less that might just help him walk out the door, and leave the Knicks with picks, money, and the chance for Jackson to remake the team entirely in his image.

Photos by Elsa / Gett Images