Phil needs Carmelo for the long term

Yes, money is going to be a problem. Anthony made certain of that over All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, where he maintained he would offer a discount on the $129 million maximum in his next deal if it helps the Knicks assemble an improved supporting cast. "If it takes me taking a pay cut," he said, "I'll be the first one on Mr. Dolan's steps saying, 'Take my money and let's build something strong over here.'"

Jackson ultimately met Anthony on Mr. Dolan's steps, announcing it would be a great idea if Melo walked that talk. The Knicks president also said the team would move forward with or without its best player, remarks that upset Anthony and suggested that Jackson didn't really want him back, a notion the Knicks have refuted.

Either way, the Knicks are better off in the short term and long term with Anthony playing for Fisher and not for Tom Thibodeau. Chicago is a clear and present danger here, and Jackson should work overtime to retain Anthony at the best possible price. Chances are Melo will be willing to take slightly less than the max (but not significantly less) to honor his word, show good faith and help Jackson acquire a role player or two in 2015 to complement the marquee free agent he needs to sign.

Jackson isn't going to secure the discount he wanted, but hey, as an incoming savior who didn't exactly give Dolan a discount on his own $60 million deal, he should be happy if Anthony throws him back a million or two per year.

What are Jackson's alternatives, anyway? Is he really that certain he can land a pair of big names next summer after cutting lose Anthony and fielding a 34-win team under a newbie head coach? Does he forget that Anthony went 7-for-7 in making the Western Conference playoffs in Denver and that Love, for instance, has gone 0-for-6 in Minnesota? Does he realize that allowing Melo to team up with Thibodeau, Joakim Noah and a returning Derrick Rose in Chicago (the presumed clubhouse leader over Houston and Miami) on a shorter, less lucrative contract would compromise the Knicks' hopes of ever getting out of the East?

Hard questions, no easy answers. Jackson's best bet is keeping Anthony, hitting a home run on next year's first-round pick and praying like heck that Pat Riley fails to find James the kind of shooters and rebounders Miami needs to beat San Antonio in the rubber match.

That wouldn't guarantee a James arrival in New York, not even close. But it would at least put the Knicks in the game.

Truth is, before Jackson took that truckload of Dolan's money, Anthony would have been better off leaving the Knicks and their big mess upstairs. He had no good reason to stay, other than the extra $33 million he could pocket in a five-year deal.

But Jackson's arrival changed everything. Anthony called him a genius and a guru and said he could sit in the philosopher's office and listen to him ramble all day.

Jackson rambled on in two subsequent meetings, yet Anthony chose to opt out anyway. It's just business, nothing too personal.

Now Jackson needs to take a deep breath and opt in for five more years. If the Knicks have more problems than even a Zen Master could count, Carmelo Anthony isn't one of them.

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