Lovers’ Squabble: Phil Vs. Jeanie Over Carmelo
Depending on your viewpoint, this is either a silly romantic twist or a serious conflict of interest. Seems two people who share a bed at night are battling in business by day, dueling for the multi-year allegiance of a basketball star. I even hear a schoolyard tease in the breeze off Playa del Rey: Phil and Jeanie sitting in the tree, C-O-M-P-E-T-I-N-G for Carmelo Anthony, which begs a question:
Has a couple engaged to be married ever waged combat over a major free agent in the history of American sports? And when the competition is done, is there a chance the loser calls off the wedding before we have a chance to peruse the wedding registry?
Anthony is on an ego trip, deliciously pitting Phil Jackson and the Knicks, his most recent team, against Jeanie Buss and the Lakers, one of several teams wooing him this week. The most probable ending still has him returning with new boss Jackson in New York, where a maximum deal of $129 million for five seasons still trumps the perpetual sun and less manic fan-and-media climate of Los Angeles. But if Anthony and his show-business wife, La La, are sick of New York and prefer to gamble that the Lakers will be competitive with him, an aging but productive Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and rookie Julius Randle, then Jeanie might have something to say when she next sees her fiance.
Between the LeBron James intrigue and Anthony’s bi-coastal drama, NBA free agency remains as big a story as the most compelling World Cup in memory. Not that I’m entirely certain Anthony is worth all the fuss, or the $129 milion. Has he ever won in the postseason? Isn’t he a shot hog? Maybe a change of his birth certificate would help. Solutions-oriented fellow that I am, I propose Carmelo shorten his first name to Carlo, proving that he doesn’t need ME anywhere near it. Then we might take seriously the man’s desire to win first — which means playing defense, passing the ball to teammates, committing to a hardened playoff mentality and not turning an NBA game into driveway one-on-one every time the basketball arrives in his hands, or suction cups, with 10 seconds or fewer on the shot clock.
For this renowned volume shooter to become one of the sport’s true greats, Anthony must abandon the ME. Otherwise, it’s futile to opt of his contract for a better chance of winning a championship, because his selfishness will damage any team’s glorious ambitions. Whether he re-ups in New York with the Knicks or signs for less money in L.A. — Chicago, Dallas and Houston look like also rans — he’ll have to adapt his game to a team philosophy or waste away as another gifted scorer who doesn’t compromise for the greater good.
The summer’s three biggest potential prizes — James, Anthony and Kevin Love — could comprise three-fifths of the 2016 U.S. Olympic team’s starting lineup. For now, view them as explosives that could blow up the league’s competitive foundation. Love could take his double-double machine to the Golden State Warriors, who don’t want to relinquish Klay Thompson, or perhaps to the Celtics, who have Rajon Rondo to wave in a possible three-way deal. An Anthony move to another team only requires his signature. It could be that his opt-out is simply his way to get paid the max in New York. Though Jackson asked very nicely for Anthony to play out his final season for $23.3 million, CarMElo declined, putting him in line for the max deal. Jackson isn’t in love with Anthony as a player, for all the aforementioned reasons, and has said he won’t “lose sleep’’ if his only gate attraction at Madison Square Garden leaves town. But losing Anthony means Jackson and his new coach, Derek Fisher, suffer a hellish first season together.
While Jeanie Buss and brother Jim, who runs the Lakers’ basketball operation and is the reason future son-in-law Jackson is in New York, would reignite the dormant Lakers with one of the biggest stories in sports — Anthony teaming with Bryant — while Carmelo becomes the newest L.A. icon.
We’re about to find out if Anthony values money and being CarMElo over accepting less money in L.A. and sharing the ball with Kobe. How would that work exactly? Just a few days ago, keep in mind, Anthony and his reps were telling us how much he loved New York. “Carmelo loves being a Knick, he loves the city and the fans. At this stage of his career, he just wants to explore his options,” Creative Artists Agency’s Leon Rose said.
“My son goes to school. He loves it here,” Anthony said. “To take him out and take him somewhere else, he’d have to learn that system all over again. He’d have to get new friends, and I knew how hard it was for me when I moved from New York to Baltimore at a young age. Having to work your way to trying to have friends and go extra to try and make friends and trying to fit in and trying to figure out the culture in that area. As far as basketball goes, it’s hard to just say, `OK, I’m going to here. I’m going to make this decision. I’m going to do that.’ Because everybody’s affected by that.”
He forgot to mention one important tidbit: He and La La already own a house in L.A., where their kids have friends. Which might explain why Jackson, not long after Anthony visited the Lakers’ complex on Friday, quickly intercepted him the rest of the night and offered the max deal. I don’t know what Phil and Jeanie talked about later, but NBA commissioner Adam Silver already has cracked down, saying he doesn’t want their business secrets shared in the name of protecting league intergrity.
Why do I see someone sleeping on the couch when all of this is done?