POSTED: Sep 28, 2015 4:28 PM ET
UPDATED: Sep 28, 2015 6:51 PM ET
As he enters into his 13th season, Carmelo Anthony is ready for a fresh start and believes his championship window has not closed.
GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The New York Knicks held their 2015 media day underneath a huge tent just outside their practice facility, in order to reserve court space inside for the New York Liberty, who are one win away from advancing to the WNBA Finals.
Overlooking any circus/tent corollaries, the message, implied or direct, seemed clear: In New York, nothing matters as much as winning.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, there hasn't been much winning lately. After a 37-45 season in 2013-14, things hit a historical nadir last season in Phil Jackson's first full campaign as team president. While the Zen Master systemically traded away anyone of value from rookie coach Derek Fisher's roster, newly re-signed superstar Carmelo Anthony missed over half the season following knee surgery, and the Knicks stumbled to a franchise-worst 17-65 record.
But hope floats, particularly along the Hudson River, and with Anthony fully healthy and a phalanx of new players in the blue and orange, is there a chance that these Knicks could rebound quickly?
First of all, don't ask New Yorkers. New York City is a place where people barely blink at hosting Pope Francis, Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin within the span of a few days, but will spend weeks debating the efficacy of the Triangle Offense and wondering which forward position Anthony is best suited for. Sure, they had a disastrous run last season, but that page has been turned. Looking forward is better than looking back, for sure, as long as you don't look too far ahead. Staying in the moment -- seems like a lesson the Zen Master would appreciate.
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"It's going to take some time to kind of figure out what our expectations are," says Anthony. "It's good not to have any expectations at this time. It gives us a chance to kind of have a fresh start, and get our identity and where we want to end up. It starts tomorrow. I don't think you'll be hearing about expectations from any of the guys right now. It's too early at this point."
This isn't to say Anthony thinks the Knicks shouldn't have any aspirations whatsoever. As he enters his 13th season, the 31-year-old Anthony has been to the Conference Finals just once (in 2009 with the Nuggets), and still hopes to change the narrative advanced by some that while he's clearly a gifted scorer -- averaging 25.2 points over his career -- he's not much more than just a bucket collector. With Anthony under contract with the Knicks for at least three more seasons, the clock is ticking louder and louder on the prime of his career.
"My window is open," he says. "I don't think it's closing. For the most part, coming into this year, I think we get a chance to write our own destiny right now. That's a good thing -- we can start off fresh, start off with a clean slate. We can write whatever story we want to write, whether good or bad. I think guys are excited about that, to have a chance to start off fresh, to put the past behind us and move forward."
A large part of New York's future looks to rest in the hands of first round draft pick Kristaps Porzingis, the 19-year-old seven-footer from Latvia that the Knicks drafted fourth overall. Porzingis has clearly learned how to appeal to area fans, with several vague but laudatory maxims down cold: "Best city in the world," Porzingis notes. "No better place to win."
According to Porzingis, he and Anthony played one-on-one, "for like a week straight, every day. As I played against him, he was showing me all his moves, and I was just trying to learn from him, asking him how he did this, how he did that, how he moves his feet, all that kind of stuff."
(By the way, rookie, who won the bulk of these games? "Melo is Melo. He beat me more than I beat him.")
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Anthony said he hopes to be a "big brother" to Porzingis, and he clearly sees some similarities in his own journey to the NBA: Anthony entered the league as a 19-year-old in 2003 after being the third overall pick.
"I've showed everybody I support Porzingis," Anthony says. "As long as me and KP know our relationship, that's all that really matters, and it doesn't matter what somebody might speculate out there. As far as him coming into this season, I kind of feel bad for him, because there's so much pressure on him at this point, and this guy hasn't played not even one minute in the NBA... I don't think he knows what he's about to get himself into. So I've got to kind of be that wall for him."
Anthony's new teammates also include free agent pick-ups Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo, who both finished last season with the Portland Trail Blazers. Afflalo spent nearly two seasons with Anthony in Denver, and says of Anthony, "He was highly influential in my career, he was highly influential in allowing me to be part of this team today. I love him as a teammate. He just makes the game so much easier for everyone around him. He's very committed to winning, so I love that we're going to be teammates again and hopefully for a long time."
Yet Anthony's most important supporter may be at the top of the food chain. Jackson may be relatively accessible as far as previous Knicks executives have gone, but his cloudy personality clearly still requires some unraveling -- Anthony begins one sentence with, "If I think I know Phil the way I know him..."
Over the summer, Jackson told ESPN that Anthony has "has every chance to be the MJ and Kobe of our offense." And as the only player on the Knicks today from last season's opening day roster, Anthony recognizes the trust placed in him via Jackson.
"Just to see the process that Phil has taken, from when he came in until now, and for me to be that one guy that's still here -- and even though you guys might not write about it -- I think Phil still believes in me, and that goes without even being said, because I'm still here. For him to start this process with me being the centerpiece of this, I respect that, and I don't want to let him down. Because I know that him putting me as the centerpiece of this was very big, and I know what we're about to start, I know what we're about to create. And I'm excited about that."
In the NBA, hope springs eternal in the fall. Players assemble in their adopted cities and line up for photos and interviews and say the right things and pledge their best effort and hope for the best. And every once in a while, lightning strikes and a team overlooked by many starts winning and coalesces into a team an area and their fans can believe in. Could it happen in New York this season?
Why not? After all, best city in the world. No better place to win.
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