Phil Jackson said he and Carmelo Anthony "struck a chord'' when they met in Los Angeles last week, and he's confident that the Knicks will re-sign their best player.
Jackson expected Anthony to make his decision Thursday -- and the day before that, and the day before that -- but the wait continued.
"I felt really good about my conversation with Carmelo,'' the Knicks president said in his first public remarks since free agency began July 1. "We really struck a chord. The two of us feel really passionately about what we're trying to get accomplished. It's his ability to stay, be patient, lead and watch us develop a winner.
"There's no instantaneous winner we think is going to happen to the Knicks right now, but we're going to be a lot better.''
Jackson said he has texted Anthony a couple of times in the last week and that he hasn't replied. There were multiple reports Thursday night that Anthony still was considering the Bulls and Lakers. But earlier in the day, Jackson said "yes" when asked if he expects a positive outcome for the Knicks in the Anthony sweepstakes.
"It means that we go forward to some of our other plans that we have,'' he said, "secondary plans of how to sustain this team and whether we turn to more veteran support or we go in a different direction and give young players more opportunities.''
Pau Gasol could be part of that plan. Jackson hopes to secure Anthony and Gasol and speed up the Knicks' process for becoming a playoff team. The Bulls, Spurs, Thunder, Lakers and Heat also are pursuing Gasol, though.
Thursday was the first day teams could sign free agents. Anthony is expected to choose returning to the Knicks over playing for the Bulls, Lakers, Rockets or Mavericks, the other teams he met with during his free-agent tour last week.
Jackson said the Knicks have alternate avenues they'll pursue if Anthony has a change of heart, but they're still "on Plan A.''
The Knicks have offered Anthony a maximum contract of five years worth $129 million. That's what he likely will accept. But Jackson has said he hoped Anthony would take less money to give the Knicks more flexibility to sign other players.
Jackson downplayed that, saying the media made a bigger deal out of it, and added that there are "five different options'' for how Anthony's deal can be structured. "We'll talk about that when the time comes,'' he said.
Jackson also said it wouldn't have a major impact on the Knicks' future payroll flexibility if Anthony signed a max deal. The Knicks, as of now, will be well under the cap next summer and will be able to sign a marquee free agent.
"They're amenable to what we're trying to get accomplished,'' Jackson said. "We've discussed it, it's not a big thing. You guys have made a much bigger thing about this, about what would happen. It's not really a big thing. It's about percentages, less than 1 percent that's available in a series of dollars that grow over a period of five years. It's not a big deal. It just gives us more flexibility, that's all.''
The Bulls and Lakers have been the Knicks' strongest competition for Anthony. Chicago has an opportunity to win now, and Anthony would be the missing piece for a team that struggles to score.
But the most the Bulls could offer was between $70 million and $75 million for four years, and even that required some maneuvering. Anthony could have gotten more if the Knicks had agreed to a sign-and-trade involving Carlos Boozer.
The Lakers offered Anthony a four-year deal worth $96 million, the most they could under the CBA. He could play with his good friend Kobe Bryant, and in Los Angeles, where Anthony makes his offseason home.
Jackson said it wasn't awkward that he and his fiancee, Lakers executive Jeanie Buss, competed for the same player.
"We talked about this before,'' Jackson said. "We're going to be in a place where there are going to be players that both of us want and we just have to deal with it. We'll put our best pitch forward, and when you lose the guy, we just accept that as part of the game.''
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