- Ian Begley, ESPN New York Writer
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NEW YORK -- Phil Jackson has made it clear that he wants Carmelo Anthony to become more of a leader in the coming seasons, though he has never been specific about what kind of leadership he wants Anthony to display.
If he’s looking for Anthony to develop into a vocal leader, he may have misguided aspirations for his $124 million star.
Chauncey Billups, an ESPN analyst who played with Anthony for three seasons in Denver and New York, said recently that vocal leadership isn't a part of Carmelo’s personality.
“He’s not that guy,” Billups said on “The Knicks Blog with Anthony Donahue” radio show. “Melo’s a good friend of mine, one of the best players I ever played with, but he’s not the guy who’s going to stand up in the locker room and give this rah-rah speech and get the team to rally. That’s not who he is.
“One thing he is, he’s going to come to play every single night, he’s going to practice every single day. He is who he is, He’s not that guy [who leads vocally]. But for who he is, he’s great. You've got to find another guy to make speeches, and another guy to do most of the leading. [Carmelo’s] going to most of the time lead by example. He’s not going to be vocal, he’s not going to rock the boat.”
Can Anthony change that aspect of his personality and become more of a vocal leader? Sure. It’s not out of the realm of possibility.
But the Knicks will likely be adding a 19-year-old rookie to the roster next season. They'll also bring back a few players from this season's team without much experience. So there may be a built-in void when it comes to leadership.
“Someone’s gotta fill the gap,” Jackson told a group of season-ticket holders last month.
Let’s say Anthony develops into a vocal leader next season and helps fill the gap that Jackson speaks of. The Knicks president would still be wise to spend some of his cap space on veteran locker-room leaders -- guys who can fill the leadership role that Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Rasheed Wallace and Kurt Thomas held in 2013-14 when the Knicks won 54 games.
Some around the league believe noted leader and Indiana Pacers veteran David West may decline his $12.6 million player option for 2015-16 and leave Indiana this summer. West would be a great addition for the Knicks’ culture and would certainly fill any leadership void, so his status is something to monitor.
For what it’s worth, Jackson has praised Anthony’s development as a leader over the past season.
“I really like direction that he's moving toward,” Jackson said last week. “A lot of his teammates are gone and he can step into a different level of how he can lead and really be the guy.”
Leadership, of course, isn't easy to define. It means different things to different people. There is no advanced stat to measure a player’s leadership. So it’s hard to say definitively how strong Anthony’s leadership qualities are.
Again, we’ll lean on Billups, who said during the All-Star break this season that Anthony needed strong leadership around him to thrive in Denver and New York.
"He's not the guy who's going to stand up in the locker room and give this rah-rah speech and get the team to rally, that's not who he is."Chauncey Billups on Carmelo Anthony
“He is best served when he doesn't have to be the leader of the team,” Billups said.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Not everyone is born with a General Patton inside of them. If Carmelo is more comfortable leading by example, and not vocally, so be it.
That begs the question: Is it wise for Phil Jackson to demand Carmelo to be something that he isn't?
“That’s tough to ask for,” Billups said of asking a player to develop into a leader. “I’ll just say this, you've got all that cap room, you better go find someone [to be a vocal leader]. Melo, that’s not who he is and we are who we are. That’s like asking me to be this guy with a 40-inch vertical and go in there and be dunking on everybody like I’m Russell Westbrook. You can’t ask an apple to be an orange, that’s just not fair.
“[Carmelo] will lead by example," Billups said. "He’s going to come to work and he’s playing for the win every night. There’s no question about that, that’s who he is. He’s a great player, he wants to win. He’s going to come to work. He’s going to lead by example, he’s not going to be vocal.”
Question: Do you think Phil Jackson should demand that Carmelo Anthony be more of a leader? Or should Phil try to bring players who can lead via free agency this summer?
Can Carmelo Anthony become the vocal leader the Knicks need? His former teammate says New York's star just isn't wired that way.