Carmelo's options as a free agent
Carmelo Anthony opted out of the final year of his contract with the Knicks on Monday and will become a free agent on July 1. Anthony, who turned down $23.3 million for next season, is entering free agency for the first time after extensions with the Nuggets and Knicks. Below is an overview of the teams that have either reportedly drawn the 30-year-old forward's interest or made their interest known.
New York Knicks
If Anthony returns to New York, his decision will not be rooted in some warm and fuzzy affection for the organization. This franchise traded for him, extended his contract and then proceeded -- with the best of intentions! -- to build a team so bleak around him that it missed the playoffs last season in an Eastern Conference that produced a 38-win No. 8 seed. Next year's outlook is similar, thanks to New York's lasting track record of mismanagement. Amar'e Stoudemire, who will make a team-high $23.4 million in 2014-15, should have (and could have) been amnestied; the perpetually underperforming Andrea Bargnani was acquired last summer at the cost of potential cap room, a first-round pick in 2016 and two second-round picks; and, in the Knicksiest move of all, J.R. Smith somehow persuaded this proud, storied franchise to cut him checks totaling $18 million over three years.
Loyalty, then, is a funny concept to apply here. Professional loyalty requires at least some trust in competence and New York has given Anthony none. To remedy that, the Knicks hired a veteran coach (Phil Jackson) to be their lead executive and a veteran player (Derek Fisher) to be their coach. Even if Jackson and Fisher turn out to be the transitional influences the Knicks need, Anthony is under no obligation to stay and find out. His career progresses on its own timeline, and sinking another season with the Knicks doesn't likely fit within its ideal course.
Beyond that, Anthony would still be putting a lot of faith in Jackson to lure stars and build a supporting cast in short order, all as he ages. Anthony has time to compete for a title while producing at an elite level. He doesn't, however, have time to waste when his other suitors are so much further along than the Knicks in building contenders. The one advantage New York has is money -- a factor that has historically mattered a great deal. If Anthony wants the biggest deal possible, the Knicks can make it. If he wants just about anything else, he'll likely find it more readily available elsewhere.
Joakim Noah or a healthy Derrick Rose would qualify as the best teammate of Anthony's career. Carmelo, in turn, would grant the Bulls' offense a championship credibility in the very vulnerable East. There is potential here for a rather perfect marriage of team and player interests, provided that Chicago can make the necessary moves to facilitate Anthony's arrival. That could be accomplished through a variety of potential deals and permutations, which in broader terms boil down to the more straightforward course of signing Anthony in free agency or the slightly more complicated means of acquiring him from the Knicks via trade.
The Bulls have the assets and salary flexibility (in part because of Carlos Boozer's amnesty eligibility) to make either plan work, though the pieces involved hinge on the mechanism of choice. Should a deal for Anthony manifest, Boozer is almost assuredly gone. In the air, though, are Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, two first-round picks, the draft rights to 2011 first-round pick Nikola Mirotic, those nonguaranteed deals at the bottom of the Bulls' cap sheet (Lou Amundson, Mike James, Ronnie Brewer) and more. What Anthony would bring to the Bulls is clear. What's unknown -- due to the uncertainty of the deal and Rose's rehabilitation -- is how the talent would be arranged alongside Anthony in Chicago.
If Houston is committed to chasing a third star, Anthony could well be within reach. The underlying question, though, is whether star-hunting so indiscriminately is a worthy endeavor for a team in the Rockets' position. Anthony is a tremendous talent who would be a sizable upgrade over the forwards in Kevin McHale's rotation last season, capable of expanding Houston's offensive options and weaning its dependence on James Harden. More practically, however, Houston's pursuit of Anthony seems at least slightly haphazard. Players in Anthony's class are not available often, so the Rockets' interest -- which is also rooted in the timing of their cap window -- is understandable. But Anthony is a clumsy fit with Houston's personnel and system. He would only exacerbate the Rockets' issues in rotating defensively. His tendency to stop the ball would likely preclude much synergy with Harden. His influence would curtail Dwight Howard's touches, testing the commitment of Houston's catch-all interior defender. Anthony would mesh well only in the sense that he shares Houston's strengths and weaknesses, making his addition a rather pricey commitment to the status quo.
The very concept depends on how much superstar players are willing to sacrifice to play together. We've seen that story before with the Heat, but the complications make this free-agent coup decidedly more implausible. Udonis Haslem's $4.6 million player option -- which he will surely accept -- looms large. The 34-year-old big man's sub-mid-level deal might not seem like much, but every dollar counts in balancing this many high-value contracts.
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Dirk Nowitzki didn't seem terribly optimistic that his team could land Anthony this summer. Either way, the Mavericks need to consider whether acquiring another potent offensive player and woeful defender is really in their best interests. Anthony is such a talent that some teams could afford to obtain him now and sort out the fit later. Dallas -- which remains committed to bringing back Nowitzki and last season spent $54.1 million on Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon -- may not be such a case. That's an awful lot of defensive liability for a playoff team to sign up for, particularly when Calderon's feet and contract grow more leaden with every passing season. Anthony is interested in Dallas, which reflects well on the culture of the team and its leadership. That interest, however, need only be reciprocated to a point.