Carmelo Anthony will be one of the most sought-after star players in the 2014 free agency class, and the Knicks forward, who has generally dodged questions about his future, is now willing to admit that he's looking forward to being courted next summer.
The NBA's reigning scoring champ told the New York Observer that he's excited by the idea of going through the free agency process for the first time during his professional career.
“I want to be a free agent,” Anthony tells me, as our cigars burn close to the nub. “I think everybody in the NBA dreams to be a free agent at least one time in their career. It’s like you have an evaluation period, you know. It’s like if I’m in the gym and I have all the coaches, all the owners, all the GMs come into the gym and just evaluate everything I do. So yes, I want that experience.”
Take a breath, Knicks fans. That doesn’t mean he’s leaving.
“I came to New York for a reason,” Anthony adds. “I’ve been with you all my life, almost to a fault. I wanted to come here and take on the pressures of playing in New York. So one thing I would tell my fans: If you haven’t heard it from me, then it ain’t true.”
Anthony's current contract, which is set to pay him $21.7 million in 2013-14, runs through the 2014-15 season, but it includes an early termination option that allows him to become an unrestricted free agent in July 2014.
Next summer would be the first time in Anthony's 11-year career that he was an unrestricted free agent. Selected by the Nuggets with the No. 3 pick in the 2003 draft, Anthony signed a five-year, $80 million rookie extension in July 2006 and later signed a three-year, $65 million extension in February 2011, as part of a trade between the Nuggets and Knicks. That trade ended the so-called "Melodrama" that engulfed Anthony's 2010-11 season, as reports indicated for months that Anthony was ready to move on from Denver.
Opting in for the final year of his current contract would pay Anthony $23.4 million in 2014-15, but he can earn far more money by opting out and signing a multi-year contract this summer. ESPN.com reports the possible figures, which are staggering.
If Anthony chooses to opt out and sign with the Knicks, he can ink a a five-year contract worth $129,135,806. If he signs with another team, the maximum he can earn is $95,897,372 over four years, according to calculations by ESPN salary-cap expert Larry Coon.
The 29-year-old, six-time All-Star earned All-NBA Second Team honors in 2012-13, averaging 28.7 points and 6.9 rebounds while leading New York to 54 wins and the franchise's first playoff series victory since 2000. Anthony placed No. 10 on SI.com's Top 100 Players of 2014 list.
At Knicks Media Day, Anthony ducked questions about his impending free agency.
"I'm not doing that," he said, according to CBSSports.com. "When that time comes, I'll deal with it."
Anthony enters the season with career earnings of $113+ million. In May, he ranked sixth among NBA players on SI.com's "Fortunate 50" list of the highest-earning professional athletes and his 2013-14 salary ranks No. 5 in the NBA.
Making a competitive bid for Anthony's services next summer would require a team to free up more than $20 million in salary cap space. Teams like the Lakers, Sixers, Cavaliers, Bobcats, Suns, and Jazz (among others) could find themselves in a position to make such an offer.
The NBA's new salary cap rule that allows incumbent teams to offer five-year extensions has seen both a prominent hit and a noteworthy miss. In 2012, Deron Williams chose to sign a five-year deal with the Nets rather than a four-year deal with the Mavericks, while Dwight Howard chose a four-year deal with the Rockets instead of a five-year deal with the Lakers this summer. Meanwhile, Lakers star Kobe Bryant and Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki will be unrestricted free agents next summer, and Heat stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all possess early termination options in their contracts.