(center) led the NBA in scoring last season. (Ned Dishman/Getty Images)
Carmelo Anthony has been a bit clumsy as he starts the 2014 free agency dance, but he did eventually offer some strong comments about his future in New York that should be reassuring to Knicks fans.
The New York Daily News reports that Anthony stated clearly Thursday that he wants to remain with the Knicks, just days after a magazine story quoted him as saying that he was eager to experience the free agency process next summer.
“I’m in New York,” he said on Thursday. “Like I said, this is not something that I want to keep going on. At the end of the day, I don’t want to go anywhere, I don’t plan on going anywhere. But when that time comes, I’ll deal with that situation.”
What's more, Anthony acknowledged that the crop of suitors that could realistically compete with the Knicks for his services isn't particularly deep, and it may include only the Lakers.
When asked about the long-held belief that the Lakers would pursue him, Anthony said: “What other team would they say? I don’t think they would say any other team. If you look at situations, that’s the only team that they probably would say.”
ESPNNY.com also reported Friday that Anthony told Knicks coach Mike Woodson that his focus was on the 2013-14 season and not the July free agency period.
"I told him, 'Don't even think about worrying about me, as far as letting that interfere with my game or this team – I'm not, so you shouldn't,' " Anthony said.
These comments read a bit like damage control, coming on the heels of a New York Observer story in which Anthony admits that he's excited about the possibility of becoming a free agent for the first time in his career. Still, a disgruntled player, or one with a seriously wandering eye, wouldn't benefit from such a sincere, cut-and-dried public stance.
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. The Point Forward's Rob Mahoney examined Anthony's possible suitors, and he concluded that New York remains the heavy favorite to re-sign him.
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.
At Knicks Media Day, Anthony ducked questions about his impending free agency, making it seem as if he wouldn't broach the subject at all.
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.
The takeaway from a week of somewhat unexpected Anthony quotes (given his Media Day reticence) is pretty obvious: "I want to be a free agent" and "I don't want to go anywhere" are not contradictory stances. Anthony can't really be blamed if he wants the freedom to pick his next team, the maximum amount of financial leverage in a nine-figure negotiation, and all the comforts and amenities that New York City and the Knicks have to offer him.
He might be a bit guilty of having his cake and eating it too, but as long as he sticks by his pledge not to be a distraction, he's done no real harm. This isn't a Dwight Howard situation, where uncertainty is creating chaos. On the contrary, Anthony seems to be taking a fairly thoughtful, straightforward, and unemotional approach to the process, even if the last week could have gone a bit more smoothly. The simple fact that he's speaking directly to the fans, and considering their feelings in the matter, says a lot.
The real negotiation here could very well be between Anthony and the Knicks over what their joint future will look like. Assuming Anthony opts out and re-signs next summer, he'll be taking a leap of faith that requires a little bit of patience, as the Knicks won't be able to totally retool their roster around him until July 2015, when Amar'e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and Tyson Chandler are all slated to come off of the books. Committing in 2014, then, will require Anthony to buy into the Knicks' vision for the following summer. Which stars will they target in 2015? Are those stars interested, are they realistic targets, and how will they fit with Anthony? How involved and influential will Anthony be in those decisions?
As long as disaster doesn't strike over the next nine months, wouldn't the smart (and easy) play for Anthony be to re-up with the Knicks at the max -- with player options at the end of the deal -- and start comprising a list of his dream targets? Theoretically, Anthony could be set up in 2015 a little bit like Dwyane Wade
was in 2010, a lone superstar on a marquee team that's in a desirable market and has cap space to make a splash. It's hard to imagine Anthony and the Knicks -- with all this time to plan their recruiting pitches -- coming up empty in that scenario.