The more Carmelo Anthony talks, the more certain his future in New York sounds.
Responding to criticism that ensued after he expressed excitement at the possibility becoming a free agent next summer, the All-Star forward told reporters this week that he wants to help build the Knicks, not abandon them.
"I think people would love to come to play in New York. And when that time comes, we'll be working on that. ... I have a big black book. I have a big Rolodex. People that talk about what's going on with me in the offseason, this and that, I should be getting people to come here, I am. I'm trying."
Earlier this week, the New York Post noted that TNT commentator Charles Barkley suggested Anthony should get to work on reeling in talented teammates rather than flexing his muscles in free agency.
“When I heard that [Anthony said he would test free agency], I was very disappointed because he wanted to come here,” Barkley said Monday at a media event for “Inside The NBA” in Midtown. He appeared alongside fellow TNT analysts Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal.
“Now, all of a sudden, he wants to leave, he wants to test free agency. That really [ticked] me off, to be honest with you. He owns the city. He should be trying to get guys to come here and not [be] like, ‘I’ll stay here for a couple years. ‘I forced my way here, number one. … I got here [and] now I want to leave.’ That’s just not cool at all, to be honest with you.”
Anthony stated his desire to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career in a magazine interview earlier this month.
“I want to be a free agent,” Anthony told the New York Observer. “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.”
Shortly after those comments became public, Anthony clarified that he wanted to remain in New York for the long haul. Anthony’s current contract, which pays him $21.7 million this season, runs through the 2014-15 season, but it includes an early-termination option that allows him to become a free agent in July 2014. 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 multiyear contract next 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 Point Forward noted previously that Anthony could be set up in 2015 like Heat guard 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, even if the 2015 star crop isn't all that deep.
It's also possible that the recruiting could begin earlier than that. Once Anthony re-signs (assuming he does), New York will be in a position to dangle the $35 million worth of expiring contracts belonging to Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani as next season unfolds. The Knicks' other available trade assets -- young players, picks, etc. -- are minimal, but they will be able to explore their options, at the very least. TNT's commentators questioned whether star players would even be interested in teaming up with Anthony, given his ball-dominant game. That's a fair question, particularly because the basis of the Knicks' on-court pitch could wind up being "play with Anthony ... only Anthony" if New York does go ahead and clear the decks after next season. That's the gift and the curse of the Miami model: The top three guys must be convinced that they can serve as the base for a championship core, otherwise the idea of playing on a roster that's so reliant on minimum- and cap-exception-type players starts to seem incredibly daunting to the stars who are being targeted.