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Report: Rockets, Bulls emerge as Carmelo Anthony's top free-agent options

Carmelo AnthonyCarmelo Anthony could have several attractive free-agent suitors this summer. (Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images)

Phil Jackson made it known in his introductory Knicks press conference that he sees Carmelo Anthony in the team's "future plans," but that doesn't necessarily mean New York's biggest star sees the team and its new president in his.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reports that the Bulls and Rockets will be the free-agent front-runners for Anthony should the 29-year-old forward exercise an early-termination clause in his contract and become a free agent this summer.

While the Knicks certainly look like a more attractive option with the Hall of Fame coach being hired to run their front office, Chicago and Houston both present interesting opportunities of their own to Anthony, who has made it clear that winning is his top priority. From Yahoo Sports:

Anthony has free-agent options, and two have risen above everything else: Chicago and Houston, sources with direct knowledge of his plans told Yahoo Sports. The Bulls have an easier path to clear the necessary salary-cap space to sign Anthony, but the Rockets believe they can shed the contracts necessary to offer a third near-max deals alongside Dwight Howard and James Harden, league sources said.

"He'll give New York every option," one source with knowledge of Anthony's plans told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday. "But he has options – and he's going to explore them all."

The Rockets have been previously linked to Anthony, with the New York Post reporting the team would likely move Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin in that scenario. But with both players due $14.9 million next season, trading them won't be easy despite their value.

Chicago could have the necessary cap room to make a run at Anthony should it elect to amnesty Carlos Boozer. Adding Anthony would give the Bulls an impressive Big Three of Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose and Anthony, while the latter two would be able to play without the burden of having to carry a team for the first time in their careers.

Jackson said he hopes to persuade Anthony to stay with the Knicks, although he still sees room for improvement in the star's game.

“I have no problems committing to [saying that] Carmelo is in the future plans," Jackson said Tuesday. "I think Carmelo, as great of a player as he is, he still has another level he can get to. … Carmelo has had a load to carry this year. He’s been remarkable in that. He showed in the last Olympics, coming off the bench and playing a role as a bench player on a magnificent team, that he can play a role if he has to play a role. He’s a basketball player, that’s what players want to do, cut, pass, and be in different spots on the court. To attack, to play. I think Carmelo will be just fine.”

For now, free agency will have to wait. Anthony's Knicks, one of the league's biggest disappointments, are trying to salvage their season with a late playoff push. Through Tuesday, the Knicks had won a season-high six consecutive games but still trailed eighth-seeded Atlanta by 4½ games. New York plays Indiana on Wednesday.

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