Just as the NBA Finals seem to be winding down, the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes are revving up.
Yahoo Sports reports that Anthony -- who can become an unrestricted free agent this summer if he declines a $23.3 million option for the 2014-15 season -- may have his eyes on the Bulls or Rockets if he decides to leave the Knicks.
New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony is leaning toward leaving in pursuit of immediate championship contention, and awaits the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets to clear the necessary salary-cap space to sign him in free agency, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
"His heart is in New York," one source familiar with Anthony's thinking told Yahoo Sports, "but he wants a chance to win now."
Anthony, 30, has been intrigued with the chance to join the Bulls for several months, but Houston has gathered significant momentum as a preferred destination for him, league sources said.
Sources told ESPN.com that Heat officials and the team's leading players have already started to explore their options for creating sufficient financial flexibility to make an ambitious run at adding New York Knicks scoring machine Carmelo Anthony this summer in free agency.
SI.com's Rob Mahoney gauged the likelihood of a "Big Four" configuration in Miami, which could only come with serious financial sacrifices from many of the key players.
Anthony, the 2012-13 scoring champion, said last fall that he "didn't want to go anywhere" in free agency after spending three-plus seasons with the Knicks, who acquired him in a 2011 trade from the Nuggets. However, New York endured a disastrous 37-win season that led to the departure of coach Mike Woodson and the hirings of president Phil Jackson and first-time coach Derek Fisher.
Reports this weekend indicated that Anthony still intends to opt out of his contract, even as he reportedly plans to meet with Jackson and Fisher in Los Angeles. Jackson has publicly suggested that Anthony should take a pay cut to help New York's roster construction process, and also floated the idea that Anthony should opt in this summer and postpone his free agency decision until July 2015.
Major pieces would have to move in either Chicago or Houston to accommodate Anthony's arrival. For example, the Bulls would need to shed Carlos Boozer's $16.8 million contract by using the amnesty clause, among other moves, while the Rockets would likely need to trade the expiring contracts of Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin.
What are the possible endgames here? In addition to the Miami superteam option, Anthony would be weighing potential Big Three configurations alongside All-Stars Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in Chicago or All-Stars James Harden and Dwight Howard in Houston.
Basketball-wise, Anthony makes more sense with the Bulls, who were sorely lacking an offensive punch as Rose missed almost the entire season with a knee injury. Anthony could enter as the team's No. 1 scoring option, alleviating some of the pressure from Rose, with Noah heading up coach Tom Thibodeau's well-respected defensive schemes. The uncertain status of Rose, who has played just 10 games combined over the past two seasons and is owed $60.3 million through 2016-17, will surely play a big factor in Anthony's thinking, as Carmelo just turned 30 and has yet reach the Finals.
From a talent standpoint, the addition of Anthony would seemingly vault the Rockets, who lost in the first round of the playoffs, into a small group of Western Conference contenders alongside the Spurs and Thunder. In an ideal situation, perhaps Anthony would plug in as a small-ball power forward -- filling Houston's hole at the position -- alongside small forward Chandler Parsons, who is expected to become a restricted free agent this summer. However, the fit in Houston is somewhat questionable, as Anthony would be joining two stars in Harden and Howard who require lots of touches and shots. The Harden/Anthony pairing seems a bit redundant because both are known for dominating the ball and for contributing far more offensively than defensively.
New York's pitch to Anthony, meanwhile, is centered on patience. The Knicks will have plenty of cap space to make roster upgrades next summer, once Amar'e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and Tyson Chandler all come off the books. Whether Anthony is willing to wait is anybody's guess. Anthony averaged 27.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists this season. He was selected to his seventh All-Star Game but was not chosen for the All-NBA teams for the first time since 2011.