Free-agent forward forward Carmelo Anthony, a nine-time All-Star and former scoring champion, is returning to the New York Knicks.
Knicks president Phil Jackson announced the signing on Sunday.
"After three months of questions around Carmelo Anthony's return to the New York Knicks, we are now happy to know that we have the cornerstone of what we envision as a 'team of excellence.'" Jackson said in a statement. "Steve Mills and I have assured Carmelo through our conversations, that we share the vision and the determination to build this team.”
The deal comes nearly two weeks after the NBA's free agency period opened, on July 1. Anthony, 30, was courted by the Bulls, Lakers, Rockets and Mavericks before returning to the Knicks, who by rule were allowed to make the most lucrative offer. Outside suitors could offer the former scoring champion a four-year, $96 million deal.
"A few years ago I dreamed of coming back to New York City, the place of my birth, and on February 23, 2011 that became a reality," Anthony wrote on his website, ThisIsMelo.com. "This organization has supported me and in return, I want to stay and build here with this city and my team. At this pivotal juncture in my career, I owed it to myself and my family to explore all of the options available to me. Through it all, my heart never wavered.
"In the end, I am a New York Knick at heart. I am looking forward to continue my career in Orange & Blue and to work with Phil Jackson, a champion who builds championship teams. Madison Square Garden is the mecca (sic) of basketball and I am surrounded by the greatest fans in the world."
By choosing New York, the Brooklyn-born Anthony places his trust in Jackson and first-time coach Derek Fisher as the franchise enters a retooling period. Jackson has already traded starting center Tyson Chandler and starting point guard Raymond Felton to Dallas this summer in a deal for point guard Jose Calderon. Barring any trades, the Knicks should have significant cap flexibility next summer when forwards Amar'e Stoudemire ($23.4 million salary for 2014-15) and Andrea Bargnani ($11.5 million) come off the books.
A nine-time All-Star, Anthony averaged 27.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists last season, but New York went 37-45 and missed the playoffs. Anthony posted a 24.5 Player Efficiency Rating, third best among small forwards, but he was passed over for All-NBA honors for the first time since 2011.
Anthony had never been a free agent during his 11-year career until this month. He spent his first 7½ seasons in Denver before he was traded to New York in February 2011. Anthony signed a rookie extension while with the Nuggets and then signed a three-year extension as part of the trade agreement between the Nuggets and Knicks. In June, Anthony opted out of the final year of his contract that would have paid him $23.3 million next season.
It took a few days to clarify the specifics of the deal, but the New York Post reported Monday that Anthony has agreed to take $123 million, roughly $6 million short of the full max available to him. That give-back might look puny compared to the massive total amount Anthony receives, but it is still a five-percent discount that provides more than $1 million of added salary cap flexibility, per year, over the course of the deal.
Considering the context of the negotiations, any discount -- even a minor one -- should be considered a victory for New York. New president Phil Jackson entered the talks with no legs to stand on: his roster is a mess, he just hired an unproven first-time coach, he just traded starting center Tyson Chandler, and he has no path to meaningful cap flexibility until next summer at the earliest. The leverage was fully against the Knicks, too. Letting Anthony walk would have been a disaster, and even a sign-and-trade that brought something back could have mucked up next summer's opportunities.
Jackson's only selling points: the Knicks' prime zip code and the fact that he could extend the largest financial carrot. Meanwhile, outside suitors offered some combination of a quality market, a better opportunity for winning immediately and maximum money (albeit only on a four-year deal). That combination proved decisive, and it keeps New York away from a worst-case scenario bottoming out in 2014-15.
Anthony clearly isn't on the same level as LeBron James or Kevin Durant, but he is a certified A-list star who is more than capable of being the No. 1 option on a successful team. Importantly, Jackson can now enter next summer pitching free agents on joining Anthony. Even better, the Knicks no longer need to measure up to the Heat's "Big Three." Jackson can now look 2015 free agents like Kevin Love in the face and tell them: "Come to New York, play with Anthony and we'll make the minor moves needed to compete for the No. 1 seed in the East." No one is buying that spiel if Miami had remained intact, but James' move to Cleveland now makes it plausible.
The Knicks are one of the league's most profitable teams and they don't need to worry about the size or length of the deal. Although Anthony isn't exactly an ironman, he has so far avoided any serious long-term injuries, and his scoring prowess should allow him to remain a lead scoring option deep into his 30s, much like Kobe Bryant. Re-signing Anthony in the first place took a host of assets, and replacing him could have required a similar haul and/or years of waiting. In an impatient metropolis, the prospect of losing Anthony would have been a tough sell for a new management group, even with Jackson at the helm. Better to secure Anthony and figure out the rest later.