Carmelo Anthony can opt out of his contract following the 2013-14 season.
Though Melo is slated to make $23.7 million in 2014-15, per Sham Sports, he has the ability to make nearly as much in the first year of a new contract and millions more thereafter.
If he opts out, Anthony can take his talents to any of the other 29 teams in the NBA and demand $95 million for his superstar services, according to ESPN's Larry Coon via Ian Begley. On the other, more lucrative hand, he can renew his contract in New York for a fifth year and $129 million total.
Assuming he does choose to pursue one of those massive deals (which is all but inevitable), how will this affect his current team?
It won't be ideal for the Knicks, but despite the unsavory scenarios that could arise, it will ultimately be beneficial.
By the time next summer rolls around, Anthony will be 30-years old. He would by all means still be in his prime, but it makes for a tricky prospect to give him a five-year deal.
There is a very real possibility that Melo would be the highest-paid player in the NBA when he turns 35. That would put him in the same situation Kobe Bryant will be in next season, which shows both the rewards and the risks of such a contract.
Melo should be able to maintain his superb scoring as Kobe has due to his post arsenal and jump-shooting prowess. That will allow him to produce even as his athleticism begins to fade.
However, Anthony is already a subpar defender who will only get worse with age, to say nothing of injury. For a guy who bangs around inside the way Melo does, there is a significant chance he misses time as his contract progresses.
The Knicks know very well the horrors of a max contract quagmire; they have no hope of Amar'e Stoudemire opting out after this season. Melo won't likely fall to that sorry level, but New York won't enjoy another diminished star.
Under the latest collective bargaining agreement, it is more difficult than ever to pay a single player $25 million a year and build a contender around him.
This isn't even a matter of the strengthened punitive luxury tax system kicking in with this CBA; no one is going to mourn the tragedy of James Dolan dipping deeper into his wallet to pay for his roster.
Rather, the Knicks will suffer from losing the mid-level exception.
As New York saw this offseason, the pickings are much slimmer when you are limited to the mini-midlevel exception. It's the difference between keeping Chris Copeland a Knick and watching him bolt to the Indiana Pacers.
The salary cap burden will lighten in the summer of 2015, when upwards of $50 million in salary comes off the books (not including Melo under his current deal). That said, New York will find itself in the same financial situation when it attempts to build a new Big Three around Anthony.
Then there's always this: When Carmelo Anthony enters free agency, he might actually choose to sign elsewhere.
He'll surely receive gobs of interest in the wild summer of 2014. After all, only one team can sign LeBron James; for the other organizations out there with the cap space to offer a max contract and the desire for a superstar forward, Melo is next-best thing.
Of course, the Knicks will be able to outspend everyone for Anthony, but that's no guarantee he'll take the extra money. In fact, Dwight Howard just turned down a five-year max from the Los Angeles Lakers for four years with the Houston Rockets.
Howard spurned an ancient L.A. team at least a cut below the league's contenders. The Knicks very well may find themselves in the same situation after next season, so it wouldn't be far-fetched for Melo to make a similarly pragmatic career move.
If Melo leaves, his onetime star teammate will prevent the Knicks from bringing in an equivalent player.
It's not just due to a scarcity of elite talents on the market; New York just won't have the money to pursue them.
Without contract options, the Knicks only have $29 million on the books for 2014-15. But when Amar'e Stoudemire opts into the final year of his onerous max deal, that cap space vanishes.
The 2013-14 salary cap is set at about $58.7 million. Though the 2014-15 cap is still to be determined, we can assume the Knicks will only have about a $4 million cushion below next season's figure.
So even if New York were an attractive draw to another marquee player—for example, restricted free agent Paul George—it would be a in vain. When it comes to next summer, it's Melo or bust for the Knicks.
New York might lose Melo and would have to pay through the nose to keep him, but retaining a player of his caliber is essential in the NBA today.
Say what you want about his two-way play and his shot selection, but Anthony is one of just a handful of superstars playing today. Considering the Knicks are strapped for cash and committed to winning now, they can't be picky about which great player they pursue.
Yes, he's a consummate volume scorer, but it's nearly impossible to just go out and replace Melo's offensive output.
His versatility is a major part of that; he can bully his way to the basket, spot up beyond the arc and knock down tough looks in the midrange. Considering he just rode that varied skill set to a career-high 28.7 points per game, his attack has never been more valuable.
There's no question LeBron is the better player. George is a far superior defender and may have an even higher ceiling. There's virtually no chance the Knicks can find a player of his caliber in the draft. Melo is still a top-10 NBA player, someone capable of serving as a cornerstone on a championship team.
He's the Knicks' franchise player, and they can pay him as such. That one pro point is enough to overwhelm the cons and give New York a bright outlook on Melo's upcoming contract decision.