Is Melo the best centerpiece for the future of the Knicks?
On the surface, the answer seems to be pretty clear. Melo is far and away the best player on the Knicks right now; no one has the ability to justify a shift away from Anthony to build around someone else.
That said, there are legitimate questions about whether Anthony is capable of leading New York to a title. Those concerns span beyond the abstract idea of leadership and challenge his style of play and the viability of placing his skill set at the core of a championship contender.
The issue is actually bigger than Anthony himself. It is also about the state of the NBA, both in terms of distribution of talent and on-court strategic trends. How the Knicks respond will reflect what they think the league will be like a half decade from now.
Carmelo's knack for creating shots is a consistent, successful linchpin for an offense.
Given the shift towards small-ball power forwards and floor spacing, Melo is perfectly equipped to be a great squad's primary scorer. He has the agility to go around bigger defenders and the strength to bully stronger ones. If opponents try to pack the paint to stop him, he can find open looks and knock down shots all the way out into three-point territory.
Leaning on Anthony can't be the only option for an efficient offense, but he relieves the burden on everyone around him. When defenses have to key heavily on Melo, gaps open up elsewhere on the floor for his teammates to flash to the perimeter or cut to the basket for easy buckets.
Even if Melo is only demanding defensive attention, his presence makes his team's entire offense better.
You can't discuss Anthony's importance on offense without acknowledging his shortcomings on the other end.
From a physical standpoint, he should excel on defense. Few forwards are his peer in terms of strength, yet he still has the foot speed to stay with smaller wings. For brief bursts, that athleticism is enough for him to play solid D, but he does not sustain it.
Melo has issues both with his awareness and his effort. His rotations could be crisper, especially considering how often Mike Woodson likes to switch on defense, and he tends to get overwhelmed when matched up with a bruising big. When he pushes himself so hard on offense, he can get sluggish and soft when he runs back to defend.
While he has improved his defense slightly with age, Melo is still a minus in that regard, which could be problematic for a franchise cornerstone.
Superteams are still the big craze, so having a central star to pull in supporting players is key.
Think about how these current Knicks came to be. Before Amar'e Stoudemire came to town, the Knicks were a moribund franchise desperately seeking a new identity. The organization rallied around STAT before regrouping around Melo when he arrived.
Per ShamSports, the Knicks only have $13.4 million on the books for the 2015-16 season. That figure will nearly double if Melo extends, but New York could still dole out a max contract at that point and have room to spare.
In that scenario, there would be plenty of money to rope in a higher level of talent to complement the incumbent star.
Five years, $127 million.
That's what it will take to keep Melo in New York.
The minute details of the collective bargaining agreement make this deal unpalatable. According to Larry Coon's CBA FAQ, a player can earn at least 105 percent of the last year of his previous contract in the first year of his next one.
That means Anthony, who is making over $21 million this season, would be make $22 million in 2014-15, with the payout continuing to escalate with each successive year.
Over the span of his new five-year deal, Paul George will make at least $30 million less than Melo in total. That will give the Indiana Pacers much more flexibility to build a winning roster around their great wing. Melo's onerous terms will inhibit the Knicks from doing the same.
The only Knick currently under contract beyond the 2015-16 season is Tim Hardaway, Jr., who has yet to play an NBA game.
So if New York doesn't extend Carmelo, the future of the franchise will be extremely unclear.
Iman Shumpert would be the next best bet to remain a Knick, but he has not proven himself as a go-to offensive player and will always have that torn ACL in his injury history. Unless the Knicks fall in love with J.R. Smith over the next two years, that's the end of the long-term list.
After winning 54 games in 2012-13, it would be rash to say the least for the Knicks to let their best player go. Unless people within the front office view last season's improvement—and, by extension, Anthony's great play—as a fluke, the focus should be on adding the final pieces to a championship puzzle, not starting over.
There are some inherent difficulties that come from building around Melo.
Consider the power forward position. When Anthony plays there, it means the Knicks are undersized in their frontcourt, forcing an Iman Shumpert or a J.R. Smith to guard a small forward and putting stress on the creaky Tyson Chandler to protect the rim alone.
On the other hand, opposing offenses can penetrate more effectively when Melo is defending out on the perimeter, which leads to open three-pointers as the Knicks switch like mad. There is no ideal scenario here.
The issues extend to offense. Though Melo has improved at keeping the ball moving, the Knicks are still prone to stagnancy on offense when he dominates possessions. Against middling teams in the regular season, Anthony is great enough to make it work, but that bad habit is a killer in the playoffs.
None of these problems are likely to go away. Whatever team signs Melo simply has to accept them, but they are definite factors to be weighed.
This is a no-duh sort of reason, but it's more important than it sounds.
In this modern day, every contender in the NBA has a superstar.
The Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers have LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul, respectively. The San Antonio Spurs are the closest thing there is to an exception, but Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are both great, and Gregg Popovich's system allows the Spurs to play unparalleled team basketball.
If the Knicks lose Melo, there is no easy way to get another player of his caliber. Free agency is a crapshoot and the organization has already traded away many of its future first-round picks. It's very possible that the Knicks would plateau as an average team, if not worse, without Anthony.
At age 28, Carmelo Anthony delivered the best season of his decade-long career. There is no denying he's in his prime right now, but think about what state he'll be in after another five years.
Melo plays one of the most physical games of anyone in the league, which leads to a number of bangs and bruises over the course of the season. He has been able to play through the pain for the most part, though he did miss 15 games in 2012-13. Expect some more absences in the future.
There's also the matter of Melo losing his quickness over time. This goes beyond diminished driving ability, since his strength will still make him potent inside. But the main reason Anthony can take and make so many jumpers is that he's lightening fast in his shooting motion. If that slows at all, then he'll lose a sizable chunk of his open looks.
Anthony is surely worth max money now, but paying $25 million a year to a beat-up iteration of him does not sound as appealing.
Ultimately, this will be likely be the most significant factor in the Knicks' decision-making process.
New York does not want to regress, and it absolutely does not want to fall back into the lottery with so few draft picks. In order to avoid that, the Knicks must spend money next summer, and Carmelo Anthony is the most worthy recipient who would actually accept it.
Of course LeBron James is the best player in the world and the best potential free agent in 2014, but Melo is second in terms of immediate impact. After those two superstar forwards, you're looking at another member of the Heat Big Three or a guy like Luol Deng, who is very good but a definite step down.
Assuming LeBron isn't going to be a Knick anytime soon, Anthony has to be New York's favorite to make sure the team keeps striving for a title.
Like it or not, the path to a ring will go through LeBron for the foreseeable future, so it is worth asking whether Melo is equipped to unseat the King.
In every facet of the game, LeBron wins. Melo does not have the chops to stay with James defensively; even if Anthony locked in enough to bother LeBron, the four-time MVP is too good a passer to be fully contained. On the other end, James is one of the few players physically prepared for Melo's arsenal, diminishing the Knicks star's greatest skill.
LeBron is ultimately just one of those players who ruins his peers' legacies.
As long as he is dominating the sport and surrounding himself with complementary talent, he'll shut down every rival at his position. Kevin Durant can't quite do what James can; Anthony certainly falls short in a number of areas and does not have the supporting cast to make up the difference.
By the time James loosens his vice grip on the league, Melo will already be over-the-hill, or at least soon approaching that phase of his career.
Better to have what the Bulls and Pacers have. Each of those teams is built to stop teams like the Heat rather than outdo them. They have bruising team defense in common. Beyond that, James cannot chase around Derrick Rose for a full game, while Paul George might be the best LeBron foil around.
New York can't just materialize a Rose or a George. Despite his flaws, Melo is probably the best the Knicks can get. He's a bona fide superstar, but the outlook with him in town is tricky enough to raise questions.