How Far Should New York Knicks Go to Build Future Around Carmelo Anthony?

Ciaran Gowan@@CiaranGowanContributor IIIOctober 13, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 11:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks awaits a foul shot in a game against the Chicago Bulls on January 11, 2013 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE  (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Off the court, the main focus for the New York Knicks right now is keeping Carmelo Anthony in town for as long as possible.

'Melo is entering only his third full season in New York, but most expect him to opt out of his contract at the end of the year in order to sign a new, bigger deal.

Until he puts pen to paper, there's still a small threat that Anthony could choose to leave if he opts out of his contract.

There's been talk of a potential move to the Los Angeles Lakers, but that seems unlikely. This is his hometown team (he grew up in Brooklyn until the age of eight) and considering all the effort it took for him to get hereand that they can offer him more moneyit's hard to picture him leaving so soon.

Anthony has said as much himself. According to Newsday, New York is where he wants to be:

I'm not going nowhere. That is one of the reasons why I wanted to come here to New York, just so I could take on those pressures and those challenges. A lot of people do not like to deal with the pressure. A lot of people do not know how to deal with the challenges they face. To me, it is everyday life. 

The question is more about if the Knicks want to spend the money on Anthony. They'll have almost every contract coming off the books in 2015, but signing Anthony to a max five-year, $129 million deal in 2014 would take out a large chunk of the cap space they'd be creating.

The dream scenario would be to pair 'Melo with LeBron, but either way, the former needs to be re-signed.
The dream scenario would be to pair 'Melo with LeBron, but either way, the former needs to be re-signed.USA TODAY Sports

With that said, it seems pretty clear right now that Anthonty is the man to build around. Coming off a career year, the Knicks aren't going to find anyone better in free agency to take his place.

Like Anthony, LeBron James has an opt-out clause at the end of the season, but he seems pretty content in Miami. And, if he were to consider the Knicks, he'd likely be partnering up with Anthony rather than replacing him.

In other words, the first step of that process would be to bring back Anthony.

Beyond a potential 'Melo-LeBron partnership, there really is no better option for New York, and when the time comes to start negotiating, the Knicks' front office should have no qualms about bringing back Anthony for another six years.

If the Knicks can get a deal done as soon as possible with their star forward, the future looks bright for the franchise. In addition to Anthony, New York will have only J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni and Tim Hardaway Jr. under contract in the summer of 2015, leaving them with plenty of cap space with which to work.

Assuming Anthony takes up around $26 million in salary, the Knicks payroll will sit at only $33.5 million, including the unguaranteed contracts of Prigioni and Hardaway.

Iman Shumpert will be a restricted free agent with a qualifying offer of $3.9 million in 2014-15, but if he continues to progress, the Knicks could end up needing a lot more to keep him in town. For the sake of this article, let's mark his salary down as $8 million.

In total, that leaves the Knicks payroll at $41.5 million, which is well under the salary cap of $58.7 million (based on this year's cap figure).

LaMarcus Aldridge and Marc Gasol are two players the Knicks could go after in 2015.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Marc Gasol are two players the Knicks could go after in 2015.USA TODAY Sports

While filling a roster with $17.2 million isn't easy, the Knicks have been able to do a lot with virtually no cap flexibility over the past three years. Therefore, the front office has to be licking its lips at the prospect of retooling the roster with that kind of cap space.

Looking at the free-agent crop in 2015, the Knicks could use a large portion of that money to bring in a second star for Anthony, with Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Marc Gasol all hitting the open market.

Shumpert will likely be the starter at shooting guard, leaving the Knicks to use either Hardaway or Smith as a trade chip to bring in a new starter to complement Anthony.

It's way too early to think about the specifics of how New York will approach free agency in 2015, but this way they'll have the core of their roster assembled—with it being Anthony, Shumpert, a major free agent and whomever they receive in a trade for Hardaway or Smith.

After that, it will come down to filling the roster with the mid-level exception, the bi-annual exception and veteran's minimum contracts. They'll also have Bird rights for the likes of Tyson Chandler, Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani, making it easier to bring them back (likely on smaller deals) even if they go over the salary cap.

Stoudemire and Chandler both come off the books in 2015, but bringing them back on more reasonable deals would be a good way to add depth.
Stoudemire and Chandler both come off the books in 2015, but bringing them back on more reasonable deals would be a good way to add depth.Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

It won't be a one-year process, but despite Anthony's hefty salary, retooling shouldn't be too difficult for a big-market franchise with plenty of cap space. All it will require is smart spending; the Knicks can't afford another Stoudemire-type situation weighing down their books.

Again, it must be stressed just how early this is, but realistically, the Knicks rotation could look something like this by the end of the 2015 offseason:

PG—free agent (up to $17.2 million), Felton

SGShumpert, Hardaway

SFAnthony, free agent (bi-annual exception/$2.1 million)

PF—free agent (mid-level exception/$5.5 million), Bargnani

C—trade acquisition (for Smith), Chandler

Depending on who exactly fills in the blank roster spots, this could be a title-contending team in two years. But if not, another mid-level acquisition the next year might be all it takes.

The important thing to understand is that—because of James Dolan's willingness to go over the luxury-tax threshold—the Knicks have been able to build a deep team despite having $20 million going towards Stoudemire.

Once 2015 comes around, they'll be able to start again with that money going to a legit second option, ideally a player without such a worrying injury history. From that point onwards, it will be another case of using every cap exception possible to build the rest of the team.

Essentially, re-signing Anthony is a no-brainer. It's a lot of money to spend on one player, but that's what you do when you find someone worth building around. If appropriate personnel decisions are made, there'll still be more than enough cap space for the Knicks' front office to put together an elite team.

As long as they leave enough money for that all-important second star, the Knicks should do everything in their power to keep Anthony in New York. They've already started that process with the hiring of Steve Mills and the extending of Mike Woodson's contract, and it should continue with a max contract for 'Melo next summer.


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