Ranking Carmelo Anthony's Top Options in 2014 Free Agency

D.J. FosterContributor IOctober 16, 2013

Ranking Carmelo Anthony's Top Options in 2014 Free Agency

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    Carmelo Anthony reportedly wants to become a free agent, so it's time to line up the potential landing spots for him next offseason.

    When considering Melo's options, there are a few important numbers to keep in mind.

    The first is the projected salary cap, which is $62.1 million for the 2014-15 season, per Hoopsworld's Eric Pincus. Only the New York Knicks can exceed that number when signing Anthony this offseason, should he exercise his early-termination option.

    The second number is Anthony's max-possible deal in free agency for anyone but New York, which is $23.5 million per season, or 105 percent of his last salary

    Another thing to keep in mind is that teams must renounce free agents in order to use their cap room; otherwise, they remain on the books as a cap hold. Also, when factoring in future salaries, you have to account for roster-spot holds up to 12 players ($507,336 per spot) and first-round-draft-pick holds as well.

    Got all that? Then let's get to the list of Carmelo Anthony's free-agent options in the 2014-15 offseason.

7. Dallas Mavericks

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    Glenn James/Getty Images

    Guaranteed Total '14-'15 Salary: $28.2 million

    Likely '14-'15 Cap Space Before Free Agency: $30 million

    Max Cap Space Contingent On: Dirk Nowitzki coming back cheap, or leaving altogether.

    The Dallas Mavericks haven't had much luck in free agency the past few years, but if Anthony wants to go through the courting process of free agency, Mark Cuban should be able to provide him with that.

    If Dallas renounces the rights to all free agents, which includes notable names like Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter, then the Mavs will have the cap space to offer Anthony the max.

    While there is a lot to like about the Mavericks as an organization, the existing personnel could be a major road block here. Monta Ellis plays like an alpha dog even though he isn't one, and there is a lack of young talent throughout the roster.

    And then, of course, there's Nowitzki. He would have to agree to come back to a contract worth somewhere around $7 million if Dallas gave Anthony a max offer. Would that be enough? Cuban and company have shown complete and total loyalty to Nowitzki in the past, and if he needed more money, the team might pass at a chance to clear max space until Nowitzki was done with the game.

    In reality, Dallas chose its path by signing Jose Calderon and Ellis to big long-term deals this offseason. The Mavericks are still an interesting landing spot, but the inability for Anthony to bring along another young star and the decline of Nowitzki's skills due to age might be too much to overlook.

6. Miami Heat

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    Guaranteed Total '14-'15 Salary: $2 million

    Likely '14-'15 Cap Space Before Free Agency: None

    Max Cap Space Contingent On: Two of the Big Three exercising their early-termination options.

    There seems to be only a few scenarios where LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh would leave the Miami Heat, and that doesn't play into Anthony's favor.

    Wade has spent his entire career in Miami and almost certainly wouldn't leave unless James did first.

    James could leave, but as this list shows, there aren't many superior options to Miami in terms of location, ownership and personnel.

    Bosh, meanwhile, would have to be a little crazy not to try to stick with LeBron for as long as he possibly could.

    When considering all the options, it's important to remember that these are early-termination options held by the players. As much as the Heat might want Carmelo Anthony instead of Bosh in free agency, that can't happen unless Bosh chooses to leave first. 

    Even then, one player leaving Miami wouldn't be enough unless Anthony took a massive pay cut.

    Udonis Haslem, Chris Andersen and Joel Anthony all have player options that will likely be accepted and that add up to right around $10 million total. With two members of the Big Three making $20 million apiece, that would leave the Heat with only about $10 million in available cap space, which is less than half of what it would take to give Anthony close to his max deal.

    On top of that, it's hard to imagine Anthony having much interest in playing solely with Wade or Bosh in the first place. It would have to be James as the lone player left in Miami, and that's a scenario that seems incredibly unlikely at this point.

5. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Guaranteed Total '14-'15 Salary: $10.6 million

    Potential '14-'15 Cap Space Before Free Agency: $25 million (with Los Angeles Lakers renouncing all free agents except for Kobe Bryant, who takes a pay cut from $32 million to $20 million) 

    Max Cap Space Contingent On: Kobe Bryant taking a pay cut he previously said he wouldn't take.

    People change their minds all the time. Just like how Carmelo Anthony will certainly consider going somewhere else instead of staying in New York, Bryant could back off his stance of wanting to keep his salary as is.

    For the Lakers to have enough room to sign Anthony, Bryant will have to. If the Black Mamba really doesn't take less money, he'll be due for a $31.9 million starting salary next year. Combine that number with minimum roster holds (a little over $4 million total) and Steve Nash and Robert Sacre's salaries (the $10.6 million figure seen above), and the Lakers are at $47 million.

    With the cap projected at $62.1 million next year, that would leave the Lakers around $8 million short of the $23.52 million-per-year max deal Anthony can get as a free agent. 

    That's all glossing over the fact that Anthony would be signing up primarily to play with Kobe Bryant, who is likely on his very last legs. From a talent perspective, going from New York to Los Angeles would be a lateral move, as New York is projected to have more cap space for Melo to recruit with in New York once Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani come off the books.

    Simply put, it doesn't make sense logically or financially for Anthony to leave the Knicks for the Lakers, unless he just wants to change coasts.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Guaranteed Total '14-'15 Salary: $18.2 million

    Likely '14-'15 Cap Space Before Free Agency: $20 million

    Max Cap Space Contingent On: Andrew Bynum, Earl Clark and Alonzo Gee being released before their 2014-15 salaries become guaranteed.

    Dreaming about that Kyrie Irving, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James superteam? It's not impossible, but it would take some serious work.

    By letting go of Bynum, Clark and Gee, the Cleveland Cavaliers should have roughly $20 million in cap space this offseason, which potentially could be enough to land Anthony if he were actually willing to take less money to live in Cleveland.

    The Cavs could free up enough money to give Anthony a true max deal, however, so long as they were willing to let go of Anderson Varejao, who has only $4 million of his $9.7 million deal guaranteed next season.

    But what about LeBron and Anthony?

    If the Cavs found a taker for Jarrett Jack's contract; let go of Varejao, Bynum, Clark and Gee; declined team options or traded Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller; and brought nothing except for a minimum salary in return and had James and Anthony both take marginal pay cuts; then, yes, a new Big Three could form.

    Easy enough, right?

3. Chicago Bulls

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    Guaranteed Total '14-'15 Salary: $60.9 million

    Projected '14-'15 Cap Space Before Free Agency: $13 million

    Max Cap Space Contingent On: Carlos Boozer being amnestied; either Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah or Derrick Rose being traded for a smaller salary; and Marquis Teague's team option being declined.

    The Chicago Bulls would have to do some serious salary shifting to make enough room for Anthony. Even with renouncing the rights to Luol Deng and amnestying Boozer, the Bulls would still be roughly $10 million short of being able to offer Anthony the max he can receive in free agency.

    That means Chicago would almost certainly have to deal Gibson to a team with cap room and bring nothing back in return, unless it were to try to deal Noah or Rose, which seems extremely counterproductive.

    A core of Rose, Jimmy Butler, Anthony and Noah would be incredibly enticing if it could somehow be pulled together, but there are likely too many hoops to jump through here. On top of the team's salary, Chicago's stingy ownership would have to sign off on paying Boozer $16.8 million to get him off the books.

    Still, this would be by far the best personnel fit for Anthony if he were willing to negotiate a lower salary for the sake of winning a title. Tom Thibodeau is a master of turning poor defenders into passable ones, and Anthony has never been a part of a below-average offense at any point in his career.

    A lot of salary shifting, core rearranging and financial pride swallowing would have to happen to make it work, but it's not completely impossible.

2. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Guaranteed Total '14-'15 Salary: $15 million

    Likely '14-'15 Cap Space Before Free Agency: $20 million (with Jason Richardson's expiring deal traded)

    Max Cap Space Contingent On: No major salaries added this season.

    Now before you start (or keep) laughing, let's take a good look at what the Philadelphia 76ers have to offer.

    Philadelphia is a major market, and the 76ers can pretty easily carve room for two contracts very close to the max, so long as they can dump Jason Richardson's expiring deal.

    The 76ers could very well be sitting on the first pick in the draft, which could end up being Andrew Wiggins, the most anticipated prospect to enter the league since LeBron James. Philadelphia will also have the New Orleans Pelicans' first-round pick, which could also land in the lottery. 

    In addition to that, Philadelphia has two promising young players at point guard (Michael Carter-Williams) and center (Nerlens Noel), and a pretty good trade piece in Thaddeus Young to bring in another very good player. 

    The motivations line up as well. Philadelphia would likely only sign Anthony if he brought another max-level player with him, and Anthony would only go to Philadelphia if he had someone to bring.

    Would it be tough for Anthony and Free-Agent X to tie themselves to a team that should truly be atrocious this year? Of course, but that doesn't preclude Philly from meeting nearly all of the other requirements.

1. San Antonio Spurs

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Guaranteed Total '14-'15 Salary: $28 million

    Likely '14-'15 Cap Space Before Free Agency: $28 million (if Tim Duncan retires or exercises his player option and Manu Ginobili retires)

    Max Cap Space Contingent On: Tim Duncan and/or Manu Ginobili retires.

    Because it seems patently ridiculous and frankly a little weird to assume Tim Duncan will ever play for anyone but the San Antonio Spurs, we'll assume the only way his $10.3 million salary comes off the books next season is if he decides to retire. Ditto for Manu Ginobili and his $7 million deal. 

    It's not entirely unreasonable to suggest that the 37-year-old Duncan and 36-year-old Ginobili would leave the game after this year, particularly if they went out on top with a championship. 

    That would leave Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter as the core taking over, but the Spurs would have more than enough cap room in this scenario to offer Anthony his true-max deal. As one of the few contending teams with the ability to do that, San Antonio could be at the top of Anthony's list, despite the small market.

    And what better way for Anthony to quiet his critics who bark about his selfishness and unwillingness to "be a winner" than to join the most highly revered organization in all of sports?

    With the cap room, championship history and possible open space at power forward (where Anthony has played his best minutes the last few years), perhaps San Antonio could be a sneaky landing spot if Duncan and/or Ginobili decide to hang up the sneakers.

Unlikely Landing Spots with Cap Room

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    Josh Smith and Detroit president of basketball operations Joe Dumars
    Josh Smith and Detroit president of basketball operations Joe DumarsAllen Einstein/Getty Images

    There are about six other teams that should be able to create max cap room fairly easily, but here's why they weren't included in the list:

    Charlotte Bobcats: The Bobcats will have room for a max player this offseason, but the Michael Jordan connection probably isn't enough to lure Anthony to a perennial loser and small-market team. Although the money will be right and the draft assets could land another good player in addition to some young talent, it's hard to picture Anthony leaving to play with Al Jefferson as his main sidekick.

    Utah Jazz: Like Philadelphia, the Jazz can actually offer two max contracts this offseason if they were to renounce everyone and not issue qualifying offers to Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward. Unfortunately, Salt Lake City isn't quite South Beach, and it's hard to imagine the Jazz letting a young franchise player like Favors go without a fight. 

    Detroit Pistons: The Detroit Pistons could approach max cap space if they were not to issue Greg Monroe a qualifying offer in free agency, but that would be quite the risk to take in hopes of getting Anthony. It would make more sense for the Pistons to try to retain their young star instead of wishing on one.

    Orlando Magic: Orlando will have the cap room for a full max offer, but the lack of a second star would likely deter Anthony from joining such a young team. No state tax and a shot at Wiggins may help the Magic make a case, though. 

    Phoenix Suns: Another team projected to have cap space, but probably not enough after Eric Bledsoe hits restricted free agency. There isn't enough other talent here, either. 

    Toronto Raptors: Maybe Carmelo Anthony would be willing to move up north, but Rudy Gay would need to opt out and some moves for more talent would likely have to be made to make this an appealing landing spot.