Every NBA player wants the chance to become a free agent, to test the market, to pull down a big payday. It's relative of course—there's a huge disparity between the elite of the league and the rank and file. Carmelo Anthony recently gave New York Knicks fans pause for thought when he suggested that he wants to become a free agent during the 2014 offseason. The plain truth, however, is that free agency makes perfect sense for Melo, especially now.
Anthony may have turned some heads, but that's simply due to the fact that splashy news of any kind tends to turn heads, regardless of actual controversy. Free agency is a rite of passage for NBA stars—the idea that you can hold court, that you matter more than the next guy, that you are paid respect, not to mention the big bucks.
In Melo's case, the bucks are huge. And the difference, between what he can make through free agency compared to simply signing an extension with the New York Knicks, matters.
In an article for ESPN New York, Ian Begley writes that Anthony can make more by re-signing with the Knicks than with another suitor:
With the Knicks, he could ink a five-year contract worth $129,135,806. If he signs with another team, the maximum he can earn is $95,897,372 over four years, according to calculations by ESPN salary-cap expert Larry Coon. Those numbers are based on the assumption that Anthony, one of the top scorers in the NBA, will sign a max contract.
Before we commit Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks, let's look at what else is out there and how he got to this place. A native son of the Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn, Anthony was signed by the Denver Nuggets as the third overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft. LeBron James was number one and we all know how that worked out. Number two was Darko Milicic and the Serbian big man played for six teams during 10 seasons, averaging six points per game in 18.5 minutes.
Melo has always struggled with issues of perception—whether he could live up to superstar expectations, whether he had the killer instinct. Winning the NBA scoring title is one thing, winning the Larry O'Brien trophy is another. Going into the 2013 campaign, the question of legacy looms larger than ever.
It's an important time for the six-time All-Star. By the beginning of his eighth season in Denver, the rumblings were becoming louder—Anthony wanted out. He reportedly refused to sign a contract extension. His preferred destination was popularly thought to be his home town of New York. Right before the trade deadline, he got his wish as part of a multi-team sign and trade.
It was a rocky beginning with coach Mike D'Antoni. Carmelo didn't seem to like his role. D'Antoni's frustration also grew. In March of 2012, the coach requested a meeting with management, including owner James L. Dolan. He wanted to know if they were open to trading their unhappy superstar. They weren't, and D'Antoni walked.
His replacement was Mike Woodson, who has turned a temporary role into a successful one—to a point. The Knicks lost to the Pacers in the second round last Spring and to many, the season was a failure.
So what else could be on the horizon for Anthony? One of the most obvious talking points is Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe and Carmelo are known to be good friends and the Purple and Gold will have tons of cap room in 2014. Melo would still have to take less than the Knicks could offer. Then again, Dwight Howard took less to go to Houston.
Kobe and Dwight were never a match. Kobe and Carmelo could be. There's one other potential obstacle. As of now, Mike D'Antoni is still the head coach of the Lakers. So what would it take to seal the deal? The third coming of Phil Jackson?
There's a common saying among NBA players—it's a business. Next season will be Carmelo's 12th in the league. He's still at the top of the game but the end is closer than the beginning. He's yet to be a free agent and his next contract will likely be his biggest. It may also be his last. An extra $33 million can make a very real difference.
Free agency makes perfect sense for Carmelo regardless of whether he stays or goes. This season, Knicks coach Mike Woodson wants Anthony to focus on the here and now.
That could be a bit of a challenge—rumors fuel the story during the leanest of news cycles. The fact that Melo is now on record about desiring free agency has just fed the rumor mill in a major way. That won't be changing anytime soon.