Carmelo Anthony is looking over the fence, and he likes what he sees.
Keep in mind, the Knicks were modeled after the Miami Heat. 'Melo was brought in to facilitate the formation of a superteam, an outfit that could contend with LeBron and friends.
Nearly three years later, the Knicks have won a single postseason series and find themselves on the outskirts of this year's playoff picture. By season's end, 'Melo will have been a Knick for nearly three-and-a-half years, during which time he expected something other than what he's experienced:
With Anthony's unofficial deadline rapidly approaching, the Knicks are quickly encountering one of their own.
Continue down their current path, and they won't be contenders. Like 'Melo wanted. Like he predicted.
Continue down their current path, and they risk losing him to free agency, their fingers naked as they were the day 'Melo arrived.
A Glimpse at How Far Away the Knicks Are
The Knicks are Anthony.
This deep into his tenure, that's troubling. Unsettling. Pull-your-hair-out maddening.
New York's title hopes would always be tied to Anthony. That's how this superstar thing works. Lack of an identity without him, though, was not part of the deal. Or rather, it wasn't supposed to be.
A glimpse at just how far away the Knicks are from contending came against the Orlando Magic. Anthony rolled his ankle midway through the third quarter, leaving the Knicks to fight on without him.
No worries. They were up 20 points at the time and were up by as many as 25 at one point. Even without 'Melo, they had the game wrapped up.
Until they almost didn't.
Orlando trimmed the lead down to a manageable margin by the fourth quarter and just wouldn't go away. The Knicks pulled out a 103-98 victory, but the damage was done. A glimpse into a potential future without 'Melo was seen.
The message was clear: The Knicks can barely remain afloat with Anthony, and they are nothing without him.
Will Anthony want to bear that kind of pressure beyond this season? Does he even want to shoulder that type of burden now?
Little Time to Waste
Forget about the Knicks' title window. That closed last season, if it was even open. We're talking about 'Melo's title window, which won't be open for much longer.
Anthony will be 30 when he signs his next contract, with 11 years of wear and tear on that bullish, 6'8" frame of his. Years of carrying teams (offensively) on his own have left him ringless, presumably aware that he needs assistance.
It's the same aid he was promised, or rather, saw, before arriving in New York. The chance to play alongside Amar'e Stoudemire, a six-time All-Star, and eventually Chris Paul, the league's best point guard, would allow Anthony to contend like none of his teams had before.
But Paul turned into Tyson Chandler out of urgency and failure to recognize the team's amnesty provision should be tabled for STAT. Since then, there have been a flurry of supposed "No. 2s" brought in to help Anthony—J.R. Smith, Andrea Bargnani, etc.
A true sidekick has yet to emerge, though. Stopgaps have paraded in and out of New York, peaking last season, when the Knicks feigned contention, never giving Anthony the partner he needed.
The Knicks have essentially kept 'Melo in a waiting pattern and will ask that he remain there until summer 2015.
Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski revealed in November the Knicks' plan is to sell Anthony on a Kevin Love pursuit in 2015, when he's a free agent and New York has cap space. But that's a full season later, when Anthony will be past his 31st birthday, and it comes with no guarantees.
Rajon Rondo's high school coach, Steve Smith, told USA Today's Jason Jordan that 'Melo was recruiting the point man in advance of 2015, when he also becomes a free agent, suggesting Anthony isn't ready to leave the Big Apple.
With that news came hope, not certainty. Not only did Rondo later deny the rumor to the Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes, its validity guarantees nothing.
Anthony can recruit all the 2015 free agents he wants. That doesn't mean he's a lock to stay. They must want to join him if he's willing to wait. And they're not willing to come, it's possible he won't stick around.
Missing the playoffs or being handed another first-round exit, along with the prospect of enduring another year like this, could force 'Melo to take drastic measures.
New York's continued inability to bring in more stars could force him out of orange and blue and into another team's color scheme.
If Not New York, Then Where?
It was established long ago by ESPN's Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst that the Los Angeles Lakers, flush with cap space, would go after 'Melo after this summer.
Despite ensuring Kobe Bryant would remain the NBA's highest-paid player through 2016-17, the Lakers can still afford such an expenditure or, at the very least, position themselves for said investment rather easily.
But will they want to?
Committing to another superstar leaves them with diddly-squat financially. They would be obligated to fill out the roster with odds and ends, and surrounding two 30-plus stars with marginal talent isn't foolproof.
Which brings us here: Are the Lakers still a viable option for Anthony?
Kobe's latest injury could be a sign of things to come and is proof that no one, not even the Mamba, can outrun time. Why would 'Melo leave one year and $30-plus million on the table in New York to land with a Lakers team ill-equipped to build around him and an aging Kobe?
Logically speaking, he wouldn't. Los Angeles should be ruled out.
Forgive me, I mean the Lakers should be ruled out. According to Hoopsworld's Steve Kyler, Los Angeles is still in play:
While free agency is a long way away and there is lots of basketball left to be played, the team that most fans and media peg as Anthony’s likely destination is the Lakers, however insiders around the Knicks and Carmelo peg the Clippers as more likely to land Anthony if he leaves the Knicks. Openly suggesting the Knicks and Clippers would try and consummate a trade at the trade deadline to insure LA has the rights to Anthony.
The idea is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Imagining Knicks owner James Dolan dealing his prized cornerstone is difficult, not inconceivable. And by joining the Clippers via trade, Anthony remains in a big market alongside his buddy Paul without sacrificing his ability to sign a five-year deal.
The problem there is the Clippers can only acquire Anthony via trade.
They have more than $71.7 million on their books next season (options not included), per ShamSports. Clearing enough room to sign him outright would require a series of complex salary dumps that seem impossible this side of the CBA.
Rumors in mind, both the Lakers and Clippers remain long shots. As are the Heat, for whom Anthony expressed admiration. They have only $2 million in guaranteed salaries on their ledger for 2014-15, a number that towers over $70 million if each member of the Big Three returns.
Other potential destinations—teams projected to have cap space—include the Cleveland Cavaliers, Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks, among others, all of whom could have enough funds to make Anthony an offer.
Will Anthony be seduced by any of those situations? Will more preferable landing spots—Miami, Los Angeles—become more enticing?
It's impossible to tell, but we know this: While Anthony will have options this summer, they won't be endless.
A Real Flight Risk?
Few things can be determined at the moment, but we must remain inclined to say no.
Anything can happen between now and July. The Knicks could turn things around. They could strike an unforeseen blockbuster deal, or they could implode entirely. Anthony himself could demand a trade.
All we know for sure is Anthony plans to hit free agency, and that the open market's landscape—i.e. what LeBron and other stars do—will play a big factor in his decision-making process.
The state of these currently lost, injury-stricken and sinking Knicks will also play a role. However this season pans out will be in the back of 'Melo's mind. Their future together will be staring him right in the face. His future elsewhere will be equally close.
Looking at his options, and all it would take to land Anthony in a situation head-and-shoulders above that in New York, chances are Anthony will stay. He will remain with the team he forced his way onto in 2011.
Borne out of continued loyalty, a failed search for something better or the difficulty of joining one should he find it, Anthony will go nowhere. Even if he wants to, even if he considers taking a pay cut (all possible), he may be stuck.
"I want to retire in New York, I mean let's be quite frank," Anthony told TNT previously.
That feeling, depending how this season shakes out and how promising New York's future is, could change. But 'Melo's team colors likely won't.
*All salary information obtained via ShamSports unless otherwise noted.