Carmelo Anthony could flee the hustle and bustle of New York for Los Angeles yet.
It's not what you think. We're not referencing the Los Angeles Lakers. Right city. Correct building. Wrong team.
Sources told Hoopsworld's Steve Kyler that the Los Angeles Clippers, not Lakers, are emerging as a serious threat to pilfer the New York Knicks superstar:
As one insider said last night after the game, the idea of Anthony leaving the Knicks isn’t talked about in the abstract around the team. It’s talked about as though it’s going to happen.
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 LA Lakers, however insiders around the Knicks and Carmelo peg the LA Clippers as more likely to land Anthony if he leaves the Knicks.
Terms of Anthony's potential arrival are worse than unclear. Few scenarios, if any, exist where 'Melo becomes a Clipper without breaking up Los Angeles' star-studded nucleus.
Still, with New York fading and its financial future bleak, Anthony could leave. He could run. He could wind up creating a Clippers superteam.
Or could he?
Why This Los Angeles Team?
Because I hate Kobe. And the color yellow. And team names that end in "s."
I'm kidding, obviously. The Lakers would make a fine destination for Anthony—market size, championship legacy, purple-tinged jersey outlines—if the team was in a better state.
Kobe's injury reminds us all, including 'Melo, that even the Mamba is human. If his latest ailment is the biggest setback he incurs over the life of his contract, that's a good thing. Think about that. You know 'Melo will.
Anthony's relationship with Mike D'Antoni also comes into play. They couldn't coexist in New York, why would Los Angeles be any different. Unless the Lakers elect to send Magic Mike packing, it's difficult to see those two pairing up again.
Mostly, it's Kobe's contract. Out of respect (and business savvy) the Lakers have ensured Kobe will remain the league's highest paid player through 2016-17. While that won't prohibit them from making a competitive offer to 'Melo, they will be unable to surround the duo with formidable cast members.
And you know what they say: Big Twos simply aren't as big as Big Threes.
The Right Fit?
One more detour.
Would the Clippers even be a good fit for 'Melo overall? Better than the Lakers obviously, because they're deeper. But actually good?
Paul is a point God. The NBA's best point guard. Floor general. Ball-dominator with ability to play off it. Anthony has never had that before. That pass-first, superstar point guard. The partner he needs and thought he might get in New York.
It was the wedding toast heard 'round the world. Or at least the wedding party.
But it was the cursory prophecy that never came true. Anthony joined the Knicks, and that was as close as it came. Dreams of Paul tossing lobs to Anthony and STAT turned into Tyson Chandler.
That's how it works in New York. Anthony wanted Rajon Rondo, so the Knicks gave him Andrea Bargnani. Disappointment is a fact of life in the Big Apple.
In Los Angeles, Anthony would actually have Paul. And (potentially) Griffin. The Stoudemire-in-his-prime Anthony never had, if you will.
Think of all the offense they could generate together. Picture Doc Rivers coaching consistent defensive effort into Anthony. Visualize a world in which Anthony sports red.
Then you should have your answer.
Dollars and Cents Problems
Fit doesn't matter. Plausibility does.
Before Paul runs pick-and-pops with Anthony, New York's superstar must reach Los Angeles first. And that's going to be a problem.
"I want to be a free agent," Anthony told The New York Observer's Rafi Kohan in October.
Set to hit free agency, 'Melo has never been more available. But the Clippers have never been more financially constrained.
One slight problem with "Carmelo to Clippers" in 2014 rumors: Clippers have no cap room. Little chance of getting under, either.— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) December 25, 2013
Los Angeles has over $71 million in guaranteed salaries on its books for 2015-16, according to ShamSports.com, putting it well over the projected $62-plus million salary cap.
If Anthony wants to join the Clippers, he cannot sign with them outright. Not unless they launch a salary dump of epic (and impossible) proportions.
Waiting another year won't help, either.
The Knicks superstar can delay free agency by refusing to exercise his early-termination option. He would return to New York for 2014-15 before hitting the open market that summer.
Once again, the Clippers still won't have enough money to sign him. They have nearly $56.7 million in guaranteed deals on the ledger for 2015-16, and that's not including minimum cap holds and various player and team options.
Dumping salaries becomes more realistic at this point, but hardly feasible. You're looking at a team that would still need to open $20 million worth of cap space. Or more.
Any scenario in which Anthony makes his way to Paul's side over the next two years won't include free agency. That is, unless he's partial to signing for the league minimum.
A trade. Only way Anthony joins the Clippers is through a trade, which can happen one of two ways: Either the Knicks deal him by the Feb. 20 deadline or in a sign-and-trade this summer.
Neither scenario is particularly realistic, even if Anthony were to pull a 2011 and demand a move.
Leverage isn't something the Clippers have in these proceedings. Teams that are a threat to sign Anthony outright can force New York's hands, but again, the Clippers aren't one of them.
To all those proposing LAC sign-and-trade for Melo: Knicks would only do that if he was a threat to sign there outright. And he can't.— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) December 25, 2013
There's also the matter of actually reaching an agreement. Assuming the Knicks were even willing to deal 'Melo (unlikely), they're not going to trade him for spare parts.
Los Angeles has a number of different contracts that would push a trade through financially, but matching 'Melo's value won't be possible. DeAndre Jordan, as a starting point, won't cut it.
The Clippers also don't have a first-rounder to trade until 2017, per RealGM.com, so it's not as if the looming possibility of snagging a selection in this year's deep draft will compel Knicks owner James Dolan to deal his prized superstar.
Ah, Dolan. That's another issue. He and the Knicks have bounded through rings of fire for 'Melo. Is he about to ship him out and start rebuilding? Probably not. Jimmy D is known for overpaying superstars, not trading them, and selling low on them at that.
Kind of throws a wrench in these plans, doesn't it?
Possible, Not Probable
This isn't impossible, but that doesn't make it likely. If anything, it's unlikely.
The Clippers lack the flexibility to sign Anthony this summer. And summer 2015. They also don't have the expendable assets necessary to even begin trade discussions.
Will Carmelo Anthony find a way to leave the Knicks for the Clippers?
Other teams, with cap space this offseason, are far greater threats. Los Angeles is a more appealing destination than the Dallas Mavericks, Philadelphia 76ers or Cleveland Cavaliers, among others, but it's not more realistic. Or even close to it.
Anthony's future remains a mystery. The Knicks could turn their season around. They could implode entirely. LeBron James' free-agency decision could impact 'Melo's.
Nothing about this long, arduous process is certain. None of us are inside Anthony's head, tracking his every thought. His every inkling.
But we don't need to know what he's thinking to understand that even if he leaves New York, it likely won't be to forge a Big Three in Los Angeles.
*All salary information obtained courtesy of ShamSports.com.