Is Carmelo Anthony Stuck with the New York Knicks?

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2014

Dec 21, 2013; New York, NY, USA;  New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) during the fourth quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at Madison Square Garden. Memphis Grizzlies won 95-87.  Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

The 2013-14 NBA season has been a nightmare for Carmelo Anthony, but the real horror probably hasn't fully set in yet.

That'll happen when he realizes waking up might not be an option.

The new year stayed true to old form in New York, which means each day of 2014 has featured a new rumor about Anthony's future with the New York Knicks.

Marc Berman of the New York Post managed to invoke the name of Stephon Marbury in his latest treatment of the 'Melo saga, using the unpopular former Knickerbocker to illustrate Anthony's fears about becoming similarly maligned in Madison Square Garden.

A source told Berman: "He saw Marbury get heckled by some fans on Christmas. He doesn’t want to be the next Marbury. He’s very sensitive."

That's understandable. Nobody wants to become the next Marbury. Although, considering he made over $151 million to play basketball for a living, I'd at least think about it. That's just me, though.

NEW YORK - JANUARY 11:  Stephon Marbury #3 of the New York Knicks leaves the court against the Toronto Raptors on January 11, 2008 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Berman goes on to explain that despite Anthony's pleas to the contrary, sources close to him have said 'Melo has already made up his mind to leave the Knicks as a free agent this summer.

Frank Isola of the New York Daily News went a step further, citing an anonymous former teammate of Anthony's who said definitively: “I think he’s leaving. I’ve played with Melo for a long time and he knows he can’t win here. At this stage, all he wants to do is win. That’s why he’ll leave.”

Sitting at 9-21 with little hope of improvement in sight, it's easy to understand why Anthony—if he really does want to win—would give serious thought to skipping town.

Put simply, the Knicks are a mess. The roster doesn't fit together; it's riddled with overpaid, underproductive players like Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani; and the team's financial flexibility is basically nil.

Even if 'Melo exercises his early termination option, the Knicks will still be over the projected cap heading into the 2014-15 season, per

Owner James Dolan seems committed to keeping Anthony, and he has installed Steve Mills as general manager in an effort to nurture a stronger connection between front office and player. Mills is a CAA client, making him someone who shares a sort of inner-circle connection with both Anthony and influential go-between William Wesley, aka "Worldwide Wes."

But that show of loyalty won't stop Anthony from chasing wins elsewhere.

The problem is that as he looks around at the other pastures in the league, he'll find that they're not much greener than the one he's in now.

Per Isola, Anthony said earlier this week: "This isn't how I envisioned it."

No kidding.

Weak Options

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 16:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks looks on during the second half against the Washington Wizards at Madison Square Garden on December 16, 2013 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

There are a bevy of teams theoretically in play to land Anthony's services. But salary cap restrictions and what we should all assume will be a max-offer demand from 'Melo effectively rule out most of them.

Anthony wants to play in a big market with lots of opportunities to grow his various endorsement endeavors, so you can immediately write off the Charlotte Bobcats, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz. All of them have the money to sign 'Melo, but none offer the visibility or marketing opportunities he craves.

The Detroit Pistons could make a deal work but would have to send Greg Monroe or another valuable asset back to New York, and let's not kid ourselves: 'Melo isn't moving to Michigan. Lovely place, just not an ideal destination for a well-heeled metropolitan such as himself.

If the Miami Heat saw their roster disintegrate by way of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh leaving via their own ETOs, maybe they'd be a destination for Anthony. But he'd have no interest in signing there if some, or all, of the current talent were to end up someplace else.

Digging deeper, the Dallas Mavericks might be an option, but as Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney points out: 

Given that the Mavs recently committed $15.5 million in 2014-15 salary to Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon, it might not be possible to squeeze both a re-signed Nowitzki and a true max free agent in under the cap unless Dirk consents to a criminal pay cut.

A source told Berman that both the Los Angeles Clippers and Chicago Bulls intrigue Anthony, which is understandable. There is, though, the tiny problem of neither team having anything close to the cap space to sign him to a fair-market deal. Barring a massive, unlikely trade, 'Melo's not going to be able to get to either of those destinations.

That leaves the Los Angeles Lakers, whose decision to give Kobe Bryant $48.5 million over the next two years means the team will basically have to renounce all of its current free agents in order to free up approximately $22 million for 'Melo's near-max deal.

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 25: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks and Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers look on during their game at Staples Center on December 25, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges a
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

NBA salary cap expert Larry Coon explains:

With this team salary, the Lakers would have about $22.2 million in cap room next summer. This will be enough for one maximum-salary player—for example, Carmelo Anthony is eligible to receive up to $22,458,401. While this is slightly above the Lakers’ maximum, there are other things the team can do to create more cap room if Anthony doesn’t want to take slightly less than the amount for which he is eligible.

This is probably Anthony's best option—if leaving New York is something he's set on doing. And if you think about it, L.A. isn't really much of an option at all. Sure, it'd give him the big market he likes, but it would also stick him alongside an aging Bryant and a whole bunch of minimum-salaried nobodies.

It's hard to make returning to the Knicks sound appealing, but that almost does it.

Full Circle

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 16:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks sits on the baseline during the final minutes of the game against the Atlanta Hawks at Madison Square Garden on November 16, 2013 in New York City. The Hawks defeat the Knicks 110-90.
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

In the end, Anthony is going to see that there really aren't many good options out there. He'll still exercise his early termination option, of course, because he'll want to get another long-term deal locked in while his value is still so high.

But it's looking increasingly likely that he'll wind up staying right where he is.

Chances are, he'll see the Knicks offering about $30 million more than anybody else can spend, and he'll realize that as bad as things have been in New York recently, they won't be much better anyplace else.

Carmelo Anthony is stuck.


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