With both teams battered and bruised and the Heat looking mired in the NBA’s winter doldrums, 'Melo’s 29-point, eight-rebound performance helped spur the suddenly surging Knicks to a much-needed signature win.
However, the postgame headlines were less about the next few weeks—or even the next few months—as they were about a perilous prospect looming larger by the day: 'Melo ditching the Knicks.
With his team struggling to stay afloat and the franchise’s financial future in jeopardy, 'Melo has already stated that he plans to test free agency next summer, according to ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley.
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith took it one step further, claiming 'Melo’s already made his decision to bolt the Big Apple for more pristine pastures:
Anthony has been on the defensive ever since, adding yet another dose of drama to what was already a certifiable soap opera in New York.
According to Newsday's Al Iannazzone, when asked about Anthony’s prospects, James—who knows a little something about free-agency decisions—offered the kind of guidance you’d expect from a long-standing friend. He said, "You got to do whatever makes you happy. When you’re happy, the game of basketball is going to be fun for you. Strive to be great every day and live with whatever else happens. So we’ll see."
LeBron is carefully articulating something most Knicks fans know all to well: Carmelo isn’t exactly the happiest of campers.
Following a surprising 54-win campaign a year ago, most expected the Knicks to at least approach, if not outright match, that magic this season.
Instead, the Knicks—still far below the .500-mark—must take solace only being a game out of the East’s final playoff seed. Indeed, given the conference’s unprecedented weakness, the Knicks could well make a push for a top-four seed.
That’s not exactly what 'Melo thought he signed up for.
When the Knicks first brought Anthony to New York three years ago, the criticism from corners close and far wasn’t so much levied toward the move itself, but how it went down.
By making his intentions known—quite vocally, it should be added—'Melo got his way. But not without the Knicks having to sacrifice the kind of youth and depth any true contender needs.
Had Anthony simply waited until the offseason and signed with New York as a free agent, Knicks fans could well be looking at a much younger, much more flexible team.
Instead, they’ve been resigned to hoping and praying the one guy who prevented that from happening sticks around a few more years.
Come this July, 'Melo will be faced with a similar dilemma: take a financial hit for the sake of building or joining a contender—either with the Knicks or another team entirely—or take as much money as he can, when he can.
For his part, James faced a similar dilemma during his free-agency go-round in the summer of 2010.
“The Decision” might not have been the best public relations move ever, but the underlying motivation—to sacrifice individual financial game for sustainable long-term success—was as noble as it gets in the age of eight-figure contracts.
Not surprisingly, LeBron challenged 'Melo to at least consider that calculus. From Iannazzone:
I recommend it to me. It doesn’t work for everybody. The way I live my life don’t work for everybody. All I care about is winning. I came to Miami to win. Money didn’t make me happy. Winning made me happy, and it still does. That’s what matters to me.
Assuming 'Melo heeds the lead of LeBron—again, a close friend with whom he’s shared rivalries and Olympic gold medals alike—and takes less money, the question remains: Can New York surround him with the right pieces at the right prices, or will Anthony have to find his finals fortune elsewhere?
Three years ago, 'Melo couched his move to New York in terms just about every Knicks fan could relate to: that the Brooklyn-born Anthony wanted nothing more than to come home and finish his career making hardwood music in the mecca of basketball.
Many still believe 'Melo forcing his way to New York amounted to taking the easy way out. Depending on how the situation in Miami unfolds—LeBron, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade all hold player options for next season—'Melo might well have that chance again.
Or Anthony could work hard to read between his good friend’s lines and do what most believe would still make him happiest: sacrifice money he’ll likely never spend for the sake of winning in a city starving for real success.