"Future" is a heavy word, especially for the New York Knicks.
Excessive losing early on has left Carmelo Anthony, their free-agent-to-be, a potential flight risk this summer. But it hasn't ruined their chances entirely. They have options.
There are a number of different routes the Knicks can take, various methods of persuasion they can employ. Some are more likely and more effective than others, but each serves a purpose—keeping Anthony.
Ideally, the Knicks wouldn't have to worry. The extra year and $30 million they can offer would be enough. But they aren't in an ideal situation.
Work needs to be done, mostly to preserve what avenues and selling points the team has available, all of which must be considered vital if the Knicks intend to retain their star.
The "Let It Ride" Pitch
This approach is particularly dangerous.
Essentially, what the Knicks would be doing is selling 'Melo on the team as is. Those who've watched Orange and Blue lately know that's not a foolproof plan. Some might even call it a "fool's plan."
The beauty of this, though, is that it's not impure. There would be no typical Knicks shenanigans that are simply future schemes derived from one part unabashed bluster, two parts false hope and 867 parts crazy.
General manager Steve Mills and owner James Dolan, and whomever else the Knicks have in the room—be it head coach Mike Woodson, his successor Tom Thibodeau or Orlando Jones bearing a 7 Up—would simply tell 'Melo, "This is your team. It's time to own it."
Of course, depending on this season's ending, Anthony's response could vary significantly.
If free agency began today, for instance, 'Melo might say, "You mean the one that started 9-21, signed J.R. Sith's (outdated Star Wars pun intended) brother to a guaranteed contract and is Masai Ujiri's personal first-round draft pick vending machine? No thanks."
Good thing free agency doesn't start right now. Seriously.
Bringing this to the table would demand New York turn its season around first, which isn't impossible because 1) the Knicks play in the "Is Basketball Actually a Sport?" Eastern Conference and 2) injuries have ripped through opposing rosters like Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson does cliches.
Assuming the Knicks get their act together—which for the sake of this method, we must—the question then becomes: How far do they have to go?
Another first-round exit won't do the trick. 'Melo's been there, done that—eight times. Missing the playoffs entirely might be a better outcome because it's new (kidding).
Anything short of a second-round appearance to show 'Melo New York has at least maintained the status quo from 2012-13 will be unacceptable. And that may not even be enough. Using the current makeup as a selling point would sound a whole lot sweeter (realistic?) if the Knicks had an Eastern Conference Finals berth under their belt.
Problematic? Definitely, which is why there's incentive for the Knicks to do something other than stay the course. But we cannot deny how enticing a cash-strapped Knicks team that just (miraculously) carried 'Melo to his longest playoff run since 2009 would look.
The "Vindictive" Initiative
Who's to say Dolan doesn't instruct Mills to play hardball, or Dolan-ball?
Out of fear, sheer panic or the realization that Dolan tattooed 'Melo's full name across his lower back in shimmering orange and blue, the Knicks could play their sadistic card. That could happen.
Anthony isn't going to play in a small market. He didn't will his way to New York only to sell his services to Cleveland or Utah. If he leaves, it will be for a similarly sized locale—like Los Angeles or Chicago.
The Los Angeles Lakers will have cap space and were once considered a threat, but they now hold as much appeal to free agents as a job singing backup for Dolan's band, JD and The Straight Shot. Kobe Bryant is old and injured, Mike D'Antoni and Anthony haven't exchanged friendship bracelets in years and the Lakers won't have enough wiggle room to surround their two superstars with substantial talent.
Playing for their in-house rival, the Los Angeles Clippers, is alluring, but that would have to happen via sign-and-trade, since they won't have cap space. But the Knicks wouldn't agree to one, not even for Blake Griffin—please not Blake Griffin—because remember, this is the spiteful approach.
The Chicago Bulls won't be threats either for the same reason, unless they amnesty Carlos Boozer and dump an extra contract like Taj Gibson's. Even then, 'Melo would have to convince himself that playing next to an injury-prone Derrick Rose is a sound decision.
"Where else are you going to go if we won't help you get there?" Dolan would ask.
Barring the emergence of a dark-horse free-agency player, 'Melo wouldn't have an answer.
The Always-Effective "C'mon" Address
The "2015, You Know What I Mean" Meet and Greet
The Knicks are already thinking about this approach.
According to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, they plan on using 2015 as their primary sticking point in Anthony negotiations:
If that fails — and who knows how [Rajon] Rondo will mesh with this Celtics team, it could work well and he could want to stay — the Knicks fully believe they will get one or two of the following in free agency in 2015 when they expect to have large salary-cap space: Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Roy Hibbert, Marc Gasol, Tony Parker or Rondo when his contract is up. Under certain circumstances, James himself could be a free agent again that summer.
Danger exists in attempting to sell 'Melo on players the Knicks neither have nor have access to yet. But this is what they do—chase players they don't have.
Selling Anthony on their multiple-star pursuit won't work without an immediate commitment, though. He'll be earning close to $25 million in 2015-16, diminishing New York's spending power considerably.
The best way to show Anthony this isn't an empty promise or an unrealistic dream is to clear the books of J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton, both of whom have player options for 2015-16 that make up nearly $10 million. Ensuring those two are gone—the Knicks have already begun the near-impossible task of shopping Smith—keeps New York's ambitious blueprint for 2015 intact, adding merit to its presumptuous methodology.
"See those guys," Dolan would say excitedly, pointing to elaborate graphs and charts with mini Rondos and Hibberts plastered on them. "We'll get you those guys."
Mills would then hand Anthony a T-shirt reading, "Patience Can Be Fun for Everyone."
Would a 30-year-old 'Melo be willing to wait yet another year for reform with the hope that the Knicks can deliver stars they cannot actually promise him?
Proactively finding a way to make it financially plausible could help ensure a "yes."
Which Way Is the Best?
A sorry start to 2013-14 prevents 'Melo's return from being a sure thing, but it hasn't deprived the Knicks of options.
Various doors and windows are still open. Anthony hasn't already fitted himself for a different jersey. All hope is not lost. There is still time for the Knicks to get this right.
"In my heart, I don't think [Anthony will sign with another team]," Woodson said on ESPN New York 98.7 FM, via ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley. "I think Melo will retire a New York Knick."
Making that happen demands the Knicks use any option at their disposal to show Anthony theirs is a future worth making his own.
Salary information courtesy of ShamSports.