With free agency fast approaching, it's a question that must be asked. And then asked again.
Melo has big decision to make; stay in NY, enjoy limelight, ton of FG attempts, the press,City & offcourt or go DHoward route to better team— SPORTS MεDIA WORLD (@SPORTSMEDIAWRLD) January 20, 2014
There are no NBA championships for Anthony to find comfort in. No superstar sidekick for him to exchange campfire stories with during team flights. Nothing that shows Anthony the Knicks are capable of making good on their promises.
There is only discord and confusion; bedlam wrapped in $88.5 million of player salaries encased in an extravagant luxury-tax bill.
More recently, and worse still, there has been losing. Lots and lots (and lots) of losing.
Halfway through their season, the Knicks are 11 games under .500, 5.5 games behind the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors and two games off the lousy Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot. That's in addition to housing an agent of chaos with a shoelace fetish (J.R. Smith), a pillowy-soft floor-spacing forward who doesn't play defense or space the floor (Andrea Bargnani) and an erratic point guard with cookie-dough stamina (Raymond Felton).
Oh, and there's James Dolan, the self-destructive Knicks owner with a practiced smile and iron fist, who lives somewhere between blissful ignorance and deliberate lunacy.
"I didn't think we would be in this situation," Anthony said after his team was manhandled by the Brooklyn Nets at Madison Square Garden on Monday, per ESPN New York's Ian O'Connor. "Honestly, I don't really know how to deal with a situation like this. I'm learning. This is a first time for me."
So, why would Anthony stay in New York again?
Empty Promises Can Be Fun
Who's to say Anthony isn't a glutton for punishment?
Not only does he take repeated beatings on his forays into the paint, but he actually wanted to join the Knicks; he believed that associating himself with decades of losing and incompetence was a good thing.
If the Knicks seduced (fooled?) him once, maybe their latest pipe dream is enough to do so again.
According to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, the Knicks believe they will land multiple superstars in 2015—you know, if Rajon Rondo doesn't force his way to New York before then:
If that fails -- and who knows how 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.
Maybe Anthony wants to partner up with Aldridge or Love, two stars who play the same position he himself thrives at (power forward). Maybe he actually believes the Knicks will, against all odds and logic, land two more superstars.
Maybe he's that attracted to shiny promises holding little or no substance.
Where Else Will He Go?
Lack of other options could leave Anthony trapped.
Kobe Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers were initially considered threats to pry him out of New York, but their candidacy is on life support. After extending Bryant, the Lakers won't have enough money to sign Anthony and assemble a supporting cast better than what the Knicks have now.
Bryant's latest injury isn't helping things, either. Anthony has spent the better part of three years watching as Amar'e Stoudemire ate up cap space while rarely playing. He won't want to go through that again.
Plus, does Anthony want to be the guy who lost with both the Knicks and Lakers?
Chris Paul's Los Angeles Clippers are a more intriguing possibility. Anthony and Paul have always wanted to play together, and teaming up under Doc Rivers seems like a surefire way to win. But the Clippers won't have cap space this summer, meaning they can only acquire Anthony via trade.
Dangling Blake Griffin in front of the Knicks would certainly get their attention, but the Clippers aren't about to exchange a 24-year-old star proving his mettle while playing without Paul for an aging Anthony that hasn't been able to right New York's ship in a conference where teams with a pulse typically make the playoffs.
Amnestying Carlos Boozer after dumping another contract—most likely Taj Gibson's—would make the Chicago Bulls a major free-agency player, but those are a lot of hoops to jump through just so they could, maybe, quite possibly sign Anthony.
After that, Anthony's options are scarce.
Signing with a small market is out of the question. Anthony's affinity for big-market flair is common knowledge; it's what brought him to New York in the first place. He won't sacrifice money and exposure to play with, say, Kyrie Irving in Cleveland.
It's not going to happen.
Speaking of money, the Knicks can offer 'Melo a five-year contract worth roughly $129 million compared to the four years and approximately $96 million other teams can hand him. And money is important to Anthony. Really important.
If he wasn't concerned with being paid top dollar, he wouldn't have allowed the impulsive Knicks to fleece themselves of assets in 2011 just so he could maximize his earnings before the current collective bargaining agreement.
Anthony, per the New York Daily News' Frank Isola, may admire what LeBron James did by signing with the Miami Heat, and he could want to do something similar himself in 2014.
Carmelo Anthony told Ahmad Rashad on NBA TV that LeBron did a "smart" thing by joining Wade & Bosh. Hmmm.— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) December 21, 2013
But he might not be able to.
Part of Anthony is still loyal to New York; part of him still believes.
If he wasn't still trying to make this work, he would have demanded a trade by now. He wouldn't be grabbing rebounds and diving for loose balls like never before.
He would have quit.
But Anthony, who is well aware of how much New York sacrificed for him, hasn't.
What will become of Anthony's future in New York?
Come free agency, when his potential landing destinations aren't flush with big-city dreams, and the Knicks are pointing toward a grand 2015 scheme, Anthony may, out of some misplaced faith, stay right where he is. Desperate to win, perhaps he even accepts less money in hopes New York parlays increased flexibility into another legitimate star.
Before you say no, consider this: Anthony has to take less if he wants to play elsewhere anyway, so it's not impossible.
Nothing at this point of a season gone amiss is.
"I don’t want to believe (we’re at 15-26)," said Anthony, per the Daily News' Frank Isola, after watching his Knicks fall at home to the Nets. "I don't want to accept that. I won’t accept that."
For want of better options, or misappropriated belief in a franchise that doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt, he may never accept that.
*Salary information via ShamSports.