You might have heard by now, but Carmelo Anthony can become a free agent at the end of the 2013-14 campaign.
With an early-termination option, he could very well opt out and hit the open market, looking to sign another max deal that would keep him up near the top of the leaderboard when it comes to NBA salaries.
But who would he sign with?
Fortunately, he'd have plenty of options.
Not too many teams will have enough cap space to sign a max-contract player (which Anthony will surely be), but most of those squads wouldn't mind adding one of the NBA's best scorers to their roster. After all, not many players are capable of exploding for 62 points against the Charlotte Bobcats, as 'Melo did on Jan. 24.
It's important to note that these potential landing spots are being ranked by how appealing they should be to Anthony—not by how appealing we've heard Anthony thinks they are, and not by how much the team in question actually desires the services of the New York Knicks small forward.
Earlier in January, LeBron James told Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News the following about what 'Melo should do when he inevitably hits the open market:
Whatever makes him happy. You have to do whatever makes (you) happy at the end of the day. If you're happy, the game of basketball is going to be fun for you. Strive to be great every day and you can live with whatever else happens. So we'll see.
So, what would make Anthony—a player who covets scoring opportunities, big markets, money and rings—the happiest?
Carmelo Anthony isn't going to join the Philadelphia 76ers or Utah Jazz, but both teams have the cap space to sign him this coming offseason and boast enough talent that they'd be great landing spots.
However, 'Melo needs either a big market or a team that's already set to contend, and both dark horses fail to meet either criterion. Ideally, a location meets both of his requirements, but it's just too unlikely when neither fits the billing across the board.
That said, both Utah and Philadelphia are great landing spots from a pure-basketball perspective.
In Philly, 'Melo would have the luxury of playing next to Michael Carter-Williams, who looks a lot like the next great point guard in the NBA. He'd be backed up by a great rim-protector (Nerlens Noel), coached by a promising motivator (Brett Brown) and joined by multiple excellent draft picks.
If he went to Salt Lake City, he'd be the unquestioned No. 1 option, making Gordon Hayward into one of the league's better Robins. Trey Burke is also full of promise, and that statement seems to apply to about half the Jazz roster as well.
Both teams are already in great shape going forward, and Anthony could push them over the top.
He won't, but he could.
"Chicago is much more in play for him than L.A.," an anonymous source told Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
It's hard to think of a major market that does less for Carmelo Anthony than the Windy City.
While the Chicago Bulls are a huge brand in the basketball world, they're a risky and terrible fit for the man who lit up Madison Square Garden for a franchise-record 62 points. Not only would he be banking on Derrick Rose returning to his pre-injury form (which isn't a guarantee), but he'd also be running into one more issue.
On the surface, a starting five of Rose, Jimmy Butler, 'Melo, Taj Gibson (Carlos Boozer would be amnestied and replaced by Nikola Mirotic) and Joakim Noah sounds absolutely fantastic.
But there's one problem—one major problem, really.
As B/R's Zach Buckley writes, "The offensive-minded Melo doesn't exactly fit the Tom Thibodeau mold."
Anthony isn't exactly a fan of the whole defense thing, but that's the mentality du jour in Chicago. Can you imagine the clashes that would become commonplace between Thibodeau and Anthony?
They wouldn't be pretty, and Thibs' voice would become even more gravelly than it already is from all the yelling he'd have to do.
Now that Carmelo Anthony has set the New York Knicks franchise record for most points scored in a single game and dethroned Kobe Bryant as the Madison Square Garden champion, he has nothing left to accomplish in NYC.
Obviously, that's not true.
But it may as well be, because this team has absolutely zero championship potential.
The Knicks are going nowhere in 2013-14, as they've gotten off to a terrible start and experienced a perfect example of Murphy's Law. And it's not like things are going to get better.
Whether or not Anthony exercises his early-termination option this offseason, the Knicks don't have enough money to bring in anyone other than their own free agents and players who will sign for the various exceptions granted to New York by the collective bargaining agreement. They don't have any first-round draft picks to work with either.
If Anthony does choose to stay, he's essentially wasting the next two years of his career, and then he'll be plunged into a rebuilding process.
How exactly does that make sense?
Yes, 'Melo can make more money with the Knicks than any other team. Yes, he's from New York. Yes, he's experienced some success as an individual while wearing blue, white and orange.
But those factors shouldn't trump the lack of ability to adorn his fingers with the first ring of his career.
Can you imagine Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony suiting up for the same team?
There's no telling whether or not it would work, but it's at least worth a shot. Even if Kobe and 'Melo fight each other incessantly for ball control and the right to shoot whenever they so choose, Anthony still only has to wait for two years. Then the Mamba will presumably retire from the NBA, handing sole control of a premier franchise to the small forward.
But what if it works?
What if the combined offensive power of two of the best scorers in the Association overwhelms the opposition?
If that's the case, then Anthony has a serious shot to earn his first title, especially because the Lakers have so much financial flexibility that they might not be able to make use of all of it.
For this to happen, L.A. must decide it would rather have 'Melo than preserve cap space and wait for the inevitable pursuit of Kevin Love one year later. But that's irrelevant here, because we're working from Anthony's perspective.
Putting on purple and gold is a big deal for a star, after all.
According to Hoopsworld's Steve Kyler (via B/R's Dan Favale, as the original site is now defunct), the Los Angeles Clippers emerged as the favorites to land Carmelo Anthony right around Christmas:
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.
Now there are a couple of big obstacles preventing this from happening with any semblance of ease.
LAC is already well over the salary cap for 2014-15, so the only way for it to acquire a star like Anthony is through a sign-and-trade deal. And that means James Dolan would have to agree to part ways with Anthony, something that isn't likely to happen, as the New York head honcho would never facilitate a deal that couldn't happen otherwise.
Not when a star is involved.
Additionally, the sign-and-trade element means that the Clippers would be giving up an asset, and that's enough to push them slightly behind the No. 1 team in these rankings.
But trouble with this becoming a reality aside, it's a fantastic fit for Anthony.
He'd be able to play beside the league's best point guard (who he's been connected to in the past), a rising star in Blake Griffin and a great defensive presence in DeAndre Jordan. The offensive firepower would just be through the roof, and the positions they love on the court all mesh rather well together.
That's what actually matters here.
Carmelo Anthony, meet the perfect situation.
Why wouldn't you want to go play with two rising backcourt starts, a developing big man and a whole host of promising pieces? Better yet, why wouldn't you want to join all of them and get to play for a franchise that has roughly 871 first-round picks in the next few years?
Even though Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic used the early portion of the 2013-14 campaign to become fringe All-Stars, they'd both take a backseat to Anthony if he decided to start calling the desert home.
Anthony would bring a new element to the Phoenix Suns, as he'd be the best shot creator on the roster. Bledsoe is a great athlete and Dragic thrives with his slithery drives to the basket, but no one can knock down jumpers from the perimeter and hit mid-range looks quite like 'Melo.
The Clippers would be better with Anthony, but the Suns offer him more of an opportunity to be the face of the franchise while competing.
And hard as it is to fathom because we're talking about a team with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, Phoenix may well have more long-term upside because of the draft picks in its possession. Even though it would definitely need a sign-and-trade to bring back Bledsoe on a max deal and sign Anthony, the team has so many long-term assets that it could easily handle such a situation.
As Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney explains:
Phoenix wouldn't have sacrificed assets to acquire Bledsoe if they didn't plan to retain him beyond this season, meaning we should expect the Suns to play an active role in his restricted free agency. Even if Bledsoe winds up leaving Phoenix by way of a ridiculous offer, it's unlikely that Anthony would still be available by the time Bledsoe's signing—following the process of courtship, the signing of an offer sheet, and the ensuing waiting period—clears.
But remember, this isn't about the ease of acquiring Anthony. It's about how well he'd fit, and there's still a possibility of him and Bledsoe joining forces in Phoenix.
If 'Melo can get over his desire for a large market and his unspoken wish to play for one of the most well-known teams in the league, he may well land in the perfect spot.
He'd look pretty good in purple, don't you think?