Here we go. Again.
After his grizzly departure from the Denver Nuggets to the New York Knicks, Carmelo Anthony looked to be set at Madison Square Garden. Only, comments regarding his impending free agency earlier in the season hinted at possibly leaving the Knicks. Much has been said to contrast that, but if it does happen, the blame will fall squarely on New York's front office.
Per a report from ESPN New York's Ian Begley, Anthony said:
I want to be a free agent. I think everybody in the NBA dreams to be a free agent at least one time in their career. It's like you have an evaluation period, you know. It's like if I'm in the gym and I have all the coaches, all the owners, all the GMs come into the gym and just evaluate everything I do. So yes, I want that experience.
He went on to ensure the concept of him leaving wasn't a certainty, saying "Does that mean I'm not coming back to New York? Not at all." It would seem Anthony is more about the air of being a free agent than actually becoming one and signing elsewhere.
He's averaged 27.1 points and 9.0 per game for New York this season, including a 62-point game on Jan. 24 that net Anthony both the Knicks and MSG records for most points in a game.
Anthony is often criticized for being a "black hole" on offense, but has been the only consistent player for New York thus far. The team currently sits tied for No. 9 in the Eastern Conference at 18-27, on the outside looking in on the postseason seeding.
The Knicks have few assets, and even fewer draft picks, which makes the future of this team tie into Anthony's decision.
As of today, New York sports the league's second-highest payroll at $87.04 million, per Hoops Hype. A total of $68.2 million is tied to just four players, in Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani.
As a comparison, the Oklahoma City Thunder's payroll tops out at $69.5 million with 14 players signed.
Of the 15 most expensive payrolls in the league, New York joins just the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics as teams that either don't have a winning record or in the running for a place in the playoffs. The Eastern Conference's dismal level of competition this season needs no explanation, aside from the fact that the Knicks are just one game back from the eighth seed with a .400 record.
More to the point, Anthony's decision will hinder on what New York can do to both improve the roster and clear up the payroll. Except the Knicks can't.
Stoudemire's contract is feasibly "untradeable" given his declining production, as he's owed $21.6 million this season and $23.4 million in the next one. It's no fault of Stoudemire's given his troublesome knees, but it was a red flag Knicks management decided to ignore when he was signed to a max-level contract in 2010.
To be fair, Stoudemire has put up 11.8 points (53.4 field-goal percentage) and 5.8 rebounds in January. He looks to be improving and getting his legs back under him, but he remains glaringly overpaid.
Bargnani will receive $11 million and $12 million in the next two seasons, averaging just 13.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in his first year with New York. He's been out the past three games (elbow), due to the fall below, and the Knicks have won three straight.
It's unlikely those games were won because Bargnani was out, but more so because his absence has forced the Knicks to play a different way. Stoudemire also hasn't played in the three games, as New York has gone back to a "small-ball" attack.
And it has translated to success for New York.
It should be noted the team faced the Charlotte Bobcats, the Lakers and the Celtics, and all three are underwhelming to say the least this season. But it remains three wins for a Knicks team that has struggled to get any lately.
Furthermore, New York's hands are tied in terms of signing other marquee free agents, leaving Anthony to fend for himself against the "Big Three"-laden teams of the NBA. The Knicks can't remedy the situation either, with no way out of clearing cap space.
Nobody is willing to take on the bloated deals of Stoudemire or Bargnani, and unless the former has a resurgent season, it will likely stay that way. New York has largely the same roster committed for next season, with just Beno Udrih and Kenyon Martin as the notable free agents.
In addition, it would seem Bargnani and Stoudemire do not fit with the gameplan the Knicks implement successfully. As seen with their recent three-game win streak, playing a smaller lineup proves to be a better approach.
As such, New York is essentially stuck with two players who are both on overpriced, unmovable contracts and neither fit well with what the team wants to do.
It's a difficult situation for Anthony, as New York is his home. As he put it: "I wanted to come here and take on the pressures of playing in New York." Realistically though, the Knicks have underachieved since Anthony's arrival and the future isn't getting any brighter.
It's in the best interest of both parties that Anthony remains in New York, and it's clear Anthony wants to be a Knick. Per a report from ESPN New York, his partner La La Anthony said "I definitely think he will stay. I know that he wants to stay."
But desire and common sense are two very separate states of mind. And they couldn't be more distinct when applied to Anthony's situation with New York.
And in most cases, the latter trumps the former.