Could Carmelo Anthony be moving on after this season? It's looking more and more likely.
With less than two months remaining in the regular season, the Knicks sit 15 games below .500 and five-and-a-half games out of a playoff spot in the downtrodden Eastern Conference. As of Feb. 26, they only have an 18.5 percent chance of qualifying for the postseason, per ESPN.com's Hollinger Playoff Odds.
Given the smoldering wreckage surrounding Anthony, there's little incentive for him to re-sign with the franchise this summer once he opts out of his contract. In fact, the Knicks' only real advantage will be the extra year they can offer him on his next deal.
Will that money be enough to lure 'Melo into signing a five-year deal with New York instead of a four-year deal elsewhere? Not if that's the Knicks' main selling point.
Dwight Howard, who gave up roughly $30 million in earnings last summer by spurning the Los Angeles Lakers for the Houston Rockets, told USA Today's Sam Amick that he has been in touch with Anthony to discuss his upcoming decision. According to Howard, 'Melo has only one thing on his mind:
He has been in the league for a long time. He hasn't made it to the Finals and at this point in his career he wants to win. You can see it every night when he plays. I know he has to take a lot of shots and all that stuff, but he just wants to win.
If you don't win, you're not going to get all the (off-court) stuff you want anyway. I saw that last year (in Los Angeles). I was in the biggest market for the NBA, and we lost, so those (companies) aren't going to be coming to you for losing.
Through the first 10 years of Anthony's career, he has never once missed the postseason. Given his ability to opt out this summer, the Knicks' implosion couldn't have come at a worse time.
One year ago Tuesday, the squad was ensnared in a battle for the No. 2 seed in the East. Now, New York is spiraling into a black hole of mediocrity, the likes of which appears increasingly difficult to escape.
Coach Mike Woodson has been on hot-seat watch since November. The squad failed to make a single move at the trade deadline; less than a week later, starting point guard Raymond Felton was arrested on two felony gun charges.
They've only won two of their past 10 games, rank 27th in points allowed per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com/stats, and haven't been able to get off the schneid, despite no shortage of heroics from their superstar.
Anthony has racked up 8.0 win shares this season, per Basketball-Reference.com. Combined, his teammates have accrued 17.1 win shares. To win a championship in New York, he'll need far more help than what he's currently receiving.
There's just one problem: The team has few avenues of improvement at its disposal.
Per ShamSports.com, the Knicks already have $90 million in salary committed in 2014-15, which will severely restrict their ability to add impact free agents this summer.
They're also down two first-round picks and all four of their second-round picks over the next four seasons, per RealGM, reducing their ability to improve via the draft. Since they can't trade their 2015 or 2017 first-round picks due to the Ted Stepien Rule, their trade opportunities will be that much more limited.
On Tuesday, Grantland's Zach Lowe summed up the state of New York basketball as such:
Bottom line: This organization is a mess, and they’ve failed horribly in developing Shumpert. The Knicks have actually drafted well — witness Tim Hardaway Jr.’s rookie season — but their defense is broken, their coach a lame duck (with a sweet goatee, though), and their player development shaky. What’s the long-term plan?
That final question—"what's the long-term plan?"—will be the determining factor regarding Anthony's future with New York. If the team can't explicitly enumerate how it will build a contender around him, its free-agency financial advantages won't be enough to incentivize him to stay.
Anthony has already earned more than $135 million in salary over the course of his 11-year NBA career, per Basketball-Reference.com. He brought in an additional $9 million in off-court earnings last year alone, according to Forbes.com.
The four-year max deal Howard signed with the Rockets last summer was for $88 million. If Anthony inks a similar contract with any team in July, he'll push himself past the $200 million threshold by the time his next deal expires. Sacrificing a potential $30 million in earnings becomes much more palatable with that in mind.
'Melo turns 30 in June. Barring a medical miracle, he'll begin losing his battle with Father Time over the next few seasons. He can't afford to wade his way through a rebuilding process over the next two to three seasons. If he's going to win a championship, he needs to find his way onto a contender this summer and begin building the requisite chemistry needed to win a title.
To the Knicks' credit, their salary-cap situation improves significantly following the 2014-15 season. Even if Felton and J.R. Smith exercise their player options for 2015-16, the team could have as little as $13.4 million committed in salaries (not counting Anthony's), per ShamSports.com.
'Melo recently told the New York Post's Marc Newman that he would take a pay cut this summer to "build something strong" in New York. Even if he signs the five-year max, the Knicks could have enough cap space to sign another free agent to a max contract in 2015, per Newman.
Is he willing to put his faith in James Dolan's ability to lure another big-name star to New York next summer? What happens if the Knicks strike out on the top-tier free agents, like they did in 2010 with LeBron James? If they can't land Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo or Marc Gasol, what then?
If the Knicks don't have a strong contingency plan for those scenarios, there's little reason for 'Melo to stay. Money alone won't convince him to chain himself to a sinking ship for the next half-decade.