The Knicks can offer him more money and years than any other team. They are also run by James Dolan, a petty tin-pot dictator incapable of making rational decisions when it comes to handing out contracts. He proved as much when he declared he would not take a mulligan on Amar'e Stoudemire's massive (and salary cap-crippling) contract during a November interview with the New York Post's Mike Vaccaro.
It's a free market, and he should be able to take whatever he can get from a franchise that has only money to offer, and not success.
But what of the Knicks? If they were run like a competent basketball franchise, they wouldn't offer Melo the max. In the salary-cap era, a $129 million deal for a great player can be just as devastating to a club's future as a lesser deal for a mediocre player. Anthony is the kind of player a team can build around, but his cap-clogging deal, combined with the Knicks' lack of young, cost-effective players and tradable assets, would cripple the Knicks for the next five years.
For his part, Melo has shown a willingness to take less money to stay with his hometown team, per the New York Times' Scott Cacciola:
Carmelo: If it takes me taking a paycut, I’ll be the first one on Mr. Dolan’s steps saying, 'Take my money, let’s build something stronger.'— Scott Cacciola (@ScottCacciola) February 14, 2014
But Dolan's love affair with handing out max contracts may actually preclude Melo from taking such a discount. This is a man who loves nothing more than rewarding his guys. He is almost certain to start this summer's negotiations with the five-year, $129 million contract that is allowed under the collective bargaining agreement. He shouldn't do it, but he will.
The pressure should be on the front office to play hardball and save cap space to build a contender. But the Knicks' brain trust has the collective negotiating tact of a class of preschoolers begging for some cookies.
And if Melo accepts that deal, both he and the Knicks will likely be doomed to more seasons like 2013-14.
If James Dolan and the Knicks front office are concerned about anything (and, given their history, they probably aren't), they are likely worried about a potential fan backlash if Carmelo Anthony bolts. After all, Melo is the local boy made good, the natural successor to Knicks legend Bernard King.
But the fans have already turned against the front office, regardless of what Anthony does.
In fact, we might be on the verge of a rare moment in professional sports history. Not only is Anthony, a star in the prime of his career, better off leaving the city of his birth, but a large portion of the local fans also wouldn't hold it against him if he left.
Just look at the comments from SB Nation's Knicks site Posting and Toasting following Saturday's loss to the Atlanta Hawks, a game in which Melo scored 35 points less than one day after scoring 44 in a double-overtime loss to the Orlando Magic:
- "Kinda hope he does leave. Well I mean… not really. But I like Melo. He deserves better than this s--t."
- "I used to not want him to leave because we gave up so much for him, and he’s the best player on the team, and possibly the best player we’ve had since Ewing. Now I want him to leave because of those things. Because he’s so good, and he has at most one or two more years of being this good left. I don’t want him to waste those years here. He deserves better, and I really hope he has someone in his group of people who tells him that."
- "Be free, Melo. Be free..."
If Melo bolts, this won't be a rerun of "The Decision." Melo has never led the Knicks to the NBA Finals, as LeBron did for the Cavaliers. And unlike Cleveland, the fans in New York understand the departure of their star would have far more to do with the state of the franchise than the player.
Focus on the Future
Believe it or not, Melo has actually raised his game as of late. Since being freed from the shackles of inefficiency caused by the team's over-reliance on Andrea Bargnani, Melo has single-handedly dragged the Knicks offense toward elite status. In the 15 games since Bargnani injured his elbow, the Knicks have posted an offensive rating of 110.8, which would be tied for fourth in the NBA over the full season.
Think about that for a moment. Who does Melo have to support him right now? Raymond Felton has been borderline unusable most of the season. J.R. Smith, though playing somewhat better of late, hasn't recaptured the form that made him last season's Sixth Man of the Year. Tim Hardaway Jr. has shot only 30.9 percent from beyond the arc in February.
In short, Carmelo Anthony has been a one-man offensive dynamo. He will never be the quality of two-way player that LeBron James is, but calling him just a scorer is like calling Picasso "just a painter."
Yet the Knicks are only 6-9 in that time. Basketball is still a team sport, and New York has not put together a squad worthy of Melo's talents.
As Bleacher Report's Dan Favale points out, the front office has little time to realistically put together a contender by the end of Melo's athletic prime:
Winning is something the Knicks aren't doing now and by most other appearances, don't plan on seriously doing until summer 2015, when superstars Kevin Love and Rajon Rondo become available. So to win, or rather, have the opportunity to win in New York, Anthony must continue to exhibit the same patience he's upheld since 2011.
At this point of his career, that's a risk he cannot afford to take for much longer. Anthony will be 30 when he hits the open market, so, in theory, the Knicks must be a team he considers on the verge of contending if he's to stay.
The very idea that the front office is simply sitting back and hoping the likes of Love or Rondo fall into their laps in free agency is just another indication that they haven't learned their lesson. They are not interested in developing cheap young players and assembling assets for possible trades. Instead, they prefer to fall back on their well-worn strategy of "get all of the stars, win championship."
Dreams of luring Rondo and Love are becoming more delusional by the day. The Knicks don't need more stars; they need less interference from the front office.
The Knicks should take this opportunity to undergo a true rebuilding process. It won't be easy, because New York has already sold off their first-round picks in 2014 and 2016, but the first few years of the Donnie Walsh era showed that Dolan is less interested in the Knicks when they are rebuilding. If the team can find a smart GM and fly under the owner's radar for a few years, they might have a chance to finally construct a competent team from the ground up.
*All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.