The Top Factors Carmelo Anthony Must Consider in Free Agency

D.J. FosterContributor IMarch 12, 2014

The Top Factors Carmelo Anthony Must Consider in Free Agency

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    Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

    Update, March 12, 11:15 p.m. ET:

    NBA TV has reported that Phil Jackson will officially join the Knicks' front office.

    Original Text:

    Once this disastrous season for the New York Knicks finally comes to an end, Carmelo Anthony is going to have the biggest decision of his career on his hands. Should he stay or should he go?

    There are obviously a number of factors to consider, and things will change even more in the next few short months. As teams jockey for a chance at Anthony, he'll have to decide what's most important to him going forward.

    Will he choose to join an established star in another city in an effort to win a title? Is staying in New York and bringing talent to him the best idea? Should he join up with a young team with lots of assets and make a play for the future? Should he take a cut in salary or not?

    Again, there are lots of different ways a star like Anthony can take this, but that doesn't mean he can't use a little objective help in prioritizing his needs. Let's break down the top factors Anthony should consider in free agency.

Financial Security

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    David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

    A lot of people might scoff at the suggestion that Carmelo Anthony should be worried about making more money, given the high salaries he's earned in the past and all the endorsement cash he's been able to pocket.

    Begrudging Anthony for wanting to make as much money as possible while doing his job at a level very few others in the world can touch seems silly though, as it would be for any other profession.

    As Anthony has seen up close with Amar'e Stoudemire, a major injury or two can rob you of most of your ability. What's Stoudemire's next deal look like? And how silly would he feel for missing out on the millions he was once worth?

    Point being, Anthony will turn 30 this offseason, so this theoretically could be his last full max deal. Health and future demand isn't guaranteed for anyone, not even someone as talented as Anthony.

    Sacrificing a little bit of money with a direct purpose (like Chris Bosh and LeBron James did) is understandable and would be advisable in that situation, but Anthony shouldn't feel the need to demand less than a max contract based on future promises that may or may not be fulfilled. 

    Mistakenly call it selfish or greedy or whatever you will, but Anthony shouldn't hesitate to secure a max offer in nearly any situation this offseason. Ultimately, the responsibility for teams to manage their money properly and make smart financial decisions doesn't fall on Melo. 

Great Ownership/Management

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    Speaking of ownership and management, here's an area where Anthony can really upgrade if he looks elsewhere. The Knicks have been a disaster on this front ever since Anthony came to New York, and with Knicks owner James Dolan presiding over everything, it might not get better soon.

    Of course, there's the hope that soon-to-be anointed team president Phil Jackson can help bring some credibility back and convince Anthony to stay, but that might not be a given. Here's what Anthony told reporters about Jackson's impact after a shootaround in Boston, as transcribed by Peter Botte of the New York Daily News.

    “I don’t think it’ll have any effect on me, just as far as what I’m thinking or my decision or anything like that,” Anthony said. “Like I said, I haven’t talked to Phil yet, just to get his insight on a lot of things, what’s his plan, what’s his future plan, because everything’s in his hands now.”

    Anthony is smart to be non-committal at this point, but there's plenty of history to suggest that Dolan will ultimately insert himself heavily into basketball decisions, regardless of who is running things.

    New York's mishandled management situation should be enough alone for Anthony to consider moving on, since there's only so much he can control on his own on the floor. Finding a competent general manager, an owner willing to spend but not meddle unnecessarily and a good coach shouldn't be too much to ask at the end of the day.

    The Knicks are run like a dictatorship, but there are democracies with checks and balances out there in the league. This isn't an area where Anthony should make concessions. He'll improve any team he signs with, but he can't fix the infrastructure. 

Another Star

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    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

    Would Anthony consider joining another (and possibly bigger) star this offseason? Here's Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com weighing in with what Anthony had to say about the Big Three in Miami, and what it might mean.

    In an interview with NBA TV, Carmelo Anthony called LeBron James' decision to sign with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami in the summer of 2010 "smart." 

    "They were smart,” Anthony told NBA TV's Ahmad Rashad. “I think it’s smart. It was their choice.” 

    For those who like to read between the lines, that can be taken two ways. Anthony will test free agency this summer. If he thinks it's smart to join forces with another superstar, he might end up signing with another team to play alongside a top player (Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles?). Or Anthony's assertion could mean he's committed to bringing another star player to New York. 

    A lot will likely depend on Anthony's sense of urgency. If he's looking to join a star right away, Bryant and the Lakers, Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks and Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah and the Chicago Bulls would all suffice.

    Each scenario would come with unique sacrifices, though, of course.

    Since the Knicks will be well beyond the cap and deep into the luxury tax if Anthony re-signs for the maximum five years, $129 million, there will be virtually no way to recruit another star for next season. That will have to wait until the 2015 offseason.

    With that in mind, Anthony may be wise to consider all his options and keep a close eye on which way other stars are leaning before making his decision.

Flexibility

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    You can certainly make the argument that Anthony might be better off delaying his free agency a year, particularly if LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade all stay in Miami and no other major free agents join him in this class.

    Anthony missed out on the chance to team up with other superstar free agents in a new destination once, and it could happen again this year.

    While it's definitely risky to give up long-term financial security and stay with the Knicks on his current deal for one more season, Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com makes a good argument for why it might make sense:

    If Anthony opts out this summer, he could be compromising himself again, this time doing it a year too early. He could miss out on a great chance to find the best situation with the best teammates. By opting in for 2014-15 and signing a new max deal in summer 2015, Anthony would earn an additional $4.27 million through 2017-18 and be able to lock in an additional season, per Larry Coon.

    "It really comes down to what the player truly wants because that is what matters, you will execute his decision," said one of the NBA's top agents, who does not represent Anthony. "But I would advise my star clients that 2015 is a better year to be a free agent if getting onto a championship contender is the top priority."

    Ultimately, this might only be logical if Anthony is prepared to leave in the 2015 offseason and doesn't like his current options in free agency. If the plan is to stay in New York, locking up a max deal now and helping to recruit another star next offseason would be the smarter move. 

    This all speaks to a greater point, though. Anthony should value teams that have financial and roster flexibility, as he's seen what it's like to play on a capped out, strapped for talent team. The Knicks will have some desperately needed flexibility soon, which might not be true for a few other teams with cap space this offseason.

Championship Contender

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    Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Here's the biggest factor of them all. Anthony should get the money he's worth, find a team with a great infrastructure, try to team up with another star and keep an eye on flexibility, but what that all leads to is finding a team that can be a championship contender going forward.

    This is simply the most pivotal decision of Anthony's career, and it could end up defining his legacy.

    Will we view him as an elite scorer who never lived up to his full potential, or a player that had his chances taken away (a la Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, etc.) by one of the greatest players of all-time in LeBron James?

    That should be the primary fear that motivates Anthony, and to quell that fear, he'll need to find a team where he can win a ring. He'll need to consider market size, family and friends and everything else of course. But ultimately, Anthony should gravitate to the team that can best offer him the chance to win a championship. If he misses out on that, that's what he'll regret most. 

    Winning makes everything a little better, and so finding a team that has either been close to winning a title or will be with his addition has to be the top priority for Anthony as he enters free agency.