The New York Knicks forward has an early termination option in his contract, one he seems almost sure to exercise. But once he does that, the world is his oyster. He could remain with the Knicks, or he could take his talents to a new location, one that's more conducive to immediate contention.
However, there's one more way to look at his choices.
'Melo could remain a hero in New York, ushering in the latest Phil Jackson era of Knicks basketball, or he could become the newest free-agent pariah.
There are no other choices.
Whether Anthony signs on with the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets or any of his other potential destinations this offseason, he'll be reviled in the Big Apple. At this point, there's no way around that, despite evidence to the contrary as recent as a week ago.
Basically, 'Melo is following in the footsteps of LeBron James and Dwight Howard.
When the former decided he would join the Miami Heat and leave behind his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, his jersey was burned in the street. James went from hero to villain in the time it took him to utter the words "South Beach" while sitting next to Jim Gray. When the latter left the Los Angeles Lakers to join the Houston Rockets, it was just a repeat of the same situation.
They say those who don't learn history are doomed to repeat it, and so it goes for Anthony.
How He Arrived
Howard leaving the Lakers was upsetting because the team had completed a sign-and-trade to land his services, then piled all hope on his ability to steer L.A. to a championship. Giving up Andrew Bynum was seen as a big price to pay then, especially since the star 7-footer was perceived as the leading challenger to D12's pole position among all NBA centers.
Obviously that's changed, but don't look at the move with hindsight bias.
The Lakers were expected to contend immediately, and that made it all the more painful when he left after failing to even steer the team through the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
For LeBron, it was his connection to the franchise that made the departure of his talents so unbearable.
James was just a kid from Akron when he was selected by the Cavaliers at No. 1 in the 2003 NBA draft. He helped restore the franchise's relevance while carrying the lackluster supporting cast to depths of the postseason heretofore unseen in modern Cleveland history.
If anyone was going to change the course of the city's beleaguered sport's history, it was the hometown hero.
But then he left, and it was perceived as LeBron turning his back on the city that had always supported him and perennially cheered for him. It wasn't just a free-agent decision but rather a betrayal.
'Melo's potential departure, scary as it may seem, would be a mixture of the two.
Not only is the high-scoring forward a New York native, born in Brooklyn and going to school at Syracuse, but he also essentially forced his way to the team while stripping the Knicks' coffers of any and all tradable assets.
Just look back at everything New York had to give up in the trade that originally reunited 'Melo with his home state:
- Wilson Chandler
- Raymond Felton
- Danilo Gallinari
- Timofey Mozgov
- Eddy Curry
- Anthony Randolph
- A 2012 second-round pick (Quincy Miller)
- A 2013 second-round pick (Romero Osby)
- A 2014 first-round pick
The Knicks are still paying for Anthony.
No matter how how high they end up picking in the loaded 2014 NBA draft, that pick will be transferred to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for the forward who has yet to bring any sort of postseason success to New York.
When he was acquired, he was saddled with championship aspirations, ones which he has failed to make good on.
Leaving a hometown team and doing so after an inability to deliver a championship when it cost so much to acquire him?
Now that's a combination that might make the reactions to LeBron and Howard's departures look relatively tame.
Recent Surge of Optimism
Had Anthony announced a desire to leave in the first week of March, it would have been understandable. But if he did so now, it would be greeted with the reaction I've been describing throughout this article.
While the Knicks were heading down a tunnel completely filled with a level of darkness you might find in the cavernous depths of a cave or at the bottom of the ocean, the acquisition of Jackson, as reported by ESPN's Ramona Shelburne and Chris Broussard, has provided the much-sought-after light at the end.
Does New York suddenly have money to spend this offseason? Will Amar'e Stoudemire's knees work? Can the floor at Madison Square Garden magically produce a competent point guard?
Unfortunately, the answer to all of those questions is a rather definitive no. Not even Jackson has that type of power.
So, what's different?
All it takes is one word to answer—optimism.
"He is a champion and a leader," STAT said about the hiring, via Brian of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "He knows what it takes to win. He has been around great organizations and has been successful."
Even 'Melo himself weighed in with a positive spin:
Jackson brings credibility to the Knicks organization, as well as a belief that James Dolan would adopt a hands-off approach. It's hard to believe Phil would bring his ring collection to Madison Square Garden if he didn't gain unquestioned power over any and all basketball decisions, even if Dolan has been remiss to surround himself with anything other than yes-men in the past.
Plus, the triangle offense would certainly help New York, as it helps make up for some of their biggest weaknesses: lack of a dominant point guard, struggling secondary scorers and an inability to get 'Melo to the post as frequently as he should be there.
As B/R's Josh Martin succinctly wrote while going over Jackson's to-do list in New York, "I suppose having the Zen Master on hand to sell any of those franchise-caliber talents on being the next great Knick doesn't hurt, either."
This is about as big an impact a front-office figure can possibly make in the opening salvo of his tenure, as Jackson completely reverses perception of New York management.
And in doing so, he also reverses the reaction that 'Melo would earn if he chooses to bolt this summer.