Rockets and Bulls Reportedly Biggest Threats to Sign Carmelo Anthony

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 19, 2014

Jan 3, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) brings the ball up the court during the third quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. The Rockets defeated the Knicks 102-100. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks fancy themselves as championship contenders, but there are two teams with actual podium potential that have emerged as top suitors for perennial All-Star Carmelo Anthony.

The Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets are reportedly both prepared to toss their hats in the Anthony sweepstakes. The No. 4 seeds in their respective conferences, Chicago and Houston apparently each see Anthony as the missing puzzle piece.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports explained:

Anthony has free-agent options, and two have risen above everything else: Chicago and Houston, sources with direct knowledge of his plans told Yahoo Sports. The Bulls have an easier path to clear the necessary salary-cap space to sign Anthony, but the Rockets believe they can shed the contracts necessary to offer a third near-max deal alongside Dwight Howard and James Harden, league sources said.

Technically, Anthony isn't yet an official part of the 2014 free-agent class. He has another year left on his contract that he would need to opt out of first.

But Melo himself has painted that process as something of a formality. Prior to the start of the season, he said simply, "I want to be a free agent," per Rafi Kohan of the New York Observer.

Entering free agency is one thing but leaving the Empire State would be quite another.

There are reasons, tangible and intangible, to gut it out in the Big Apple.

The Knicks can offer him an additional year and roughly $30 million more than any other team. They can also give him the chance to work under newly named president Phil Jackson, who sounded eager to work with the reigning scoring champ.

Mar 18, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks new president of basketball of operations Phil Jackson is introduced at a press conference at Madison Square Garden.  Mandatory Credit: William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports
The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

"I have no problems with committing to saying Carmelo is in the future plans," Jackson said during his introductory press conference Tuesday, via Ian Begley of ESPN New York, "I think Carmelo, as great a player as he is, still has another level he can go to."

The question now is whether he'll try to reach that next gear in New York. That's reportedly still his preference, but it's far from the only door that will be open to him.

"He'll give New York every option," a source told Wojnarowski, "But he has options—and he's going to explore them all."

All three franchises could put superstars around him, but the Knicks would almost certainly need to wait another year to make that happen. The eight-figure contracts of Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani all expire in 2015, positioning the organization to be a major player for what could be a star-studded class.

Houston and Chicago, though, require no such patience. Superstars are already in place—James Harden and Dwight Howard for the Rockets, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah for the Bulls.

This decision may hinge on how quickly Anthony's championship clock is ticking. With three total playoff series wins on his resume, he might need to seek out elite-level assistance to validate his place in the NBA's aristocracy.

New York can sell Anthony on its rich history and potentially bright future. If he's thinking about the present, though, it will be tough for the Knicks to match what the Rockets and Bulls can bring to the table.