Which NBA Teams Would Give Carmelo Anthony Max Money?

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 20, 2014

Which NBA Teams Would Give Carmelo Anthony Max Money?

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Carmelo Anthony will have some options this summer.

    And although Phil Jackson's presence in the New York Knicks front office has everyone around Madison Square Garden feeling better about the team's chances of retaining the league's second-leading scorer, 'Melo's summer of freedom looms large on the horizon.

    Anthony will test the free-agency waters by exercising the early-termination option in his contract with the Knicks, allowing him to field offers from teams around the league.

    Despite the Knicks' woeful season, 'Melo has thrived this year. In fact, he's enjoying a career-best campaign by many statistical measures. His player efficiency rating is at an all-time high of 25.1, he's averaging more rebounds per game than ever and his true shooting percentage is higher than it's been in any of the past five years.

    As such, 'Melo is going to command top dollar.

    But which squads around the league can afford to pay him what he's worth? And which ones have the combination of big-market appeal and winning potential he craves?

    The list isn't as long as you might think.


    *All salary data via Shamsports.com.

New York Knicks

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    We have to start here, right?

    There are max deals and max deals, and the Knicks can offer the latter, per Ian Begley of ESPN:

    If he chooses to opt out and sign with another team, he can sign a four-year contract worth $95,897,372, according to calculations by ESPN salary cap guru Larry Coon. If Anthony opts out and re-signs with the Knicks, he can sign a five-year contract worth $129,135,806. That's a difference of $33,238,434. 

    Nobody can make 'Melo richer than the Knicks, and they're the only team that can guarantee him a fifth year.

    As Anthony heads into his 30s, it's fair to assume he won't be in line for another long, lucrative deal after he signs his next one. Cashing in and securing as many years as possible isn't a greedy move; it's a financially savvy decision for a guy whose career lifespan won't extend into his 40s.

    Plus, Jackson's on board. The Zen Master sees Anthony as a part of the team's future, and 'Melo has already said he's on the same page as his new team president. It might take another couple of years for the Knicks to give Anthony the elite supporting cast he'll need, but the extra $33 million he'd get by sticking around could help with any impatience.

Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Per Adrian Wojnarowksi of Yahoo! Sports, the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets are the teams most likely to sign Anthony if he ditches New York:

    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 deals alongside Dwight Howard and James Harden, league sources said.

    The key phrase there is "near-max." Neither the Bulls nor the Rockets have a clear path toward freeing up enough cash to top off 'Melo's salary tank. And it'll take a lot of roster shuffling for either club to even get close.

    Chicago has nearly $64 million committed to next year's salaries, which already puts it over the projected cap of $62.1 million. To create space to nearly max out 'Melo, the Bulls will have to amnesty Carlos Boozer, cut ties with Mike Dunleavy and find a way to erase Taj Gibson's $8 million salary from the picture.

    That's no easy task, and even if the Bulls pulled it off, they'd have less than a max offer for Anthony and a significantly depleted roster around him.

    Houston is in the same boat, with over $60 million in commitments in 2014-15. For a start, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin would both have to go. Even then, the Rockets would only clear $16 million in space, meaning they'd come nowhere near the four-year, $96 million deal Anthony could get from another team.

    We don't know if 'Melo will require the max, but with all the buzz surrounding Houston and Chicago, it seems worth mentioning that neither is positioned to give it to him.

Dallas Mavericks

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Mark Cuban hasn't had much luck luring A-list free agents to the Dallas Mavericks in recent summers (Deron Williams and Dwight Howard, to name two), and it's hard to know if he'll take a swing at Anthony this year.

    But Dallas has the cash to max him out.

    There are, of course, a few qualifiers. Though the Mavs have just $31 million earmarked for next season's player salaries, they're somewhat limited in their flexibility by the hefty cap holds assigned to Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter.

    Until the Mavericks re-sign or renounce their rights to those players, they can't make it rain on 'Melo.

    In addition, there's the issue of Nowitzki's next contract. It's unfathomable that Dallas would allow Dirk to play out his final years someplace else, but if it offers him anything close to what he's worth, there won't be enough left over to max out Anthony.

    Per Tim McMahon of ESPN Dallas:

    The Mavs would love to land a legitimate superstar to pair with Dirk Nowitzki, but a strong argument could be made that Melo doesn't make sense for Dallas at that price. The Mavs would have to do some significant roster trimming to free up that much cap space, unless Dirk took a historically unprecedented pay cut.

    Dallas is going to be a player for Anthony, largely because there aren't many other options.

    If we're after entertainment, though, we should be rooting against Cuban getting his man. The Mavericks' owner popped off with the following quote after losing out on Howard last summer, per McMahon: "I say that every year. It's nothing personal. I still like Dwight as a person. But I still want the Rockets, like every other team, to have a horrible season. It's nothing personal. I just want them to suck."

    Who wouldn't want more Cuban-isms like that?

Los Angeles Lakers

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Anthony's consistent excellence as a member of Team USA taught us he's at his best when not asked to make other players better. He thrived as a relentless gunner whose only job was to score the rock.

    Facilitation and the broader concerns of leadership don't suit him.

    Kobe Bryant might not have the health or skills left to dominate in the next two years like he did over the past 15, but he's most certainly a leader. So there's a good case to be made that Anthony could do worse than signing on to play with Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.

    L.A. has a ton of cash available this summer, with only Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre guaranteed to collect checks. Pau Gasol's cap hold and the problem of filling out a roster around a couple of lonely stars will complicate things, but Los Angeles can max out Anthony if it wants to.

    Obviously, the Lakers don't present an enticing option at the moment. They're old, they might be on the hunt for a new coach (and they'd better be if they want to attract Anthony; Mike D'Antoni isn't his favorite) and the overall luster of life as a Laker has diminished greatly in recent years.

    Still, the money's there. And if big markets and stardom are what 'Melo wants, he can't do better than L.A.

Phoenix Suns

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    The big-time shine of New York and Los Angeles is absent, but life in the desert could still be pretty sunny for Anthony.

    The Phoenix Suns, who have just under $34 million set aside for next year's salaries, can create enough wiggle room to offer Anthony a max deal. With Jeff Hornacek occupying the inside track for the Coach of the Year Award, Goran Dragic playing like a superstar and a wholly appealing offensive style, these Suns offer 'Melo an intriguing package.

    Eric Bledsoe is a restricted free agent, though, which could seriously complicate things. The Suns can match any offer he receives on the open market, but if the young combo guard's price is too high Phoenix might not have the flexibility it needs to satisfy Anthony's salary demands.

    Big stars have thrived with the Suns before. Charles Barkley, Jason Kidd, Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire enjoyed big endorsements and national attention during their time in Phoenix. So Anthony shouldn't expect a few years in Phoenix to completely destroy his Q rating.

    Still, the Suns feel like a long shot.

The 'No Chance' Gang

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    Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

    Utah Jazz

    In the interest of completeness, it's only fair to mention the Utah Jazz as one of the teams that could, if given the chance, offer Anthony a max salary. Would they, though?

    With only $31 million owed to next year's roster, the rebuilding Jazz could do worse than adding a superstar leading scorer to the team. But Utah seems committed to building a more complete team, and it didn't let Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap walk away for nothing because it wanted to blow almost $100 million on a superstar who's never won anything.

    I'm guessing the Jazz's rebuilding plans are subtler, probably involving more than a single free-agent splash.

    And let's get serious—Anthony wouldn't go to one of the league's most insignificant markets for twice the max salary.


    Philadelphia 76ers

    Philly is a big market with at least some national cache, but there's no way Anthony's heading to the Philadelphia 76ers either.

    With Sam Hinkie, a guy who was integral in bringing James Harden to Houston, in charge of personnel moves, there's a good chance the Sixers will take a swing at a star. Anthony could be on their list, but it might not be wise to dig into their mountain of cap space to take a shot at a guy whom the analytics movement is less than fond of.

    Hinkie is from the Daryl Morey school of basketball nerddom after all. He's after undervalued commodities, market inefficiencies and sneakily useful assets. Anthony isn't really any of those things.

    If Carmelo walked up to Hinkie and said, "sign me," maybe all of the analytics in the world wouldn't keep him from pulling the trigger. But that's not a plausible scenario because of how far Philadelphia is from a title and how little help currently exists on the roster.

    'Melo's not interested.