Will Projected NBA Salary-Cap Increase Open Door for Carmelo Anthony Exit?

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Will Projected NBA Salary-Cap Increase Open Door for Carmelo Anthony Exit?
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Money doesn't just talk; it beckons. It creates options. It opens doors. 

It plays to the impatient side of New York Knicks superstar and soon-to-be-free agent Carmelo Anthony.

When Anthony hits free agency in July, he is going to have options. There will be teams offering him an olive branch, an escape from the playoff, cap-spaceless horror show the Knicks have become.

To be certain, it was always going to be like this. Anthony was always going to have options. Big-market taste would limit his free-agent shopping list, but it wouldn't cease to exist. 

Even so, the Knicks were, the Knicks are, still considered favorites. They can offer him five years and close $130 million, giving Anthony plenty of reasons to stay in New York after he missed the postseason for the first time in his career.

But aside from the money, newly instated team president Phil Jackson and the prospect of a free-agent spending spree in summer 2015, all signs point to 'Melo remaining in New York out of want for other, palpable options.

Outside teams will show interest, sure—plenty of them, actually. Few, if any, however, would be able to offer Anthony the maximum allowed—four years, approximately $96 million—thereby insisting he take an even more drastic pay cut to flee New York.

More than a decade into his career, accepting a pay cut isn't out of the question, but this potential one is shaping up to be obnoxious even for the most desperate championship-seeking players looking to save their legacy from ringless perdition.

Or at least, it was.

According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the NBA's salary cap is expected to increase by more than initially projected:

The NBA has informed teams that it is projecting a rise in the salary cap of nearly $5 million for next season, which could aid clubs such as Chicago and Houston in their attempts to steal free agent-to-be Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks, according to sources familiar with the forecasts.

Sources told ESPN.com that all 30 teams were informed this week via league memorandum that an increase in the cap from this season's $58.6 million to $63.2 million in 2014-15 -- thanks to increased revenues --is now expected. A corresponding rise in the luxury-tax threshold from $71.7 million to $77 million is also projected, sources said.

As Stein explains, nothing is official until the league's July audit. But if those figures prove accurate, the financial ramifications of Anthony leaving New York aren't as great, which, for the Knicks, is potentially disastrous.

 

Increased Spending Power

Truth be told, the new cap figure being thrown around isn't that much higher than the previous one.

Last June, Larry Coon, author of the CBA FAQ, had next season's cap falling within roughly $1 million of the latest projection:

Increasing this figure to $63.2 million essentially gives teams under the salary cap an extra $1.1 million to spend. For most of the teams expected to chase Anthony, this will prove inconsequential.

Take the Chicago Bulls, who, along with the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers, are expected to give Anthony chase this summer, according to the New York Daily News' Frank Isola. Though they stand to benefit the most of anyone, their flexibility isn't increased by much.

The Bulls have a little more than $63.8 million on their books next season. By amnestying Carlos Boozer, they diminish their salary commitments to approximately $47 million. Before we even consider minimum cap holds, the salary of their first-round draft pick and whatever Nikola Mirotic may or may not cost, that allows them to offer Anthony a starting salary of $16.2 million, significantly below the maximum.

For the Bulls to up their offer, Mike Dunleavy's $3.3 million salary still needs to be dumped, and there's no guarantee they would be able to stop there. Taj Gibson or someone else could become fair game depending on how the Mirotic saga unfolds and how much less—assuming he will even take less—Anthony is willing to accept. 

Bill Baptist/Getty Images

Similar "benefits" apply to the Rockets. They have more than $62.7 million in total salary obligations next year. That number could change, but assuming Francisco Garcia exercises his player option and the Rockets pick up Chandler Parsons' team option, it's a good indication of where they stand.

General manager Daryl Morey's first order of business will be to dump Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. Moving them would wipe close to $16.8 million from Houston's books, leaving the Rockets with $45.9 million in salary commitments, allowing them to offer Anthony somewhere in the realm of $17.3 million, before cap holds and other transactions come into play.

That additional $1.1 million is useful, but it doesn't change much, if anything, for teams like the Rockets and Bulls. Their spending capacity is still predicated on the ability to clear their books via trades and salary dumps as much as possible, as quickly as possible.

 

Sign-and-Trades

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Real benefits are found in the luxury-tax threshold.

By increasing the luxury tax, the NBA increases the luxury-tax apron, making it easier for competing, nearly capped-out teams to acquire Anthony in a sign-and-trade, per ESPN New York's Ian Begley:

First off, it makes it easier for New York to execute a sign-and-trade involving Anthony. In order to complete a sign-and-trade, teams that receive Anthony in a sign-and-trade need to be under the salary 'apron' following the trade. If the new projections hold, it means the apron will increase to $81 million. So the extra $5 million of space makes the sign-and-trade easier to execute.

Whichever team wishes to trade for Anthony needs to be under that $81 million threshold. That alone helps teams with promising assets, like the Rockets or someone else. It also makes it easier for the Knicks to find a trade partner if they decide to help facilitate Anthony's departure.

While the idea of the Knicks aiding his escape seems absurd, Jackson isn't owner James Dolan. He won't let emotions and ego get in the way of doing business.

If there's a deal out there that can help the team and Anthony wants to leave, chances are he won't hesitate to negotiate.

 

Not a Whole New Ballgame

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

This latest salary-cap increase changes next to nothing.

Will it increase the spending capacity of teams beneath the salary cap?

Yes.

Does it make it more financially plausible for teams like the Bulls and Rockets to whisk Anthony away?

Yes, again.

Does is drastically alter the hoops interested teams must leap through and individual sacrifices Anthony must make?

Not even close.

Leaving New York outside of a sign-and-trade will still force Anthony to take less, a lot less, more than the $30-plus million less he must accept if he's to sign for the maximum elsewhere.

Some people still think the perfect situation exists, or that Anthony's free agency will all just fall into place the way it did for the Miami Heat and LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in 2010. That's not going to happen.

Either Anthony re-signs with the Knicks for an obscene nine-figure payday, conceding that he won't legitimately contend for an NBA championship until at least 2015, or he promises himself to a more title-ready contingent that costs him tens of millions of dollars in financial security.

Matt York

Money vs. contention. Winning vs. earning potential. Dollars and cents vs. rings. That's been the predicament all along, and it's not going to change now that a few teams may or may not be granted $1.1 million in additional cap room while falling markedly shy of the dreaded luxury-tax apron.

Would the increased salary cap impact Anthony's free-agency decision?

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"Sometimes," 'Melo said, per MSG Networks' Alan Hahn (via Sulia), "the grass isn't always greener on the other side."

Sometimes, that's because the other side isn't ready to contend.

Sometimes, that's because the other side isn't armed with enough cash.

Sometimes, that's because the other side isn't home, the team Anthony is desperately searching for a reason, any reason, to remain with.

No one quite knows which side Anthony prefers, whether he prioritizes money, loyalty and uncertain promises over winning. But we do know that a $1.1 million uptick in salary-cap projections isn't significant enough to completely alter the outcome of a decision as fragile and serious as this.

 

*Salary information via ShamSports.

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