What Team Gives Carmelo Anthony the Best Chance to Win?

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 22, 2014

Carmelo Anthony wants to win—just ask him.

With free agency looming after 'Melo's inevitable exercise of an early-termination option in his contract this summer, he'll get a chance to pursue success on the open market. To do so, he'll have to turn down a whole lot of money.

Remember, the New York Knicks can offer an extra year and $30 million in extra cash to retain him. Anthony, though, is adamant: Winning will trump money.

"He wants to be in a situation where he can start winning, and he is going to look at teams based on that,” a source told Sean Deveney of SportingNews.com. “Coaching is only a part of the equation. What they do now is not going to be as important as can they win?”

That report comes on the heels of Mike Woodson getting the axe as Knicks head coach, so it's somewhat topical. But 'Melo has been saying the same thing all along.

"At this point in my career, it's about winning," he told Ian Begley of ESPN. "Nothing else even matters."

Sensing a trend yet?

Per Marc Berman of the New York Post, Anthony said: 

At this point of my career, I’m not concerned with money. The contract will be the contract. I like to consider myself financially stable. For me, it’s more day-to- day stuff, competing at a high level, night in, night out, having a chance of reaching my ultimate goal of winning that championship.

OK, 'Melo, we get it. Winning is big deal. Or so you say.

Before we go lauding Anthony's oft-stated goal, let's get something straight: He doesn't just want to win.

Anthony understands his reputation will be tied to his victory total, and he knows rings matter more in that calculus than anything else. But he's working at something besides his legacy with all his "winning" talk.

He's laying the groundwork for an exit Knicks fans will understand.

They suffered through the same horrible season he did. They know winning is probably not in the near-term cards for a franchise with no picks or salary flexibility. By talking only about winning, but trumping it up as his lone aim, Anthony is setting up a scenario in which he, unlike LeBron James or any other star leaving a city in the lurch, can escape without incurring the wrath of fans.


It's also possible most New Yorkers won't arrive at the same hopeless conclusion when analyzing the Knicks' chances of success in the immediate future. You'll be surprised to know the same contingent of fans who defended the Andrea Bargnani trade will also see a bright future ahead, regardless of, you know, reality.

Anyhow, 'Melo is making a smart move—even if it's obviously disingenuous. If Anthony only wanted to win, he'd already be playing for the San Antonio Spurs or Miami Heat for the veteran's minimum.

We can't begrudge him whatever money he wants to collect, and Anthony's openness to leaving New York proves it's not all about dollar signs, either. But we have to call the broken record of "winning" talk what it is: A PR move.

So, when we discuss where 'Melo should go if he wants a chance to win, we can't include teams such as Miami or San Antonio because we know he'd like to be paid in the process. And we also have to rule out just about every other club that can't max him out (or come very close).

That only leaves a handful of options.


Los Angeles Clippers

The only conceivable way for Anthony to wind up with the Los Angeles Clippers is through a sign-and-trade that includes someone like Blake Griffin heading back to New York.

L.A. is already projected to be substantially over the salary cap next year and cannot sign Anthony outright.

'Melo would be hard pressed to find another destination with more talent, but it's difficult to imagine the Clips sending Griffin away in the bargain. Griffin is a younger, better player than Anthony at this juncture, and he fits alongside Chris Paul much more comfortably than the ball-dominant 'Melo.

If Los Angeles suffers an unlikely defeat in the first round of these playoffs, perhaps there'll be pressure to shake up the roster in a significant way. But after seeing the 40-point thrashing they laid on the Golden State Warriors in Game 2, it doesn't appear the Clips are in any real danger of an early postseason exit.

Anthony could win games with the Clippers, but they're not a realistic option.


Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant's future as an impactful NBA player is as short as it is uncertain. Even if No. 24 rehabs like a maniac (something he's already reportedly doing, via Ramona Shelburne of ESPN), his advanced age means he's got no more than a year or two before the next significant physical breakdown.

With a fat contract that limits flexibility and a reputation for clashing with any star with whom he comes into contact, Bryant isn't the most appealing option as a teammate.

Besides, for all their past tradition and motivation to succeed in the future, the Lakers don't currently have the kind of supporting cast that 'Melo needs to chase titles. There's some flexibility in terms of payroll going forward, but with Anthony on board and Bryant's contract clogging the books, that wiggle room would all but disappear.

Anthony is going to be in his mid-30s by the time his next contract is likely to end, which means he won't have the patience necessary to endure the multiyear rebuild L.A. is facing.


Houston Rockets

An intriguing option, the Houston Rockets could carve out nearly enough space to offer Anthony a max deal if they can somehow move both Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. Teaming 'Melo with Dwight Howard and James Harden would immediately give Houston its own legitimately terrifying big three.

There are questions about fit here, though, as 'Melo needs the ball, and Howard already complains about his touches as a secondary option behind Harden. It's hard to see how an Anthony-Harden pairing would be much different. I'm not sure that tandem brings out the best in either party.

Besides, the West is a minefield where teams with 48 wins don't make the playoffs. If Anthony is looking for wins—or a clear path to the NBA Finals—he won't find it in a conference where all eight playoff seeds are capable of winning playoff series.


Chicago Bulls

That leaves the Chicago Bulls, everybody's favorite 'Melo destination for good reason: They give him the best chance to win and collect a near-max salary.

Carlos Boozer would have to be an amnesty casualty, but that's been a a foregone conclusion for what seems like years.

The Bulls already have an elite defense in place, and they need a scorer to help take care of business on the other end. Plus, we know Anthony has some interest in (or at least respect for) head coach Tom Thibodeau and his system:

And as B/R's Stephen Babb noted, the fit for Anthony's skills is obvious:

With Joakim Noah anchoring the defense and Rose initiating the offense, Anthony could focus on what he does best: putting the ball in the basket. The Bulls would instantly become one of the favorites to challenge the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference.

That last part is the real key. The Heat are currently the only championship-caliber team in the conference, and there's no telling what might happen if LeBron James decides he wants to play someplace else next season.

It's possible the East could be completely up for grabs, and the Bulls (with Anthony) would almost certainly become the prohibitive favorites. Toss in a theoretically healthy Derrick Rose and you've really got something.

If winning truly matters to Anthony, he needs to stay in the East and sign on with the team that already has the Defensive Player of the Year, arguably the best coach in the conference and a potentially awesome starting five that also features Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson.

It's really not complicated when you break it down. Chicago is the best place to go if 'Melo wants to chase titles and get paid. He can talk all he wants about wins—not money—being his only motivation, but why not pick the one destination where he can get both?


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