Why New York Knicks Are Favorites in Carmelo Anthony Free-Agency Race

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 28, 2014

The New York Knicks aren't running the Carmelo Anthony free-agent race unopposed, but they will enter the proceedings as the heavy favorites to ink a long-term deal with the former scoring champ.

Even without a head coach in place, and with the real possibility that roster reinforcements may not arrive for another year, the Knicks should be sitting atop Anthony's big board.

That board isn't empty, but it's a bit more sparsely populated than one would imagine considering there's a seven-time All-Star up for grabs.


Misguided Perceptions

With so many teams angling for chance to trade for Minnesota Timberwolves stretch 4 Kevin Love, one would assume there would be more links to Anthony than we've seen.

Yet there's a perception that Anthony may be more of a high-maintenance addition, that he dominates the ball more than he should (a league-high 21.3 field-goal attempts per game), settles for too many jumpers and doesn't play nearly enough defense.

All three of those complaints are valid to some degree, but they're far too generalized.

It's hard to knock his ball dominance when the Knicks' second-best scorer, J.R. Smith, shot just 41.5 percent from the field. Anthony's shot selection could be better, but the quality he found (.452/.402/.848 shooting slash) is still impressive given the quantity of his workload. And if defensive lapses are enough to keep teams away from dynamic scorers, then why are so many teams still standing in line for Love?

Those Melo misconceptions are actually a good thing for the Knicks: They've kept the field of potential bidders relatively light.

Not only that, New York's biggest challengers all have several hoops to jump through before officially entering the race, as Marc Berman of the New York Post explained:

Two of his prime candidates, Houston and Chicago, still have to get far enough under the salary cap to make it worth it for Anthony. The Bulls may have to rid themselves of Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson on a squad that was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. Plus, Anthony would be banking on the uncertain future of the oft-injured Derrick Rose.

The Rockets were also knocked out in the first round and need to get rid of Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik to get under the salary cap. Meanwhile, the Lakers have cap space, but sources maintain they aren’t too interested in Anthony as a fit with Kobe Bryant. Nor is Lakers president Jeanie Buss enthralled with stealing Anthony from Jackson, her fiancé.

Dallas is also said to be interested in Anthony but also has to get under the salary cap.

Anthony has maintained that his primary offseason objective is to put himself into a position to win. With red tape to cut through at almost every potential landing spot, might that grass look a lot less greener outside of the Empire State than initially thought?

Assuming the Los Angeles Lakers have dropped out of the race—outside of keeping an aging Kobe Bryant happy, there's really little incentive for them to run—Anthony's list of potential employers could already be whittled down to four.


Limited Options

The Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls have long been viewed as two of New York's primary threats to lure Anthony out of the Big Apple. Sources told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports in March that those two teams had "risen above everything else."

The problem is that both would require a certain leap of faith from Anthony.

On paper, a nucleus built around Anthony, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in the Windy City looks downright terrifying. Ideally, Anthony would be the steady secondary scorer Rose has never had. Noah, a unique NBA star for his willingness to share the spotlight, could be the perfect defensive complement to the offensively tilted Anthony.

But how much talent could Chicago maintain after the salary slashing it would have to do to afford Anthony? The Bulls weren't exactly overloaded with top-tier players this season. D.J. Augustin, who was waived by the Toronto Raptors in December, led all Chicago regulars in scoring with 14.9 points a night on 41.9 percent shooting.

Putting Anthony and Rose at the helm would alleviate a lot of the Bulls' offensive issues—assuming the former MVP can ever find his way back to a clean bill of health. Rose has played just 10 games over the last two seasons combined while dealing with a pair of serious knee injuries (a torn ACL in his left knee in 2012, then a torn meniscus in his right last November).

This is all assuming, of course, that the Bulls even plan to pursue Anthony instead of Love. Chicago could opt to chase the 25-year-old double-double machine as opposed to the soon-to-be 30-year-old scorer.

As for the Rockets, they'll need to find a taker for one (or both) of the balloon payments owed to Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin. While both players will count for just an $8.3 million cap hit, they're each due to receive nearly $15 million in actual salary.

That's a tough pill to swallow even for clubs with a fondness for their games, one that may require the inclusion of budget contributor Chandler Parsons.

The former second-round pick has just a $0.9 million player option for next season, via ShamSports.com, but exercising the option would send Parsons to unrestricted free agency next summer. Considering he posted career marks in points (16.6), rebounds (5.5) and assists (4.0) during the 2013-14 campaign, he's looking at a substantial raise the next time he puts his name on the dotted line.

From a talent standpoint, Anthony would be an obvious upgrade over Parsons. But there are legitimate concerns about adding another ball-dominant scorer to a group that already includes James Harden and Dwight Howard.

"Harden's shot-creating disguised a lack of team play," Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding noted, and there may not be enough touches to keep this potential trio happy. Not to mention that Anthony's arrival would only add to the defensive holes that already exist in Houston, a side of the floor general manager Daryl Morey already admitted needs to be addressed on Twitter, (h/t The Houston Chronicle).

Besides, Houston would need to have its own Love vs. Anthony debate. And the Rockets could decide the former is a much better fit with the pieces they already have in place.

The Mavericks, ESPN.com's Marc Stein reports, "are quietly optimistic" they'll be given a chance to chat with Anthony this summer.

That's the "what" portion of the news, but the bigger issue here is "why." Dallas already has a power forward with range in Dirk Nowitzki, plus a precariously porous defense. The Mavs' 22nd ranking in defensive efficiency, via NBA.com, was the worst of all 16 playoff teams. By putting Anthony alongside fellow sieves Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon, that number could get even worse.

Anthony will have options to explore, but finding a guaranteed upgrade over his current situation could prove difficult.


Best Move Would Be No Move

"What Anthony needs to decide is what really matters most to him," NBC Sports' Kurt Helin wrote. "Is it money? Is it being 'the man' on a team built around him? Is it winning? Is it being in New York?"

Melo might not have that answer yet.

Assuming it is his desire to win, would hanging around New York and seeing what team president Phil Jackson might build really be the worst basketball decision he could make?

The Zen Master will have the chance to leave his fingerprints all over this franchise soon. He needs to settle on a new coach, then search every possible avenue to improve this roster.

That won't be easy at first. The Knicks have nearly $50 million committed to Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani alone for next season, via Sham Sports. They'll also enter this offseason without a single draft pick at their disposal.

Next season could be the sequel to this year's 37-45 disaster movie. Or, with so many familiar faces still around, it may wind up bearing a closer resemblance to New York's 54-win 2012-13 campaign.

Either way, Anthony needs to view his situation through a wider lens. The Knicks could be in a position to make serious offseason noise in 2015, especially if Anthony is as warm to the idea of taking a pay cut as he says he is.

"As far as the money goes, it’s not my concern," Anthony told reporters at All-Star weekend. "My concern is to be able to compete on a high level, a championship level, coming in this last stretch of my career."

Jackson, not surprisingly, is also on board with the idea of Anthony taking less.

Barring a trade, the Knicks will have their first-round pick in 2015. Plus, they'll be staring at almost empty financial books for the 2015-16 season.

The attempt to appeal to Anthony with that 2015 financial flexibility, as reported by Wojnarowski, isn't as crazy as it sounds. It just might give Melo the best possible chance to realize the type of success he's after.

Considering how hard Anthony worked to force his way to New York, bolting now might be an instantly regrettable decision. This is just when things could start getting good—for Anthony and the Knicks.


Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. Salary information obtained via Sham Sports.


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