Similar points have been made and acknowledged before. Then the latest, greatest rumor makes headlines and triggers conversations that allow room for doubt and unsolicited panic.
Melo could leave. Barely months after missing the postseason for the first time of his career, he could abandon the question mark-infested Knicks and leave for an NBA team peddling timely title hopes and magnific futures.
He could flee New York for the sunny streets of Miami and coziness of LeBron James' shadow.
The Miami Heat's immediate focus remains overcoming a 2-1 NBA Finals deficit to the San Antonio Spurs, but discussions have begun within the organization about trying to grow their so-called Big Three into a Big Four, according to sources close to the situation.
Sources told ESPN.com that Heat officials and the team's leading players have already started to explore their options for creating sufficient financial flexibility to make an ambitious run at adding New York Knicks scoring machine Carmelo Anthony this summer in free agency.
If and when he reaches free agency, Melo will have the freedom of choice. He can sign wherever he pleases, prioritizing winning over money and certainty over potential. But just because he can doesn't mean he will.
Leaving the Knicks for a more championship-ready squad sounds good in theory. Actually leaving, though, remains a matter of sacrifice Melo may or may not be prepared to embrace.
Getting out of New York won't be easy. It's not even realistic on some levels. Let's not forget that Melo must want to exit as well.
And unless he indicates an open to desire to leave and blatant willingness to make multiple, career-altering concessions, the Knicks—no matter what we hear—can only be seen as favorites to win over the superstar they already have.
Money, Money, Money
Always follow the money.
Superstars and sources that claim dollar signs won't factor into free agency are lying. Money matters. It's a financial stability and ego thing. Players want to capitalize on their absurd earning potential. Anthony will be no different, which is what makes relocating so difficult.
Interested suitors can only offer Anthony a four-year deal. The Knicks can dangle a five-year contract that's worth in the ballpark of $130 million—tens of millions more than he would bring home anywhere else. Turning his back on that payday would be nigh impossible.
Lucky for fans of nomadic free-agency periods, then, that Anthony won't necessarily receive so much cash.
“The way things have been structured now financially for teams is that it’s really hard to have one or two top stars or max players,” Knicks president Phil Jackson said, per the New York Daily News' Frank Isola, “and to put together a team with enough talent you’ve got to have people making sacrifices financially.”
Dang. The Zen Master has guts.
Really, though, Jackson is just cementing his status as an opportunistic individual.
No matter where Anthony goes, he'll have to accept a steep pay cut. There isn't a Melo-approved destination out there that doesn't need to manipulate its finances to make his arrival possible.
The Rockets need to find takers for Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and perhaps a few others—Francisco Garcia, Donatas Motiejunas and maybe even Chandler Parsons—before pursuing Anthony. Then they must still hope Anthony will take less to join a team without a point guard capable of tying together an offense headlined by himself, James Harden and Dwight Howard.
The Chicago Bulls are in the same boat. They must first amnesty Carlos Boozer and dump some combination of Mike Dunleavy, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic to free up significant cap space. The only way they have enough to max out Melo is by gutting their roster, otherwise they're asking him to team up with an injury-prone Derrick Rose at an enormous discount.
One look at the Heat's financial situation tells more of the same. If the Big Three opt out of their contracts, Miami will have $50-plus million in cap space, even with Udonis Haslem, Chris Andersen, Norris Cole and requisite cap holds counting against their books.
Split between four superstars, that's not much. We're talking under $13 million annually for each, when Anthony could be making $20-plus million in New York.
For argument's sake, let's say the Heat dump Cole and dissuade Andersen and Haslem from picking up their options. Factoring in minimum cap holds and their first-round pick, their best offer still falls short of $15 million annually, assuming Stein's $63.2 million cap projection holds true.
Stein and Windhorst provided additional context on this:
Getting James, Wade, Bosh, Haslem and Andersen to take pay cuts significant enough to open a significant slot for Anthony undoubtedly will be complex. It would require reductions that could stretch into the tens of millions over the next few seasons. Sources say the Heat's plan is to sell the players they wish to keep on the long-term benefits of making such a sacrifice.
This means the Knicks can ask Anthony to take a pay cut while still giving him millions of dollars more per year. It also means Jackson's comments and confidence aren't insane.
“At this point of my career, I’m not concerned with money,’’ Anthony said in April, per the New York Post's Marc Berman. “The contract will be the contract."
Until that contract is the contract that has him welcoming an unprecedented salary drop. Then it becomes something more.
Not one person of sound mind can sit down with a straight face and tell you the Knicks are ready to contend now. They're not.
Next season has always been about transition. It's the overpass that connects their limited potential with the more promising future they hope awaits in 2015 free agency.
If Anthony wants to play with another superstar or two, the Knicks can offer him that opportunity in one year's time. They'll have plenty of cap space at their disposal next summer when a slew of star free agents become available.
One of those free agents may even be King James.
Sam Amick of USA Today relayed information many of us already know to be true: LeBron wants to play with Melo. Riley's behind-the-scenes plotting and planning is no doubt related to James' not-so-secret desire. Give him Anthony, and he won't just stay in Miami; he'll stay in Miami long term.
Yet while we're making the lap of whimsical luxury, let's not shirk other possibilities. Anthony and James can team up in New York, too.
Delaying this potential pairing another season demands that James opt into the next year of his deal and avoid free agency this summer.
Some will see this as far-fetched. Why put off signing a massive deal? Probably because the deal he would be signing in Miami won't be so massive if Anthony joins the festivities.
Ask yourself this: What's more likely, James agreeing to make tens of millions of dollars less over a span of four to five years, or him waiting another year to explore free agency and actualize his dream of playing alongside Anthony?
Jackson and the Knicks clearly can't promise Anthony this scenario comes to fruition, but it's a selling point. And if he doubts their ability to land James—or another marquee free agent in 2015—he doesn't have to re-sign. He can always play out the last year of his deal in New York, earn the $23.3 million he's slated to pocket and hit the open market next summer.
Why would Anthony also skirt the opportunity to sign a new pact now that he's on the wrong side of 30? Maybe he wouldn't. But is he any more likely to take somewhere near $10 million less per year to play in Miami?
By sticking it out in New York, Anthony gives himself the chance to be handsomely rewarded for his services while playing alongside another star, be it James or someone else.
Potentially having his cake and eating it too rivals what any other team will be offering.
Not-so-Risky Flight Risk
The list of reasons why Anthony won't be leaving New York goes on.
Remaining with the Knicks is also the safe play for his legacy. If he doesn't win, it will be counted against him. If he leaves and doesn't win, it will count against him even more. And even if he does win after leaving, there will always be an invisible asterisk next to his name, fair or not.
That doesn't mean he won't consider leaving. He will. He has to. Other options won't be ignored. Various teams and scenarios are going to come into play, many of which rest outside the Big Apple.
But don't get caught up in the Heat-related hype. Or any Anthony-is-leaving-the-Knicks brouhaha. Exiting is merely a possibility. It's not a certainty, nor is it likely.
"I'm willing to stay here," Anthony said, via Berman. "I never once said I wanted to leave."
Because he doesn't want to leave.
Not unless someone proves that New York isn't the place for him, which, thus far, no team—not the Heat, Rockets or Bulls—has the unconditional means to do.
*Salary information via ShamSports.
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