Breaking Down the Likelihood of Carmelo Anthony Joining the Miami Heat

D.J. Foster@@fosterdjContributor IJune 12, 2014

From left, East Team's Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat, LeBron James of the Miami Heat, Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat and Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks share a moment during the first half of the NBA All-Star basketball game against the West Team Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Eric Gay/Associated Press

It's the type of thing you'd laugh about in a bar, or argue about on the playground, or maybe do in a video game.

The prospect of New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony joining LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade is almost too surreal to be taken seriously.

Can four stars of this magnitude really team up together? Can that really happen?

The short answer? Yes.

If James, Bosh and Wade all exercise their Early Termination Options to become free agents, the Heat will have plenty of cap space available to play with. With everything else already in placea winning culture, a big market and great coaching and managementthat's a dangerous scenario for the rest of the league.

If anyone can pull off something that seems so unrealistic on the surface, it's Miami. Pat Riley and company did it once, and they might be able to do it again.

Here's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst at with the report:

Sources told 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.

The mere concept would require the star trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to all opt out of their current contracts by the end of the month and likely take further salary reductions in new deals that start next season to give Miami the ability to offer Anthony a representative first-year salary. 

The Heat also are prevented from making any formal contact with Anthony until July 1 and can do so then only if he opts out of the final year of his current contract. Anthony has until June 23 to notify the Knicks of his intentions, according to sources.

It almost seems unfair, doesn't it? The Big Three have proven difficult enough to stop over the last few years, but adding an offensive talent like Anthony would make Miami practically unstoppable. With all due respect to Rashard Lewis, Shane Battier and a few other members of Miami's bench, Anthony absorbing all of their minutes is an upgrade on a massive scale.

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 01: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat handles the ball against Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks during a game at Madison Square Garden in New York City on February 01, 2014.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and a
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Poking any holes in Anthony's game and how it would translate in Miami's system is probably futile. He's an unreal spot-up shooter from every range, he can take his man off the dribble at will and he'll bully smaller defenders. We've seen Anthony play with James and Wade in international competition, and he's often looked like the best player on the floor. This would be terrifying for the rest of the league.

Right now, though, it's still more of a dream than a reality. Sean Highkin at Sports on Earth broke down some of the logistics of Anthony signing on with the Heat in free agency:

Haslem, Cole, Andersen and their draft pick add up to $8.9 million, which leaves them with $54 million to play with, based on the latest projections for the salary cap, which won't be finalized until July. If James, Wade, Bosh and Anthony all get paid the same, they could each sign for $13.5 million per year. 

There's a possibility they could split the pie up a different way, with Melo being offered more money as an incentive to leave the Knicks and one of the Heat incumbents (probably James) taking less. After that, they'd have the $2.5 million "room" exception and some minimum-salary slots to fill out the rest of the roster. 

The Knicks can offer Anthony a five-year, $129 million contract, so $54 million for four years is not an insignificant sacrifice to make, even for someone who's made as much as he has. Convincing him to take that leap is the biggest hurdle to making this pipe dream a reality, but given his close relationship with LeBron and the Heat's track record as a model organization in an extremely attractive city, it's not impossible by any means.

Miami would have to become Sacrifice City in order for all these players to team up. James, Wade and Bosh all did this in the past, of course, but not nearly to this extent. James and Bosh are scheduled to make $20.5 million next year, and Wade is tapped to make $20.1. Going from that to around $14 million a season for the next few years is a pretty substantial cut.

This will take some slick navigation, especially with the minimum roster cap holds and things of that nature involved. But there are ways to make it happen. If Haslem declines his player option worth $4.6 million next year to take a veteran's minimum deal (with some long-term assurances or money under the table elsewhere), the Heat can create more space.

Don't rule out the idea of Wade taking much less than everyone else as well. He's the one who took the biggest hit back in 2010, and with his inability to play full seasons because of his knees, perhaps he'll willingly take less money than everyone else.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 16: LeBron James #6, Dwayne Wade #3, and Carmelo Anthony #7 of the Eastern Conference All-Stars laugh before the 2014 NBA All-Star Game at Smoothie King Center on February 16, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User e
Bruce Yeung/Getty Images

James could take the brunt of the pay cut fairly easily as well. With all his promotional income and investments, he won't be hard up for cash. That's not to insinuate that willingly leaving something like $8 million on the table every year when you're the best player in the world will be easy, but if James is most concerned with winning rings and cementing a legacy as the greatest player ever, it might be worth it to him.  

Any indication from LeBron that this is a reality isn't going to come anytime soon, though. Here's what he told reporters recently, via Stein and Windhorst:

But James, as he has all season, sidestepped an attempt at Wednesday's off-day news conference to get him talking about his future, saying: "That's kind of like on the back burner right now."

James insisted he's more focused on "figuring out how I'm going to prioritize Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard and Duncan and Danny Green and Ginobili, Patty Mills and Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter and the list goes on and on. Matt Bonner, Gregg Popovich and [Spurs assistant] Ime Udoka and those kind of guys. [Free agency] is the last thing I'm thinking about right now."

The Heat have business to take care of, and it's Carmelo Anthony who will need to be the first domino. That might be the toughest hurdle in all this, because Anthony knows that the Knicks will have cap space in 2015 for him to attract a superstar. If he opts in to his current deal for one more year and stays in New York, perhaps the stars will come to him.

Still, that's next year and not this year. Anthony has to know that staying with the Knicks next season is basically throwing away another year of his prime and another chance to potentially win a ring. That won't happen in Miami.

Anthony will have to weigh all that by June 23, but you have to think he'll become a free agent and leave his options open. He can always re-sign with New York long-term, and there will be other suitors out there as well.

And he'll leave the door open for something big to happen. Anthony already missed the "team up with a superstar" boat once before, and it's hard to see him willingly choosing that for himself again.

With that being said, Anthony has to weigh the prospect of losing around $50 million over the next four years by signing with Miami. Perhaps James, Wade and Bosh will take bigger pay cuts to lessen that number, but this isn't like leaving Cleveland or Toronto. It's leaving New York, the biggest market there is, where Anthony is an icon.

And again, Anthony isn't completely killing the dream of playing with LeBron James by staying in New York and taking the bigger payday. The Knicks will have room in the 2015 offseason for another max contract. While it seems more plausible that the Big Three would take pay cuts to welcome in a talent like Anthony than it does for LeBron to leave Miami for New York next year, is it a gamble worth betting so much money on?

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH  3: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks stands with LeBron James #6 and Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat on March 3, 2013 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

The criticism of Anthony will be loud either way. If he joins Miami, he'll hear the complaints that he "couldn't win a ring on his own," just like LeBron did.

If he stays in New York, he'll be blasted, at least in the first year, for valuing money over legacy. It's a lose-lose situation, at least regarding how he'll be perceived.

So as LeBron did in 2010, perhaps Anthony will see that the only way to really win is to win. Miami offers him the best chance at that, so to write the Heat off as a landing spot because of financial hurdles would be foolish.

For now, because of New York's ability to attract free agents in 2015, I'd say the Knicks are still the favorites to retain Anthony. Still, it's hard to ignore Miami in this fight, and you'll know something is up if the Big Three all exercise their Early Termination Options to become free agents if Anthony does the same.

If Anthony is going to take a pretty substantial pay cut as is, he might as well mitigate the risk involved. Teaming with LeBron accomplishes that better than somewhere like Chicago does, where the stars always seem to be hurt, or in Houston, where the stars could turn sour. 

It's not hard to imagine a scenario where it's either New York or Miami for Anthony. We'll have to wait and see if he's ready to take the leap.