Opting out is overrated.
In less than two weeks time, New York Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony will have a decision to make. He can either declare for unrestricted free agency—which has been the plan all along—or he can throw a valuable curveball and finish out the last year of his contract.
Team president Phil Jackson has a well-known preference:
Contrary to the Zen Master's advice, sources told the New York Daily News' Frank Isola that Anthony still intends to hit the open market. That's his right. But it's also a mistake if he wishes to stay with the Knicks.
Delaying his free agency one year can make all the difference for New York, as the team attempts to regain contender status without footslogging through a traditional, unhurried rebuild.
Maximizing the Financial Relationship
This notion has a laughable feel to it at first mention. Say no to signing a nine-figure contract? After turning 30? Sounds like a plan—for the criminally feckless and uninformed.
Yet opting in doesn't obliterate Anthony's earning potential. It actually increases it.
This isn't a "say no to lots of money" situation. It's a "wait and potentially make more money" gambit.
'Melo will have to accept a pay cut wherever he signs. Interested teams can offer him only a four-year pact worth somewhere around $95 million, while New York can throw him five years and roughly $129 million.
Leaving the Knicks will entail him sacrificing one year and $30-plus million of financial security. This assumes they're preparing to dangle a max contract in front him, which they might not be.
“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,” Jackson said, via Isola, “and to put together a team with enough talent you’ve got to have people making sacrifices financially.”
On the one hand, it's not Anthony's responsibility to accept less just to stay in New York. The Knicks didn't make the playoffs last season, he played sensational basketball and with his mortality in full perspective this side of 30, he has to look out for himself.
On the other hand, taking a pay cut gives the Knicks added financial flexibility next summer when they have ample cap space and scores of star free agents are expected to become available. Plus, again, Anthony must take less to leave anyway.
Sitting on free agency gives Anthony the option of re-signing for even more next summer, as Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal detailed:
Their main assertion: Were Anthony to begin his free-agency process next summer, as opposed to this summer, he could potentially earn more money because he'd be eligible to earn a higher maximum value—close to $140 million over five years, rather than $129 million—in his next contract.
Re-signing for the max in 2015 remains equally unlikely. But it would give Anthony and the Knicks a better idea of how much less he needs to accept. Why ask him to take, say, $5 million below market value this summer if it really needs to be only $2 million below next summer?
The Knicks and Anthony will only have a concrete answer to that question in one year's time. Provide any answers before then, and the Knicks run the risk of overpaying—or underpaying—their superstar.
How beneficial is it to determine Anthony's value next summer?
Significant roster additions won't be made this offseason. The Knicks have no cap space or draft picks. Anthony's free agency actually couldn't come at a worse time. While they're forced to maintain the status quo, teams like the Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls can position themselves to forge superteams by using Anthony as the finishing touch.
Or worse, the Miami Heat could get involved.
According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst, Pat Riley already has visions of a Miami-based Big Four:
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.
Put aside the fact that Anthony, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would be making under $15 million annually if they joined forces. If 'Melo hits free agency, he'll be tempted to sign with Miami.
Forming a Big Four isn't something he'll simply gloss over. There will be a second and third look. Maybe a fourth.
Either way, it puts the Knicks on the defensive. Not just against the Heat, but any other team prepared to give Anthony chase.
Putting Anthony's free agency off until 2015 allows them to be the aggressors.
The Knicks don't have any guaranteed contracts on the books for 2015-16. Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith own player options, Pablo Prigioni's deal is non-guaranteed, Iman Shumpert is owed a qualifying offer and they hold a team option on Tim Hardaway Jr.
It's completely possible the Knicks can enter summer 2015 with only a few million dollars committed to their roster, assuming they're able to part ways with Felton and Smith before then. From there, they can re-sign Anthony and chase another superstar.
Who might those stars be?
One of them can be James himself.
Sam Amick of USA Today reiterated James' desire to "eventually" play alongside Anthony. The pair can sync up in Miami this summer while sacrificing tens of millions of dollars over the next five years, or they can wait for summer 2015 and sign in New York for more.
James would have to opt into the next year of his contract for this to happen, but that's not implausible. We're talking about perennial All-Stars voluntarily bidding adieu to stacks of cash just to play together in Miami. We can certainly entertain the idea that James will decide to delay his free agency.
Then again, the Knicks don't have to rest next year's hopes on James. Various other stars are expected to become available—Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker, LaMarcus Aldridge and Marc Gasol, just to name a few.
If 'Melo waits to sign on the dotted line until then, New York can ink "their" two stars to contracts simultaneously, ensuring they maximize the earning potential of both.
What stands to follow afterward is even better.
Oh, the Possibilities
Staging a three superstar free-agency coup next summer—including Anthony—is beyond unlikely. Two is even pushing it. That's how these things work. They're long shots until they're not.
Signing two at the same time does give them the ability to plan further ahead. The contracts can be structured so that the Knicks maintain cap flexibility in 2016, when more stars, like Kevin Durant, become available.
"The Knicks, sources say, expect to be a contender for Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant when he is projected to become a free agent in July 2016," Stein writes, "and believe their chances will be enhanced by the presence of Fisher, one of Durant's favorite teammates with the Thunder."
Presumptuous? Unrealistic? Comical?
Absolutely, but this is what the Knicks are about: building a superteam through free agency.
Paying Anthony now doesn't bring them any closer to actualizing that fantasy. And losing him to another team certainly doesn't help. Delaying this process one more year gives them a puncher's chance of delivering on the promise they made him in 2011.
Those who argue that there is no reason for Anthony to go along with New York's grand scheme are partially right. Incentives are limited on his behalf.
But if he truly wants to stay in New York and is concerned about attaching himself to a failed project long term, opting in doesn't hurt him either. It will only help.
“The group down in Miami agreed to take less money to play together so that’s, I think, a precedent that’s been set,” Jackson said, via Isola.
June 23. That's the deadline for Anthony to make his decision. Will he opt out and perhaps seek to join that group in Miami, or will he establish a new precedent by putting New York on the fast track to redemption and contention?
Jackson and the Knicks can only hope 'Melo's in a precedent-setting mood.
*Salary information via ShamSports.