And that's really where any discussion about Melo's future has to start: with the money.
Upon opting out of the final year of his contract on July 1, something Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reports Anthony remains committed to doing, the Knicks will be able to pay him more than any other NBA team.
A lot more.
Thanks to the collective bargaining agreement's emphasis on helping teams retain their own players, New York can tempt Anthony with a five-year deal worth $129 million. Other teams' offers won't exceed four years and $93 million.
It'll be hard to get past that disparity, even if Anthony has already said cash isn't among his biggest priorities.
"At this point of my career, I'm not concerned with money," Anthony told Marc Berman of the New York Post back in April. "The contract will be the contract. I'd 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."
If the first thing that has to happen for Melo to walk away from the Knicks is eschewing big bucks, it sounds like that hurdle has already been cleared.
The second necessity follows naturally: Anthony will have to see an opportunity to chase something he values more than money. And since he's already told us that winning is most valuable to him, it's safe to say that's what he'll place atop his list of priorities this summer.
"I want to come back," Anthony said, per Berman. "I want to come back. But I also want to win. If we can put ourselves in a position to compete at a high level over the course of five years, whatever that contract will be, I'm willing to stay here. I never once said I wanted to leave. I always said I want to explore options and see what's out there."
Though he mentioned it in the context of a discussion about staying with the Knicks, we have to assume that if Melo's real goal is team success, he'd take less money to achieve it elsewhere as easily as he would in New York.
So logically, the next thing Anthony would need is a destination that provides a better opportunity to win than New York. There are a couple dozen such places, but one stands out above the rest:
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.
A few more dominoes have to fall before we can assume Anthony will be playing in South Beach next year, as LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade would all have to opt out of their current deals. After that, all four stars would have to get on board with some pretty significant pay cuts.
To make the money work, each of the Heat's Big Three would essentially have to re-sign for Josh Smith or Larry Sanders money. Huge paycuts.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) June 12, 2014
Josh Smith makes $13.5 million per year.
Oh, the hardship!
Admittedly, four players sacrificing millions of dollars to play together feels unlikely—if only because we've never really seen it happen before. At least not on a scale of this magnitude.
But we already know Anthony is on record as willing to give up cash in exchange for wins. And Bosh has said the same.
LeBron just raked in at least $30 million in the Beats Electronics acquisition, and he took a minor salary reduction to come to Miami in the first place. So is it really that hard to assume he'd do it again if it meant drastically improving his chance to keep chasing rings?
Wade isn't worth the max on the market anymore because of his durability issues and age. And if the other three stars were all ready to give up some money, you'd assume he would see the wisdom of following suit. After all, he too is really only playing for championships at this stage of his career.
And just as an aside, of course we're hearing things like this out of Miami:
Chris Bosh tells Miami Herald's Barry Jackson he, LeBron and Wade have never discussed bringing in Carmelo. "It's very, very unlikely."— Michael Wallace (@WallaceNBA_ESPN) June 12, 2014
Those tampering fines are steep. Just ask Phil Jackson.
There are options besides Miami if Anthony wants to take a little less money in exchange for a better situation. Maybe the Houston Rockets appeal to him. Or perhaps the Chicago Bulls could make a push with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson as intriguing teammates in a title chase.
Anyone making a run at Melo will have to move a little money around to do it, and most still won't be able to offer the full max.
Miami, though, clearly offers the best chance to win.
It sounds simple, doesn't it? The truth is, if Anthony is willing to make a couple of sacrifices and his priorities really are what he says they are, it is simple.
Sure, his legacy might take a hit if he leaves New York behind. But he came into the Big Apple as something of a mercenary, and walking away as one won't really change his reputation. Besides, a reasonable person—Knicks fan or not—can't begrudge him for wanting success, warmer weather, a chance to work with friends and the luxury of living in a place without state income tax.
Actually, when everything's laid out like that, it feels a little crazy to take up the case for Anthony staying in New York.
Jackson's there, and maybe that means the organization has turned over a new leaf. But James Dolan is still the top man on the totem pole, and new head coach Derek Fisher is going to face the tough learning curve of being a first-year head coach.
And the Knicks still won't have any cap space for another full year, which means, in a best-case scenario, Anthony's career will be in a holding pattern until this time next summer.
Should Carmelo Anthony leave the Knicks as a free agent?
So, when you really step back and think about it, you can put all the steps listed above aside. There's no need to sequentially analyze the roles of money and the existence of a superior destination. Objectively, there's really just one thing that has to happen for Anthony to walk away from the Knicks.
He has to come to his senses.