Why Carmelo Anthony Has No Choice but to Test 2014 Free-Agent Market

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistJune 13, 2014

New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony (7) looks on as he sits on the bench in the second quarter during an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz Monday, March 31, 2014, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

Before New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony can even thinking about joining forces with LeBron James in Miami (or elsewhere), he first has to make a very important decision regarding the future with his current franchise.

Per ESPN.com's Marc Stein, "Anthony has until June 23...to notify the New York Knicks if he plans to opt in or out of the final year of his current contract, according to sources familiar with the terms of his deal."

The New York Daily News' Frank Isola reports that "Carmelo Anthony hasn’t wavered from his year-long intent to become a free agent this summer despite Phil Jackson’s hopes to keep Anthony under contract through the 2014-15 season."

According to Isola, "Barring a dramatic change of heart, Anthony will opt out of his contract on July 1 and become an unrestricted free agent, the Daily News has learned."

For a minute there, it sounded like Anthony might actually change his mind and stick around New York for another season. Phil Jackson said he pled with his superstar to do just that and that Anthony said he'd give it some thought.

If Isola's report is to be believed, that deliberation didn't produce the desired result.

Even if Anthony should opt out, he could still remain with the Knicks on a longer-term deal. New York will be crossing its fingers to that effect.

But wherever Anthony winds up when the dust settles, allowing himself the freedom to actually make a decision is a no-brainer.

Financially, the 30-year-old has the opportunity to immediately ink a lucrative deal that would pay him big money over the next four or five seasons. He'd have to remain in New York to get that fifth year added to the deal, but either way, his long-term security benefits from opting out now.

Waiting another season would simply delay Anthony's ability to ensure long-term job security. Anything could happen in a season. Anthony could get hurt. His production could take a dip. Now is the time to strike it rich (again).

Anthony is scheduled to make over $23 million next season, but his next contract could start in a similar range.

At least if he still cares about making the big bucks at this juncture of his career. He may be more concerned about winning, and that's the real problem with sticking around New York.

There's little doubt that Phil Jackson will turn things around in time. He has the credibility to attract premier talent, and he has the know-how to make the most of that talent. In a few years, the Knicks could be on top of the world.

But the interim won't be pretty, with or without 'Melo around.

Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani are all under contract for the 2014-15 season. The three of them combined will make over $50 million, crippling the organization's cap flexibility and delaying any serious run at oustide talent.

That will have to wait until the summer of 2015 when the Knicks will be flush with cap space. 

What Jackson and Co. are able to do with that cap space remains an open question, but it will be the start of something new. For a team mired in disappointment, the prospect of change itself is a welcome sight.

But from Anthony's standpoint, it's a giant unknown. Sure, with a little patience, a reversal of fortunes may be in short order. But there are no guarantees, no promises that other superstars will rush to play under new head coach Derek Fisher. No certainty that New York's next gamble will pay off any better than the last one—when it thought pairing Anthony and Stoudemire together was a bright idea.

The grass may not be much greener on the other side, but Anthony owes it to himself to at least take a peak.

If he could work his way to the Chicago Bulls or Houston Rockets (likely via sign-and-trade), his superstar cohorts would already be in place. So too would established coaches, successful systems and the need for someone of Anthony's ilk.

Chicago needs an inside-outside scorer who can keep the offense breathing. Even with a healthy Derrick Rose, Luol Deng's absence has created a glaring need on the wing for someone who can make buckets. Someone who can create his own offense wouldn't hurt either, making Anthony a logical choice to take the Bulls to their next level.

Meanwhile, the Rockets need someone who can take some of the pressure off James Harden. Chandler Parsons may become that player in time, but at the moment, he doesn't offer the kind of consistency that Anthony brings to the table. And he's certainly not as tested.

Anthony also qualifies as one of those "veteran presence" guys—a big plus for otherwise young teams trying to make names for themselves in the postseason. 

When the game's on the line, you can give the ball to Anthony and anticipate that he'll do something smart with it. 

More than any X's and O's component, a relocation away from New York may just feel right to Anthony. No more punishing media. No more history of disappointment.

His tenure with the Knicks seems to have come to a natural enough conclusion. There's nothing more to see here outside of what promises to be a rebuild of unknown length.

You can't fault the organization for trying, though. According to ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley, "Sources told ESPN.com earlier this week that Jackson is continuing to urge Anthony to exercise next season's $23.3 million player option and put off unrestricted free agency for one more year."

Jackson's push will probably continue until it's too late.

If it isn't already.