Are Dallas Mavericks a Dark-Horse Destination for Carmelo Anthony?

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Are Dallas Mavericks a Dark-Horse Destination for Carmelo Anthony?
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The Dallas Mavericks have the cap space to sign Carmelo Anthony, the talent base to help him win now and a huge Melo fan in Dirk Nowitzki, the best player on the roster.

If the Mavericks aren't a dark horse in the Anthony sweepstakes, then they're something with even greater odds. Maybe not a favorite, but certainly a strong contender to land the former scoring champ.

For Anthony to officially hold a spot on the Mavs' radar, he first needs to opt out of the final year of his contract with the New York Knicks. It sounds as if that's essentially a formality at this point.

"Barring a dramatic change of heart, Anthony will opt out of his contract on July 1 and become an unrestricted free agent," Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reported earlier this month.

Once that step is taken, the bidding war can begin. Assuming the Miami Heat's Big Three stay put, Anthony could stand alone atop the 2014 NBA free-agent class.

While the Mavs have made unsuccessful runs at big fish in recent years—LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh—they seem to have a shot at finally catching that elusive star.

 

Why Dallas?

In order to answer that question, one must first make another inquiry: Why not New York?

Well, Anthony seemed to answer the latter after his exit interview with the Knicks.

"I want to come back," he told reporters, via Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com. "But I also want to win."

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Considering the current state of the Knicks, he may not be able to have both. New York is coming off a disappointing 37-win campaign and has limited assets (no draft picks or financial flexibility) to upgrade its personnel. The Knicks also have a major question mark on the sideline in the form of new coach Derek Fisher, who was serving as the Oklahoma City Thunder's reserve point guard just last month.

League sources told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports that Anthony's desire to win now has him "leaning toward leaving" the Big Apple.

That's where Nowitzki and the Mavericks come in.

Dallas rattled off 49 victories in 2013-14 before pushing the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs for a full seven games in the opening round. Nowitzki still provided an elite-level stat line (21.7 points on .497/.398/.899 shooting), while Monta Ellis impressed during his first season in Dallas (19.0 points and 5.7 assists).

The Mavericks have pieces to put around Anthony and roughly $30 million in cap space to bring him on board. While Nowitzki also needs to get paid, the former MVP sounds ready to ink a team-friendly deal.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

"This deal is not going to be about squeezing out the last dollar," he said during an appearance on KESN-FM 103.3, via The Dallas Morning News. "We'll just have to wait and see what the years and the final number is, but I'm sure it will be respectable for both sides."

It could be more than respectable on the Mavs' end if Nowitzki sees Anthony as a realistic addition. Dallas cannot officially open any doors just yet, but Nowitzki has already sent out a recruiting pitch.

"If Carmelo would really love to come here, we'd love to have him," he said during an interview on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, per ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley.

Anthony might seem like a curious fit for the Mavericks. His strengths mimic a lot of theirs.

Dallas had the league's third-most efficient offense this season, via Basketball-Reference.com. While it's hard to imagine an offense getting worse by adding Anthony, a career 25.3 points-per-game scorer, there isn't a lot of room for this unit to grow.

Still, Anthony could be another piece to the puzzle, and an established one at that. It's hard to win without stars in this league, and he certainly deserves that title.

"The Mavericks aren’t going to win a title next season without Melo...and he’d definitely increase their potential to win big," NBC Sports' Dan Feldman wrote. "Rick Carlisle...definitely deserves a chance to integrate the potentially mismatched talents into a coherent system before anyone writes off a Melo-Dirk pairing."

There are some risks, but the reward is potentially special. That's why it comes as no surprise that the Mavericks are on the short list of teams Anthony "would consider," as sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein.

Of course, there are other potential landing spots for the seven-time All-Star.

 

What Other Options Does He Have?

Until Anthony books a flight out of the Empire State, there are no bridges burned between him and the Knicks.

As ominous as New York's short-term forecast appears, the future is actually quite bright. The Knicks are slated to shed virtually all of their current cap commitments next summer, an offseason when stars like Kevin Love, Marc Gasol, Rajon Rondo and LaMarcus Aldridge are all scheduled to hit free agency.

Anthony obviously needs help, but it could be coming shortly if he decides it's worth the wait. He could either opt into his $23.3 million salary for 2014-15 to reevaluate his situation next summer, via ShamSports.com, or he could agree to a long-term deal now.

While the Knicks appear to have fallen back in this race, they're absolutely still a part of the field.

"His heart is in New York," a source told Wojnarowski.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

So, too, is that desire for more immediate contention, which could push him away from the Knicks. That also potentially puts the Los Angeles Lakers out of the running, although they may have removed themselves from contention.

"The Lakers have cap space, but sources maintain they aren’t too interested in Anthony as a fit with Kobe Bryant," Marc Berman of the New York Post reported in May.

According to what league sources told Wojnarowski, the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets "have emerged as the clear frontrunners to acquire Anthony." The Yahoo! scribe has had both franchises atop his Anthony big board since at least March.

Both clubs claimed the No. 4 playoff seed in their respective conferences, and each offers a superstar support staff. Neither one comes without its risks, though.

The Bulls are banking on getting a healthy Derrick Rose back in the mix, a player who has missed all but 10 games over the past two seasons due to a pair of serious knee injuries (first a torn ACL in his left, then a torn meniscus in his right).

Chicago would also have to get creative and take its own risk to free up enough financial room to sign Anthony. As K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune explained, the Bulls may be unwilling to jump through all the necessary hoops:

To this point, the Bulls haven't shown much inclination to trade pieces away for nothing but salary-cap space in return, as they did in 2010 with Kirk Hinrich to the Wizards. The Bulls quietly were confident they would land either LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or both that summer and remain scarred by that failure.

Anthony long has respected Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. But the Bulls would have to use the amnesty provision on [Carlos] Boozer and trade [Taj] Gibson and another player such as Mike Dunleavy or Jimmy Butler for nothing to get close to maximum salary-cap space.

The Rockets would need to make their own maneuvers to afford Anthony.

For Houston, that starts with unloading the weighty contracts of Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin. Each player will put an $8.3 million hit on the salary cap next season, but each will actually collect nearly $15 million thanks to the balloon payments built into their contracts.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Before shipping off those two, though, the Rockets must decide whether their offense has enough touches to keep Anthony, James Harden and Dwight Howard happy. Chandler Parsons, Houston's current third wheel, attempted 13.3 shots a night this season. Anthony launched 21.3.

"It just seems like a tough task for coach Kevin McHale to try to suppress the demands of three players in their prime who have been the No. 1 option at one point in their career," Bleacher Report's Dave Leonardis noted. "Could it happen? Sure, but is it worth staking the future of the franchise on it?"

One other potential destination has surfaced of late.

According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst, the Miami Heat "have already started to explore their options for creating sufficient financial flexibility" in pursuit of Anthony.

While certainly possible, the economic sacrifices that would need to be made by Anthony and Miami's Big Three make the scenario perhaps not plausible.

This appears to be the extent of the characters involved in the Anthony sweepstakes.

He has some intriguing options to explore, but are any definitively better than what he'd find in Dallas? That depends on what he's after.

 

The Mavericks' Sales Pitch

Anthony is carrying a tremendously heavy offensive burden with the Knicks. If Rose's body continues to plague his production, the story could be the same in the Windy City.

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Anthony wouldn't have that issue in Dallas or Houston. With the latter, though, he could be one of three players vying for alpha dog status. Considering where Nowitzki is in his career, Anthony shouldn't have to worry about stepping on any toes with the Mavericks.

Between Carlisle's coaching savvy and the lack of state income tax in Texas, there are a number of reasons for Anthony to consider the Mavericks.

This pursuit may come down to two things for Dallas.

It will depend on the Mavs' ability to paint a championship picture for Anthony and their desire to do so. Even though the Diggler is a fan of Anthony's work, Dallas could still decide to take a more defensive approach to the offseason.

However, if those two hurdles are cleared, the Mavericks could play a major role in the race for Anthony. They won't open the festivities with the greatest odds, but they might have the pieces needed to close that gap down the line.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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