The Best Thing Every Carmelo Anthony Suitor Has to Offer in Free Agency
And then there were seven.
Since Carmelo Anthony officially decided to opt out of his contract with the New York Knicks and test the free-agent waters, seven different franchises have emerged as prominent suitors for his high-scoring services. The first five are the fairly obvious ones, as revealed by an ESPN.com report from Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne:
Carmelo Anthony has yet to publicly reveal the process by which he plans to entertain other teams in free agency now that he has opted out of his contract with the New York Knicks, but the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers are among the teams that expect to have the opportunity to make their pitch to him starting July 1, according to sources close to the situation.
Some options are more realistic than others, but each of the seven has the combination of appeal and ability necessary to remain a legitimate suitor for Melo's talents at this early stage. And, of course, each has one aspect to its pursuit that will be particularly appealing to the offensively dominant forward.
Atlanta Hawks: Planning to Be Eastern Version of Spurs
The Atlanta Hawks are attempting to build something special in the Eastern Conference, and they're doing so by following in the proven footsteps of the San Antonio Spurs.
Mike Budenholzer was a long-time assistant for Gregg Popovich, and he's brought the same type of philosophies to his first head-coaching gig, which was quite successful in his initial go-round.
How? Team basketball and lots of efficient shots, which just happened to be three-point attempts for this squad.
Defensively, the team works as a unit, switching on picks when necessary and doing everything possible to stay disciplined while forcing the opponent into contested mid-range jumpers.
On offense, the Hawks prioritize extreme ball movement, employing the same team-first principles that helped San Antonio win its fifth championship.
While Horford was still healthy and functioning as an interior hub, the Hawks had one of the best offensive flows. The percentage of made shots that resulted from assists was quite impressive—right up near the top of the league—and everyone played unselfishly.
In fact, while Horford was healthy, from the start of the season through a Dec. 26 outing against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team recorded assists on 66.3 percent of its made shots from the field, per NBA.com's statistical databases (subscription required). And in an impressive bit of adjustment, that number actually rose to 66.7 percent while he was injured, giving Atlanta the top spot in the league.
If Melo spent any time watching the 2014 NBA Finals, he understands the importance of systems and team play. The Hawks offer him his best chance of finding that while still serving as the No. 1 scoring option.
Chicago Bulls: Great Defensive System
Carmelo Anthony has never played on a great defensive team, even dating back to his time with the Denver Nuggets. He's also never advanced particularly far in the NBA postseason, so I'll leave you to decide if you'd like to draw causation from correlation.
In a league that commonly refers to defense winning championships, there might be cause to suspect a real relationship between those two facts.
Also a fact is the stellar nature of the Chicago Bulls' point-preventing units. Led by Tom Thibdoeau, this is always one of the most suffocating squads in the Association, and that's not going to be any different during the 2014-15 campaign.
Derrick Rose is a good, but not great, defender at point guard. Jimmy Butler is a standout at shooting guard, and Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah are both among the very best at their frontcourt positions. Melo isn't a huge liability when he exerts effort, which you can pretty much count on given Thibs' histrionics on the sidelines of the United Center.
If anything, this defense is only going to get better when Rose is wearing down teams with his dynamic offensive abilities and Carlos Boozer is either in a minimized role or off the roster completely. It's a new concept for Melo, but it's an appealing one nonetheless.
One more aspect worth mentioning is Melo could stay in the Eastern Conference, something that only four of these seven options allows him to do.
"Even if you think the Rockets (with Anthony) would be objectively better than the Bulls (with Anthony), Chicago is still the superior destination," writes Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes while making a direct comparison between the Bulls and Houston Rockets. "The road to the Finals is almost comically easier with the Bulls than it would be with the Rockets."
Dallas Mavericks: Unstoppable Offense
From defense to offense.
During the 2013-14 season, Dirk Nowitzki averaged 21.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 49.7 percent from the field, 39.8 percent beyond the arc and 89.9 percent from the charity stripe.
Despite falling short in each category, the German 7-footer only barely missed out on the elusive 50-40-90 club while averaging more than 20 points per contest.
Monta Ellis, meanwhile, was playing his first season with the Dallas Mavericks and posted 19 points, 3.6 rebounds and 5.7 assists during the average outing.
He was as efficient as he's been in a long time, eschewing downtown attempts en route to a 45.1 percent clip from the field and his best true shooting percentage since leaving the Golden State Warriors, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Anthony was on the Knicks, not the Mavs, but he continued to assert himself as one of the premier scorers in the Association. Though he failed to defend his scoring crown, he still averaged an impressive 27.4 points per game while hitting on 45.2 percent of his field-goal attempts.
Pairing those three together is unfair, especially because they all complement each other quite nicely.
Dirk is the floor-spacing power forward. Melo is the versatile offensive player who can score in virtually any way imaginable. Ellis is a driving machine who keeps his head up and dishes the ball to shooters as well as he completes circus finishes.
That combination has the makings of a point-scoring machine.
Houston Rockets: Complementary Big 3
Nowitzki, Ellis and Anthony would be an unstoppable trio on the offensive end of the court, but not one of them is an established defensive presence.
The same can't be said for the potential Big Three that could be formed in Houston.
James Harden certainly isn't much of a defender, preferring to watch his man burst by him rather than slide over even a few feet and impede his path. Anthony isn't a defensive standout, though he can generally hold his own in man-to-man situations when he puts his mind to it.
D12 remains one of the best point-preventing paint presences out there. Period.
He excels when playing help defense and covering pick-and-rolls, both of which will be advantageous when the fellow stars are targeted by offenses seeking the weak points in a defense. It's incredible what such a stellar second line of defense can do for a perimeter player.
In terms of creating the best three-man combination, it's hard to beat what Houston has to offer.
Certainty swirling around Derrick Rose might change that. But until he's proven that his knees are fully healthy and he hasn't lost any of his trademark explosiveness, teaming up with Howard and Harden is Melo's best option among the Big Three choices.
Los Angeles Lakers: The Kobe Successor
The Los Angeles Lakers are still one of the premier franchises in the NBA, even if they've been struggling to win games over the last few seasons.
Not only are they worth more than anyone but the New York Knicks—per Forbes.com, which writes the description below—but they also have a history of success that the Knicks can't hope to match:
The Lakers’ $100 million payroll last season triggered the NBA's biggest luxury tax bill of $29.3 million. The Lakers kicked off their blockbuster $3.6 billion, 20-year TV deal with Time Warner last year. Ratings on Time Warner Cable SportsNet were the fourth highest in the league at 4.6, but it represented the biggest audience at an average of 261,000 per game, according to SportsBusiness Journal.
In terms of international recognition, the Lake Show takes the cake.
Purple and gold have become synonymous with high-level basketball, and the Staples Center is littered with retired jerseys of Hall of Famers and plenty of trophies.
Kobe Bryant has been the face of the franchise for well over a decade, but Melo would have the ability to usher in a new era of Lakers basketball. After playing alongside the Mamba for two seasons, he'd remain there while Kobe hangs up his sneakers for good, making Anthony the unquestioned star of a team with quite a large fanbase.
That has to be appealing.
Miami Heat: Fellow Superstars
If Melo is going to become the latest superstar to take his talents to South Beach, he's going to be doing so knowing full well that he's limiting his earning potential.
Not only is the Miami market significantly smaller than the one he's coming from and some of his other options, but he'd have to take a big pay cut in order to make things work.
Would it be worth it?
Well, he'd get to play alongside LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Even though none of the three are certain to be back with the Miami Heat for another season, this move wouldn't happen without a guarantee that the aforementioned players would join up with Anthony to form a Big Four.
And that's the appeal.
Melo saw how dominant a trio could be when everyone decided to work together, and he can't be alone in dreaming of the potential possessed by a quartet of All-Star talents.
Adjustments would surely have to be made, and finding a competent group of bench players would be a difficult task for Pat Riley. But there's no question this would immediately become an unmatched collection of talent.
Talent alone doesn't win titles, though.
Teams do, as the San Antonio Spurs proved during the 2014 NBA Finals. They certainly weren't the first to deliver that message, though they were the latest and the ones freshest in the mind of every free agent.
If Anthony genuinely feels he, LeBron, Bosh and Wade could become a team right away, not just a collection of impressive individuals, it's hard to see him avoiding Miami.
New York Knicks: Home
It's hard to read Carmelo Anthony's comments during a June 3 interview with Vice Sports, as relayed by ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein, without immediately realizing the most appealing aspect of staying with the Knicks:
The average person just sees the opportunity to say that, 'Oh, Melo should go here, Melo should go there. I think he should do this, I think he should do that.' But they don't take into consideration the family aspect of it. Your livelihood. Where you're going to be living at. Do you want your kids to grow up in that place? In that city? Do I want to spend the rest of my career in that situation in that city? So all of that stuff comes into play.
My son goes to school [in New York]. He loves it here. To take him out and take him somewhere else, he has to learn that system all over again, he has to get new friends. And I know how hard it was for me when I moved from New York to Baltimore at a young age. Having to work your way to try to make friends.
Let's not forget that the Knicks are the hometown team for this particular superstar.
He was born in Brooklyn, and though he moved to Baltimore, as mentioned above, he still came back to New York for his brief collegiate career at Syracuse. These Knicks are in his blood, even if he hasn't always played for them.
Having Phil Jackson in the front office is appealing. Having the ability to make more money in New York than anywhere else fits into the same category.
But the best thing the Knicks have to offer him?
The city of New York itself.