Why Carmelo Anthony Is Totally Worth All the Free-Agency Fuss

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Why Carmelo Anthony Is Totally Worth All the Free-Agency Fuss
USA TODAY Sports

Maybe you don't think Carmelo Anthony has earned his star status.

Maybe you're just sick of high-profile players being able to choose where they want to go, or maybe you just don't enjoy cute names like "Melo drama" and are raging against the offseason machine. That will happen.

But you know what doesn't happen enough in these situations? People maintaining perspective.

You may not love Anthony's game or particularly enjoy the way he's handled free agency thus far, but he is unquestionably one of the most versatile and talented offensive players in all of basketball. Only a select handful of players can beat you off the dribble, punish you on the block, draw double-teams consistently and snipe from behind the arc. Anthony is in that group.

Is he flawed? Absolutely, but not so much so that it prohibits from him being deserving of the star label. Anthony isn't a good defender, but there are lots of players in the Hall of Fame with rings on their fingers who were just as bad on that end.

Is Anthony as good as LeBron? Michael Jordan? Kobe Bryant? No, but that doesn't mean his legacy won't live on well past his years. That doesn't mean he won't be remembered as one of this era's greatest players.

When stars become available and have the potential to change the NBA landscape completely just by picking a new address, that's a big deal. Anthony's free agency is important because he's an important player who might be at the peak of his powers heading into the 12th season of his career. He was phenomenal last year, even though his team was terrible.

That happens. Ask Tracy McGrady. Hey, even ask Kobe Bryant. 

And while his individual accomplishments might not mean a thing without a ring for some, writing off his career up to this point would be foolish. Here's Dave McMenamin at ESPN.com with his take:

The fact that Anthony has never been to the Finals and is coming off a season in which the Knicks failed to even reach the playoffs in the lowly Eastern Conference seems to cloud people's memories when it comes to giving credit to Anthony for making the postseason in the first 10 seasons of his career as his team's featured player. How many No. 1 players in the league can claim a run like that? He is still a guy you can build your team around. If he finally finds himself with the necessary talent surrounding him for the first time in his career, watch out.

The question of whether Carmelo Anthony is worth the max or not is a silly one. While Anthony is admittedly a little more high-maintenance than a few other max players out there, he's also one of the best offensive building blocks a team could possibly have. He's dragged mediocre role players to top offensive finishes multiple times. 

This is not a hard decision for New York and Phil Jackson to make, even though it's understood that getting Anthony for less money than his full max would be ideal. That shouldn't be viewed as a reflection on Anthony or what he brings to the table, however.

After all, Kevin Garnett spent the greater portion of his career surrounded by talk that he should take less money so the team around him could be better. LeBron James will catch that same heat this summer. It happens to the best, but because Anthony hasn't won anything significant and his flaws are plain to see, it takes on a decidedly different tone.

Here's Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

Last Thursday, Jackson talked about the restrictions placed on a club when signing a player, such as Anthony, to max deal. But that may be the Knicks best and only way of keeping him.

When asked if a max contract had been discussed, Jackson said: "We haven't come to that. But the perception is we want Carmelo to be as interested in winning. When saying he's competitive and wants to be on a competitive to also being able to demonstrate that if push comes to shove in a situation where he may have to take a little bit less and we're more competitive to bring in another player to help us bring this concept along."

Signing Anthony to a max deal isn't the death knell some make it out to be, or even an impediment to serious success like Jackson portrays. New York just has to make competent moves in addition to it, like not signing Amar'e Stoudemire and his knees, or not trading for Andrea Bargnani and sacrificing draft picks, or not expecting a Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith backcourt to be totally reliable all the time.

In hindsight, the Knicks didn't do a whole lot right with Anthony, did they?

Still though, with an offense centered around him, they did set an NBA record for three-pointers made in the 2012-13 season and had the third-best offense in the whole league with a ragtag bunch of veterans and outcasts, primarily.

And in small glimpses, we've seen how dominant Anthony can be next to superstars. In Olympic play, Anthony is routinely one of the very best players on the floor, feasting on defenses who can't totally collapse on him and playing well off of other stars. 

Point being, Anthony brings so much to the table offensively that it would be frightening to see him with a bunch of plus defenders, or an above-average point guard, or another star who would draw attention away. If he had all of those things? Watch out.

The problem is, Anthony has never really had those things, whether it be for self-inflicted reasons or not. The best players he's teamed with have been an oft-injured Tyson Chandler and an end-of-the-line version of Allen Iverson. Frankly, his supporting casts have typically been average at best.

As we've seen over the years, every star, no matter how bright, needs a solid supporting cast in order to be a champion.

Is Carmelo Anthony worth his max deal?

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Taking less money would help in that regard, sure, but the Knicks will have plenty of cap space in 2015 and assets at their disposal. In addition to that, there are plenty of built-in advantages in New York that will more than compensate for the few million annually Anthony could accept by taking his max instead of a pay cut.

But for some, Anthony potentially taking the max and staying in New York will signal that he's selfish, or that he doesn't care about winning. If he joins up with another star, it will be an admission that he wasn't good enough. It's a lose-lose situation in terms of perception, and Anthony will catch the brunt of it either way. 

No matter what he decides, Anthony's decision will alter the course of at least one franchise at the minimum. That's the kind of power he wields because of his immense talent.

He's worth the max offer, and like it or not, he's worth all of the free-agency fuss.

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