Carmelo Anthony's tour of prospective suitors in free agency has come to a close after a three-day venture from the heartland to Los Angeles, where—according Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski—he's likely to make a decision over the weekend.
Until then, as Wojnarowski also notes, there won't be much movement on the free-agency front.
The dominoes will start falling soon enough, though. And when they do, don't be surprised if those prospective suitors are all left exploring Plan Bs.
Per Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy:
While Rose had went on the record saying that he wasn’t going recruit Anthony to Chicago, he was very involved in the team’s courtship of the superstar free agent, according to sources close to the situation. While at the United Center, sources say that Rose went through a private workout to show Anthony that he’s healthy and ready to compete at a high level next season.
Houston put on a similar marketing blitz, touting its own present and potential star power, as well as offering Anthony a glimpse at how his No. 7 would look in a Rockets uniform—much to Jeremy Lin's chagrin.
The Rockets will host Carmelo Anthony and have pictures of Carmelo in Rockets uniforms on Toyota Center marquis pic.twitter.com/2VfycvqlkN— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) July 2, 2014
And the Lakers were left to do what they do best. They reminded Anthony of his star potential in Los Angeles, relying on a film made by The Matrix producer Joel Silver to hammer the point home. Even Time Warner executives were present at the L.A. meeting, no doubt highlighting the business opportunities that would avail themselves to Anthony in such a market.
Then came the Knicks, who—per ESPN.com's Chris Broussard and Ian Begley—"have always told Anthony that they would give him the max contract and reiterated that in their Thursday meeting, although the offer was verbal, not formal, a source said."
It didn't always sound like New York was keen on offering such a deal. Earlier this year, president of basketball operations Phil Jackson intimated that Anthony might take less than a maximum contract (per ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley):
'I think [there is] a precedent that's been set,' Jackson said last week, referring to stars taking less money to join or remain with contending teams. 'Because the way things have been structured now financially for teams is that it's really hard to have one or two top stars or max players, and to put together a team with enough talent, you've got to have people making sacrifices financially.'
Clearly there's been a change of tone.
While all of Anthony's hopefuls may offer a better chance of winning in the short term, these Knicks have money—and more.
But let's start with the money (because who doesn't?).
"New York can offer Anthony the most money of any of his suitors, a maximum contract worth $129 million over five seasons," report Broussard and Begley. "Other suitors can offer Anthony a max contract worth $96 million over four years."
That's a difference of roughly $33 million over the course of the deal. And that's led at least some observers to conclude that this will in fact be a relatively straightforward decision for Anthony.
Forbes' Mark Heisler cites "an official of another NBA team" who said, "He’s not going to leave $35 million on the table. He’s going to take the money in New York for the same reason Kyrie Irving took it in Cleveland [signing a $90 million extension.] It’s a lot of money."
At this point in the 30-year-old's career, one final massive payday may be in order. There's no telling whether Anthony will continue producing at this rate well into his mid-30s, so the financially wise thing to do would be to take the money.
There are already some signs Anthony is contemplating doing just that.
Wojnarowski reports that:
Hours before his final meeting with New York Knicks officials, free agent Carmelo Anthony reached out to obtain free agent Pau Gasol's phone number and discuss with him the possibility of playing together at Madison Square Garden, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Of course, unlike Anthony, Gasol would have to take a massive pay cut in order to join the Knicks. But the point is that Anthony is recruiting as if he's already a Knick, as if he's always been one.
Beyond the dollar figures alone, there are a few reasons for that.
One of them may be especially close to the heart.
Berman reports that, "according to two sources, Anthony’s wife, La La Vasquez, also a Brooklyn native, is very happy in New York and is opposed to Melo leaving the Knicks."
It's impossible to quantify how much influence—if true—that would have over Anthony's decision, but if he's thinking about his family, the money and his wife are both pretty important considerations. And they both point in the same direction.
Then there are practical matters—or anyway, practical matters beyond getting paid.
Anthony suffered through a disappointing 2013-14 campaign and is no doubt eager to win sooner than later. His biological NBA clock is ticking, leaving an ever-slimmer window of championship opportunity. Though the Syracuse product could always chase rings late into his 30s, now is the time to win if he actually wants to be the centerpiece of a contending team.
That's where Phil Jackson comes in.
As president of basketball operations, Jackson's job is to reverse course on a recent history of missteps by the organization, using his Zen wisdom to formulate a vision that returns New York to its status as a winner and preferred free-agent destination.
He could certainly aid in bringing someone like Gasol on board, but Jackson's presence is bigger than that.
He's a legend in this business, the sort of name players flock to. Few have shown a keener understanding of how to make superstars thrive, and it's Jackson's responsibility to ensure Anthony can thrive, too. Though that task will be a difficult one in the short term given the franchise's lack of cap flexibility, there's already been some movement in the right direction.
Jackson recently unloaded center Tyson Chandler and disappointing point guard Raymond Felton in a deal that acquired Jose Calderon from the Dallas Mavericks. That could certainly help in landing Gasol—a fellow Spaniard—but it's primarily about establishing some much-needed consistency and stability at the point guard position.
Calderon made 44.9 percent of his three-pointers last season, making him a perfect fit for the triangle offense new head coach Derek Fisher is set to install. From John Paxson to Steve Kerr to Fisher himself, Jackson's teams have always utilized point guards who could shoot the ball—creating the requisite spacing for the triangle to function.
So New York's first new piece is in place. Likely the first of many.
As bad as the organization's cap situation looks this summer, that all changes in 2015 when contracts belonging to Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani both come off the books. That will be Jackson's opportunity to pounce, when guys like Kevin Love and Rajon Rondo are set to become free agents. In the meantime, additions like Gasol would certainly further the win-now cause, but they aren't essential.
With a little patience, Anthony could find himself surrounded by much-improved star talent soon enough.
And he could do so on his terms, without bouncing around the league like a mercenary. More than any practical interest he has in the money or Jackson's success, it's that legacy that should finalize this decision. The chance to win as a member of the New York Knicks, to finish what he started—that's an eventuality that can't be ignored.
Anthony has already moved on from the Denver Nuggets, where he spent his first seven-and-a-half seasons. Another move—this time away from an already established prime market—would look and feel like giving up.
Surely that's not how Anthony wants to be remembered. Quitting the Knicks would assure sooner wins, but they'd come at a symbolic cost. Anthony is the focal point of New York's operation, the core superstar around which future talent will be consolidated.
Anywhere else, he'd be an add-on—joining Rose and Noah, Harden and Howard or Kobe and whatever becomes of the Lakers. In New York, he's poised to have others join him.
When they do, the decision to stay won't look so risky after all.
Fortune. Family. Legacy. If these aren't the things that matter most to Anthony, this decision remains anyone's guess.
If they're at the forefront of his thought process, however, New York will remain home.