How Free-Agency Dominoes Will Fall After Carmelo Anthony's Decision

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How Free-Agency Dominoes Will Fall After Carmelo Anthony's Decision
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Carmelo Anthony's indecision has spawned NBA-wide irresolution.

More than a week into his first career free-agency safari, Anthony has yet to choose where his future lies. According to ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne and Chris Broussard, the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks are running favorites, but none of his other suitors have been officially ruled out.

That lack of clarity has kept the rest of the league in limbo. Other players have agreed to contracts, and many teams are making moves, but the Association remains in a holding pattern, waiting on one of its biggest names, preparing for what happens next.

"My concern is to be able to compete on a high level, a championship level, coming in this last stretch of my career," Anthony said on SportsCenter in February, via ESPN New York. "I want to compete at that level."

Months later, it's unclear whether his priorities are the same, or what he values—winning, money, convenience, etc.—at all. But whatever his primary concerns are, they're going to have a lasting, chain-reaction-invoking impact on how the remaining free-agency landscape plays out.

 

League-Wide Contingency Plans

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Once Anthony chooses a new home, scorned suitors will look to salvage the offseason.

These clubs are separated into two tiers. First, there are the long shots trying to sell Anthony on grandiose visions that had next to no chance of being actualized.

Think about the Phoenix Suns here. Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski says they would try appealing to LeBron James' and Anthony's interests in playing alongside one another, pitching them on the possibility of a quartet built around them, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.

Include the Atlanta Hawks too. Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com say they are among the teams that held out hope James and Anthony would snub bigger markets, brighter lights and better reputations for the opportunity to play together.

Those teams will be forced to move in a different direction. That could mean looking to the trade market if they're dead set on acquiring superstars. More likely than not it means settling for consolation prizes and building supporting casts headlined by established and productive role players, since James and Anthony pursuits are purely pipe dreams and, therefore, ancillary ambitions that have minimal bearing on contingency plans.

Then there are the real threats that, well, are suddenly no longer threats. 

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
If Anthony signs, look for interest in Chris Bosh to skyrocket.

Without Anthony to chase, the Houston Rockets' latest free-agency hunting trip turns into a Chris Bosh party. Per ESPN.com's Chris Broussard:

Plans for the Rockets essentially don't change. The primary target does, but the heart of their superstar craving remains intact, though heightened competition for Chandler Parsons becomes an ever-present danger:

Pretty much the same can be said of the Dallas Mavericks. They'll move on as well, whether it entails pursuing other high-profile free agents or positioning themselves to make offseason waves next summer.

Life after Anthony's contract is more complicated for the Chicago Bulls. They can still clear some cap space by amnestying Carlos Boozer and chasing mid-level free agents to buttress their supporting cast, or they can abandon hope of making free-agency splashes and turn their attentions to Kevin Love.

The latter is a smarter option since the alternative has them potentially overpaying role players just for the sake of adding someone they hope makes an impact. But they could also pull a Bulls—that is to say, remain completely still, refuse to amnesty Boozer and hope the additions of Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott, and the return of Derrick Rose, are enough to elevate their championship ceiling.

Figuring out the Lakers' next course of action is easier. They are essentially Anthony or bust at this point. Baiting him with a max contract was all about Kobe Bryant and the win-now mantra he has parroted since he was a teenager.

After being spurned by Anthony, the Lakers are free to play the "Hey Kobe, we tried" card and move on to plan B—formally known as plan A—like Bleacher Report's Stephen Babb details:

The Lakers would be fortunate if Anthony opts to go elsewhere. They'd do well to preserve their cap space for one or two pieces that would actually feed off Bryant. This is one of those instances in which there's something to be said for delayed gratification—even if that doesn't sit well with Bryant.

Remaining teams, whether they were sitting on pins and needles for Anthony or because of Anthony, are free to carry on with their business. No more waiting on prospective targets who were waiting on Anthony and the additional offers his decision creates.

Teams can move on—they can be aggressive without having to worry about missing out on Anthony or overcompensating those who prefer to sign after the fact.

 

Player Pool

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Losing Anthony will do wonders for this year's pool of free agents.

Some of them, anyway.

Certain teams and players haven't waited to see where the biggest names sign. Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors are slated to spend the next four years together, Marcin Gortat will be making bank with the Washington Wizards for the next five seasons, and Channing Frye has elected to join the Orlando Magic:

Other players, like Vince Carter, aren't far behind, per ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon:

Most of these cases feature someone who plays a different position or falls well below Anthony's contract demands. The impact isn't felt there; it will be evident in the crop of top consolation prizes.

Stocks for players like Luol Deng, Greg Monroe and Parsons will be given a boon. Trevor Ariza too. And Paul Pierce. Those are the players to keep an eye on, the ones other teams already have their eyes on—the ones who could find themselves fielding above-market contracts from teams Anthony slighted.

Long considered the domino that would start everything, James could follow Anthony's lead. Their dream of playing alongside one another will be alive or dead, and he will go from there. Bosh, like we explained previously, will make his decision after knowing what James is up to. 

And there's Pau Gasol, who is being openly courted by a vast array of teams. Anthony is trying to get him to sign with the Knicks, according to Wojnarowski, while the Lakers are hoping he can be used as a selling point for other star free agents, per ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin. He will be right behind Anthony as well, even if they don't team up together.

Basically, Melo should be the first prominent domino to fall. His decision isn't dependent upon any other players like James'. He, unlike James, knows what he'll be getting into.

 

Preparing for the Extreme

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Somehow, the Knicks could find themselves as an emerging player in the free-agent market.

Anthony isn't keen on waiting around, and if he remains in New York, insane salary dumps could follow, according to The Knicks Blog's Moke Hamilton:

Anyone who thought that Phil Jackson came to New York City to sit around and wait until July 2015 may be mistaken. According to a league source, his grandiose vision of building a contender may begin sooner than anyone — even Carmelo Anthony — thought possible.

On the heels of a Monday morning account from ESPN that states the Knicks have engaged the Philadelphia 76ers on a salary-dumping Amar'e Stoudemire trade, a league front office source tells SNY.tv and TheKnicksBlog that the Knicks have also been shopping Andrea Bargnani. Jackson, according to the source, recently rebuffed a trade offer that would have seen Bargnani and Tim Hardaway Jr. sent out in a similar cap-clearing maneuver.

The Knicks will have a better idea of what they're working with after Anthony makes his decision. If he decides to re-sign, Phil Jackson may travel great lengths to make them a free-agency contender. If he doesn't, they can be expected to remain idle as a capped-out team grinding its way toward a more possibility-filled 2015.

Unloading the contracts of Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani is a long shot, but depending on what free agents are left, the Knicks might be compelled to orchestrate their exits with more fervor.

And if they're able to pull off the implausible, there's a new layer added to this hectic offseason.

Available big names suddenly become attainable. The James-Melo dyad could still be alive. Any star free agent has to consider playing for a Knicks team with cap space that is being monitored by Jackson, after all.

Just when we think Anthony will have forfeited winning for money, we could find out he stayed right where he is for a chance to facilitate the unthinkable.

 

The First of Many

Free agency hasn't been stagnant, boring or dormant.

Superstars haven't flocked to locations old and new as quickly as some want, but the moratorium period is in full swing. All commitments are unofficial and subject to change.

But the action increases tenfold following Anthony's decision. He's the one capable of nudging James into a decision if it's not going to be the other way around, who forces teams to implement contingency plans and hand out contracts to players otherwise waiting for or because of him.

Anthony's contract makes things interesting.

More interesting than they already are, since onrushes of chatter will finally be squired by actual substance as opposed to mostly inferential and inconclusive guesswork.

 

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