We're waiting on you, Carmelo Anthony.
After more than a week of nonstop speculation and anonymously sourced chatter, the New York Knicks superstar is still a free agent. He hasn't signed a new contract. He hasn't put an end to rampant conjecture.
His foray into the open market lives on.
Our question: Why?
Narrowing Down the Field
No team has officially been eliminated from the Anthony sweepstakes.
This is to say he hasn't held a public presser announcing his intent to completely ignore the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks. Read between the lines, though, and you'll see that's exactly what he's done.
The Mavericks have turned their attentions elsewhere since meeting with Anthony. Like toward Vince Carter, per ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon:
"Things are trending well," source says about Mavs' negotiations with Vince Carter. Not sure about timing, but expectation is deal gets done— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) July 7, 2014
And Chandler Parsons, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski:
Dallas has pursued an offer sheet for Chandler Parsons, but he's still open on market, sources said. Interest is growing.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 7, 2014
Carter won't command a cap-clogging salary, but their pursuit of Parsons is more substantial. He figures to glean $10-plus million annually in any offer sheet he signs.
Superstar-searching guru Daryl Morey and his Rockets appear to have given up on Anthony as well. They're now laying out the red carpet for Chris Bosh, per ESPN.com's Chris Broussard:
Max offer from Houston to Bosh is 4 years, $88 million— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 7, 2014
Either of those teams become viable landing spots if Anthony shifts focus. The same can be said of the Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks, two teams with the cap flexibility and the requisite gall to use it. But behind closed doors, it appears the indecisive Anthony has at least narrowed his options.
From the New York Daily News' Frank Isola:
According to a friend close to the Knicks’ All-Star forward, Anthony is still debating his next move, with the Knicks, Lakers and Bulls all regarded as the most likely landing spots. Anthony has not ruled out the Rockets and Mavericks but those clubs are not considered realistic possibilities for Anthony, who last week received a max offer — five years, $129 million — from Jackson despite the team president hinting for weeks that he wouldn’t offer the max.
We call that nominal yet much-needed clarity this time of year.
Misleading the Bulls?
At the beginning of free agency, the Chicago Bulls were considered a legitimate threat—the biggest threat.
They, in all their Joakim Noah- and Tom Thibodeau-ness, stood to make Anthony's decision difficult and contribute to the delay in his actions. He wouldn't be able to say no to them right away.
Yet if anything, the Bulls have helped expedite this drawn-out process by nearly bowing out.
A source told the New York Post's Marc Berman the Bulls "floated the idea" of Anthony earning $16 million next season. Accepting that pay cut allows them to retain Taj Gibson, which, in turn, leaves much of their depth intact.
Source tells HoopsHype Nikola Mirotic's decision to go to Chicago is final. Will pay contract buyout at more than $3 million.— HoopsHype (@hoopshype) July 4, 2014
But that means Anthony would be taking $6.4 million less than he can actually earn next season. That adds up when you consider the Bulls cannot offer him a fifth year or the same annual raises New York can.
Agreeing to make that kind of sacrifice inoculates Anthony against much of the criticism he's bound to receive. Forfeiting that much money proves winning is all he cares about, even if the Bulls aren't in position to win a championship next season.
Anthony isn't accepting the Bulls' reported offer, though. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune says the seven-time All-Star is still angling for a max or near-max deal.
The Bulls can increase their spending power by dumping Gibson and others or trying to orchestrate a sign-and-trade with the Knicks. Those are their only options, and if they choose to explore them, Anthony might wait around.
If not, their reign as a Melo contender ended the moment they asked him to leave tens of millions of dollars on the table.
Being Hypnotized by Kobe Bryant?
Now we're getting somewhere.
One of the most prominent obstacles existing between Anthony and an actual decision stands at 6'6", has five NBA championship rings and is not above making googly eyes at Melo himself.
By offering Anthony a max contract, the Lakers are appealing to his financial interests and showing him how they take care of their superstars. And if there's still any doubt as to how they treat their cornerstones, all Anthony need do is look at the $48.5 million extension they gave an injured 35-year-old Bryant.
It says a lot that Anthony may wind up choosing "between the Knicks and the Lakers," per Broussard and Shelburne. It speaks to his interest in money, market size and the color purple.
More importantly, it speaks to his trust in the Lakers organization.
Bryant and Anthony won't be winning any championships on their own next season. The Lakers won't be left with any cap space to get them immediate help so long as Steve Nash's contract is on the books, either.
That he's even considering the Lakers is an unequaled sign of respect given their situation. They are still rebuilding, Bryant appeared in only six games last season and they offer more on-court limitations at the moment than any other team he's believed to be courting
The lesson here: Money talks.
And when it speaks, Melo listens.
Waiting On LeBron?
LeBron James has his hand in everything—including Anthony's free agency.
Conventional wisdom had Anthony rendering his verdict by now. His free-agency exploration wouldn't be an extensive process. He would meet with teams quickly, like he did. Then he would deliver his decision shortly thereafter, which he hasn't.
Part of this lag could stem from Dwight Howard schooling Anthony in the art of indecisiveness, or Anthony could be grappling over his situation and remain completely unsure of what to do.
Or, as Berman explains, he could be waiting on a certain hairline-challenged someone:
A growing belief within the organization is Anthony is waiting to make sure there is no possible way of hooking up with LeBron James in Miami or Los Angeles. ...
... The Post has reported the Big 4 scenario was virtually impossible, but if power forward Chris Bosh is wowed by the money in Texas, either Dallas or Houston, that could open a spot for a new Big 3 of James, Anthony and Dwyane Wade splitting the remaining cap space.
Well this is awkward...for Bosh.
Anthony and James want to play together. It's become common knowledge that's reinforced time and again.
Most pipe dreams that have them joining forces hold no weight. This one is different.
If Bosh is actually considering Houston's offer, and if he's at all fed up with playing third fiddle to James and Dwyane Wade, he could leave. Once he does, the Miami Heat would be free to sign Anthony, forging a dyad that never surpassed "pure fantasy" on the superteam wheel.
Only it's not that simple. Not entirely.
Signing Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger changed things for the Heat. They're operating as a capped-out team, suggesting that the Big Three plan on returning.
Credit to @ESPNSteinLine on report of Heat verbal full MLE agreement w/ McRoberts. Confirms Miami operating "capped"— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) July 7, 2014
Bosh can change that by leaving. But his exit forces the Heat to sign McRoberts and Granger using newly created cap space, forcing each member of the newfangled Big Three to take pay cuts so Anthony can fit under the team's salary restrictions.
More like improbable.
Assuming Anthony and James were willing to make a cool $20 million apiece next season, that leaves the Heat with little flexibility to pay Wade and fill out the roster, as CBS Sports' Ken Berger calculates:
With a $63.2 million projected cap, that would leave Riley with $14.4 million for Haslem and Wade combined. Though Wade is expected to take a pay cut, it seems unrealistic that he'd come back for less than $14.4 million. So let's assume for the sake of this illustration that the Heat persuade Haslem to re-sign for the veteran's minimum of $1.45 million, which they would not need to fit under the cap.
Common logic dictates that's not happening. Maybe Wade takes slightly over $14 million, but maybe he doesn't. Maybe Anthony and James take less to play together, but maybe they don't.
Too many moving parts are involved on this end of the spectrum; too many sacrifices need to be made. And if these superstars weren't willing to take significantly less money to actualize dreams of a Big Four formation, why would they reconsider just to fit Granger and McRoberts under the cap?
Money isn't the only roadblock here, either. Anthony is concerned with his legacy. That's a fact. Nothing tarnishes an already-fragile reputation more than leaving New York for the rival Heat.
Join (almost) any other team and fans will be upset. But they will get over it.
Take your talents to South Beach and they'll be forever livid.
Hoping P-Jax Works Magic?
Phil Jackson isn't a miracle worker.
Or maybe he is.
According to The Knicks Blog's Moke Hamilton, the Zen Master is attempting to do the incredibly implausible—make New York an instant free-agency player:
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.
Unloading Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani without receiving anything or anyone back in return toes the line of impossible. Their contracts aren't even valuable as expiring deals. That's how bad they are.
Actualizing the improbable would make Jackson a hero, and, more pointedly, give the Knicks some serious cap space.
Enough to re-sign Anthony and chase another star.
In the unlikely event Jackson can accelerate the Knicks' rebuilding process by one year, Anthony is able to have his cake and eat it, too. He can stay in New York knowing the Knicks aren't poised to labor through another year of incompetent relevance. He can get paid max or near-max money without listening to the "You don't care about winning" detractors.
That possibility alone—however unlikely or ridiculous—is worth waiting around for.
The Power of Uncertainty
Anthony's free agency has fallen victim to uncertainty.
“The average person is looking at it next year—like it’s one year, you can win a championship if you go here,” he told Vice Sports. “We’re looking at the big picture. You’re looking at the next six years of your career.”
There isn't a single team out there—not the Knicks, not the Bulls, not the Heat, not the Lakers—that can promise Anthony longstanding stability headlined by the perfect combination of money, winning, proximity and market appeal.
There are only possibilities.
Which team will Melo wind up with?
The Knicks can possibly turn things around quickly. The Lakers might possibly be contenders again before Bryant retires. The Heat can possibly afford to house Anthony and James.
Not enough certainty is found within Anthony's options for this to be an easy decision. We're talking about the next four, five years of his career. He could be choosing the team he'll spend the rest of his NBA days with.
This is not a decision to be taken lightly. Not with all the variables at play. And until those many variables are replaced with traces of certainty and ironclad opportunities, Anthony's foray into the open market will continue to live on.