For athletes in New York, how you're perceived matters a great deal. For New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, shaving a little money off his massive new contract and losing the "full-max" designation is an investment in his reputation more than anything else.
Anthony, undoubtedly and deservedly, could have taken every penny owed him. And while it's silly to begrudge someone for not leaving money on the table needlessly, Anthony now gets to control the narrative a bit. He's willing to sacrifice now, they'll say, and perhaps that will help recruit free agents in 2015 and beyond. Maybe it will make the media sessions a little easier if the Knicks struggle.
It's like a lot of workplaces. Sometimes you take a little less money just to be more comfortable and remove some of the pressure.
So what was the cost of that?
Ian Begley of ESPN New York has the early contract details:
The contract will be for more than $122 million but less than the five-year, $129 million max figure, a source told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard on Saturday.
"After three months of questions around Carmelo Anthony's return to the New York Knicks we are now happy to know that we have the cornerstone of what we envision as a 'team of excellence,'" Knicks president Phil Jackson said in a statement. "... [Knicks general manager] Steve Mills and I have assured Carmelo through our conversations, that we share the vision and the determination to build this team."
Jackson added later Sunday that Anthony had taken less than the maximum to give the Knicks cap flexibility.
"He did exactly what we kind of asked him to do. Give us a break in the early part of his contract so that when we have some wiggle room next year, which is hopefully big enough wiggle room, we can exploit it, provide a more competitive team for our group," Jackson said after the Knicks' summer league practice in Las Vegas.
By coughing up at the most $6 million over the lifespan of his deal, Anthony has given the message that he's willing to cooperate with the franchise, that he wasn't being selfish in contract negotiations and that he's fully invested in making it work in New York.
That's certainly important, even if the act itself doesn't carry the same weight as the message does. The Knicks will have plenty of cap space to work with in the next few years, and the minor additions that can be added to this year's team are likely to be financially insignificant, as the Knicks will want to try and avoid the tax moving forward.
Here's more from Jackson, courtesy of Begley:
Jackson hinted that the Knicks would be prudent with their spending for the rest of the summer but made it clear that he would be looking to balance the guard-heavy roster.
"We've been a taxpayer team for a little bit and we want to limit that. So, we're not just going to foolishly throw money away because it's available to us," Jackson said. "We want to make an appropriate move that brings our team forward."
This creates an interesting dynamic, as it's almost like Anthony is paying a tax so the team he plays for will be more responsible with their spending and decision-making. It's an investment in Jackson in a sense, as it will be up to him to decide what to do with the savings from Anthony's deal.
The Knicks may not be able to do anything huge with that extra cap space, but even a player on a smaller deal can make all the difference. In the short-term, someone like former New Orleans Pelicans big man Jason Smith could knock down jumpers at the elbow and play the 4 and the 5.
In the long-term, you never know when a cheap signing will blossom into a huge contributor. Just look at what the Spurs were able to do with someone like Patty Mills this postseason. This won't be enough money for a big star, but it's a lottery ticket that the Knicks desperately need.
What's clear is that there's a show in faith in the organization, as here's what Anthony said in a statement via his personal website:
This organization has supported me and in return, I want to stay and build here with this city and my team. ... I am looking forward to continuing my career in Orange & Blue, and to working with Phil Jackson, a champion who builds championship teams. Madison Square Garden is the mecca of basketball and I am surrounded by the greatest fans in the world.
While it's silly to demand or expect stars to take less than they can earn in free agency, it's still acceptable to applaud them for doing so. Anthony is one of the few stars in his prime to take less than the full-max deal available to him, and it's especially impressive since the league is healthy and the upward swing of the salary cap could make his contract seem even smaller down the line.
Still, some might think that the Knicks are overpaying for Anthony, even with the discount. Here's Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com:
The New York Knicks have won 55 percent of their games since Carmelo Anthony joined the team in 2011 — a rate that equates to a 45-37 record over a regular season and a first-round exit from the playoffs.
Get ready for more of the same. It’s not that Anthony is a bad player. He’s a very good player — perhaps even an underappreciated player, as my Grantland colleague Bill Simmons notes. He’s improved some problematic aspects of his game, like 3-point shooting, since arriving in New York.
But Anthony’s new contract — reported to be in the range of $125 million over five seasons — will pay him every penny he’s worth. NBA teams win championships by getting players at discounts instead — and Anthony probably won’t qualify.
Anthony's future and legacy will likely be defined by the quality of teammates around him and the decisions of management, so sacrificing his own personal gain to aid in those two goals is admirable. This was an important moment for Anthony, especially after LeBron James was applauded for putting home and the narrative above all else.
With the symbolic move of taking less than he could have with his contract, Anthony has followed LeBron's lead on a much smaller scale, controlling the perception like a true star always should. The few extra million in savings may or may not amount to much, but it's a wise investment for Anthony to make.