Los Angeles has the bright lights and a winning tradition, but New York and Madison Square Garden may be the biggest stage in professional basketball.
Rumors are abound that Carmelo Anthony is on his way out of Denver. The eighth-year forward, who rose to fame during his one season at Syracuse after leading the Orange to a national championship, is arguably the best player among all upcoming 2011 free agents—a class which includes Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and David West, among others.
It is unlikely that many teams around the league would be willing to give up a significant package of players to land Carmelo, considering his services could just be on a year-end rental basis. If a team trades for Melo and he decides to test free agency anyway, they risk losing the services of the superstar (and the players they already traded for him) without receiving further compensation.
As a result, it's likely only three teams remain as legitimate long-term destinations for Carmelo Anthony, whether during this year via trade or in the offseason once his contract expires.
The first are the New Jersey (soon to be Brooklyn) Nets and their billionaire Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov. The Nets heavily pursued Melo throughout January and even brought other teams into the fold (Timberwolves, Pistons) in order to orchestrate a deal. The pursuit proved fruitless, and New Jersey ultimately backed off a few weeks ago.
Time will tell if Prokhorov's ending of discussions was a resignation or merely a negotiation tactic. Whatever the case, the Nets don't have the pieces to get a trade done on their own. If Melo waits until free agency to decide where he will spend the prime of his career, the lure of playing in a world-class arena in Brooklyn and becoming an international superstar, as promised by Prokhorov, may be difficult to pass up.
In the past few days the Lakers have jumped into negotiations with the Nuggets. The two-time defending champions currently sit at 36-16, good for third in the Western Conference and seven and a half games behind the Spurs. Phil Jackson and general manager Mitch Kupchak appear to have reservations about whether this Lakers team, as currently constructed, can seriously compete for a third.
Ron Artest needs to go as he has outstayed his welcome in Lakerland, evidenced by screams of "Nooooo!" throughout the Staples Center whenever their No. 15 lines up to shoot a three-pointer. The Celtics are also constructed specifically to beat the Lakers and their two trees, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
The defending Eastern Conference champions and current No. 1 seed in the East (38-13) added Shaquille and Jermaine O'Neal to a rotation of Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis in order to better defend the paint.
The Lakers need to shake things up and become more athletic. A proposed swap of Andrew Bynum for Carmelo Anthony would do just that, but it was apparently rejected by Lakers VP of Player Personnel, Jim Buss.
Although a chance to play with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol would be appealing and make the Lakers fun to watch, Carmelo Anthony's best long-term option is likely the New York Knicks.
Anthony has stated before that he wants to play in New York. When Amare Stoudemire signed with the Knicks, he claims to have spoken to Carmelo and Spurs point guard Tony Parker about coming to play alongside him. To land Carmelo, the Knicks would likely have to part with two out of three of Wilson Chandler, Landry Fields and Danilo Gallinari.
Even still, their surrounding parts are younger and would better serve as complementary pieces to their crop of stars than the Laker's would. Timofey Mozgov was considered the best center in Eurpoe and, though already starting, is likely to continue improving. Shawne Williams is an elite three-point shooter and would thrive further with Carmelo spreading the floor.
Even if youngsters Toney Douglas and Anthony Randolph aren't in the Knicks long term plans, they both have value and would provide a great return on investment if offered to teams around the league.
Kobe Bryant, while still elite, is 32 years old and has his best seasons behind him. Amare Stoudemire is 28 and is having one of the best seasons of his career. Critics doubted whether he could succeed without a distributor like Steve Nash. Ray Felton has proved reliable, and Stoudemire is scoring at a career high mark (26.3 PPG).
In the coming seasons, the Eastern Conference will be easier to compete in than the West. Recently it's been far less competitive; the teams with any semblance of a star ease into the playoffs (even records under .500) in the East while 10 or 11 good teams consistently fight for the eight playoff spots in the West.
The Spurs appear to be legitimate contenders again. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will be a force in Oklahoma City for the next decade. The Clippers, behind Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon, are poised to compete in the near future. And Derron Williams and his crew appear set in Utah for a while.
Atlanta is talented, but doesn't have the roster to seriously contend for a title and their situation will worsen as Joe Johnson's awful contract turns into an albatross. The Celtics' big three (Pierce, Garnett, Allen) are all aging and likely to retire soon if they win another title. The Magic are very good, but who knows where Dwight Howard will be in two years?
The Heat appear to be the only guaranteed threat in the East for the immediate future. However, with a lineup featuring Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire among others, the Knicks would make for an interesting matchup with the King and his South Beach crew.
If he comes to New York, Carmelo Anthony has the chance, along with Amare, to be New York City royalty. In the biggest city in the world, fans have the option of rooting for two different football teams, two different baseball teams, and two different hockey teams.
In basketball, there's only been the Knicks. It is the one team that every New Yorker has in common. The Nets are going to try to change that in the next few years, but it remains to be seen what kind of an effect they'll have.
Carmelo can either go to Los Angeles and play second fiddle until Kobe Bryant retires, or he could come to New York and captivate an entire city while playing with one of his friends. Every time Carmelo comes to New York, he's hounded by fans who have encouraged his arrival.
Melo has said before that he wants to play in New York. When it comes time for free agency, the Knicks will surely offer him a max contract.
Hopefully he makes the right choice for himself, and Knicks fans alike. Reviving the Knicks-Heat rivalry would be great for the NBA, and for fans.