Ranking Carmelo Anthony's Expected Suitors This Offseason

Jim Cavan@@JPCavanContributor IFebruary 28, 2014

Ranking Carmelo Anthony's Expected Suitors This Offseason

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    Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

    Simple question: If you were Carmelo Anthony, would you ditch the New York Knicks this summer?

    If you've paid any attention to the NBA over the last few months—and New York’s seemingly endless woes in particular—chances are your answer is a resounding “yes.”

    And rightly so: At 21-37 and a full 5.5 games back of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot, the Knicks have clearly betrayed the promise that was portended by last year’s success.

    Sadly, it might get worse before it gets better: With few draft picks and little in the way of financial wiggle room, New York is liable to be a mess for at least another year—a year that Melo might not be willing to waste.

    History will no doubt account for how he got to the Knicks—forcing New York to give up the bulk of its young assets in order to assure he received the biggest possible payday—but he can hardly be blamed for this year’s devastating debacle.

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    If that’s not a picture of a player squarely in his prime, what is?

    Thanks to the structure of the new collective bargaining agreement, the Knicks will be able to offer Melo in the neighborhood of $29 million more than any other team.

    But if he has designs on solidifying his legacy with an NBA championship, his sights might well be set on a more winning destination.

    What follows are the top five free-agent destinations that Melo should consider this summer—what kind of pay cut he’d have to take, how he’d fit on the roster and, most importantly, what kind of championship prospects each brings to the table.

    All stats courtesy of NBA.com and all salary information courtesy of ShamSports.com, unless otherwise noted.

5) Los Angeles Lakers

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    2014-15 committed salaries: $36.3 million

    What Melo could sign for: Five years, $85 million

    With all that money committed to just five players (assuming the Los Angeles Lakers pick up Kendall Marshall’s paltry payday), the Lakers will either have to go well into luxury-tax territory or resign themselves to clever signings and creative accounting.

    If Melo can be convinced to take a big pay cut, the Lakers could conceivably attract a bevy of free agents who would happily do the same.

    Play with a pair of legends in Kobe Bryant and Melo while enjoying the SoCal sunshine? Not a bad existence, even at a discount.

    Of course, Melo signing with the Lakers would call into question statements that he made last month during All-Star weekend, which indicated he’s only interested in winning at this point. From ESPN New York’s Ian Begley:

    "Without a doubt,'' Anthony said Friday while in New Orleans for All-Star Weekend. "Any opportunity I have to build that up in New York, I'd do it. I told people all the time, always say, 'If it takes me taking a pay cut, I'll be the first one on [Knicks owner] Mr. [James] Dolan's steps saying take my money and let's build something strong over here.'"

    Either that, or the delusions regarding his organizational situation must be at Knicks levels of grandiosity.

    But the Lakers are the Lakers, and if Melo thinks he’d soon be joined by another big-name signing—Kevin Love or Russell Westbrook, perhaps—he might be willing to put up with a few more years of mediocrity for the sake of renewed title hopes in Tinseltown.

4) Phoenix Suns

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    2014-15 committed salaries: $33.8 million

    What Melo could sign for: Five years, $80 million

    The idea of Anthony signing with the Phoenix Suns would have been inconceivable six months ago, when experts in the league were chalking Phoenix into the NBA basement.

    What a difference diminished expectations can make.

    That the Suns have managed to hold onto the West’s final playoff spot—however tenuously—is impressive enough. Their youth and upside are even more impressive.

    Goran Dragic, Miles Plumlee, and Markieff and Marcus Morris are four players who have taken their own impressive leaps over last year. Throw in Melo and Eric Bledsoe, whose $3.7 million qualifying offer the Suns could go over the salary cap to match, and you have the makings of a high-flying offensive machine that any team in the league would be wise to respect.

    So long as the Suns’ notoriously penny-pinching owner Robert Sarver can be convinced to get out of his own way, Melo could become the face of a new brand of showtime basketball.

3) Atlanta Hawks

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    2014-15 committed salaries: $47.9 million

    What Melo could sign for: Five years, $75 million

    Despite losing both Joe Johnson and Josh Smith over the past two years, the Atlanta Hawks have emerged as one of the league’s more exciting young teams.

    Buoyed by Al Horford—who, despite missing most of this season with a torn pectoral muscle, will likely remain in Atlanta through 2016—and frontcourt mate Paul Millsap, the Hawks have leveraged a combination of solid role players and promising youth to make themselves an appealing destination heading into the summer.

    Adding Melo would give Atlanta arguably the league’s most formidable frontcourt. With emerging point guard Jeff Teague marshaling first-year coach (and Gregg Popovich disciple) Mike Budenholzer’s pass-happy, San Antonio Spurs-like offense, the Hawks could soon have all the makings of a legitimate threat in a weak Eastern Conference.

    It might not hold the glamour and glitz of an LA or New York or the rock-solid legacy of the Chicago Bulls, but Atlanta would give Melo a chance to thrive far from Manhattan’s maddening media cauldron.

2) New York Knicks

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    Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

    2014-15 committed salaries: $90.8 million

    What Melo could sign for: Anywhere from five years, $80 million to five years, $129 million

    You knew this was coming eventually, right?

    Taking into account Melo’s comments about accepting less money to help the Knicks get back on track, New York offers a level of familiarity and celebrity that can’t be duplicated.

    Obviously, James Dolan will have to dig even deeper into his wallet to make that happen. He’s done so before: During the 2005-06 season, New York’s salaries totaled a whopping $124 million or about $62.3 million above the tax line.

    And that was for a team that won 23 games.

    Dolan might be a bit more gun-shy this time around, but with Melo in place and the pressure ratcheting up with every banner-less year, New York’s mercurial owner could be willing to meet the star halfway: Sign for less, and I’ll go out and get you more weapons, cost be damned.

    It would be quite the gambit, to be sure. More importantly for Knicks fans, it would be as solid an indication as any that loyalty ranks highly on Anthony’s list of values.

1) Chicago Bulls

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    2014-15 committed salaries: $63.8 million

    What Melo could sign for: Five years, $75 million

    We know, we know: such sacrilege!

    Like the Suns, the Chicago Bulls have garnered a reputation for being exceedingly frugal over the years, never wanting to wade too far into the luxury-tax waters.

    If, however, Chicago decides to amnesty Carlo Boozer, thereby recouping most of the $16.8 million owed to him in 2014-15 (the Bulls would have to pay the difference between his original salary and whatever new contract he signs), the team could conceivably offer Melo the best of both worlds: A healthy team back on the path toward contention and a tidy little payday to boot.

    However, depending on how much Melo demands, the Bulls could be forced to part ways with Taj Gibson and Mike Dunleavy (roughly $11 million), not to mention possibly renouncing the rights to prospect Nikola Mirotic.

    The bigger X-factor here, of course, is the health of Derrick Rose, who suffered the second knee injury in as many years on November 22. Assuming he comes back at something resembling full capacity, Chicago would boast a legitimate two-way threat: Melo and Rose’s scoring, along with the defensive presence of Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson (if he stays) and Jimmy Butler.

    Obviously, it’s difficult to imagine any scenario rubbing New Yorkers rawer than one of their own chasing a championship with a sworn enemy.

    At the same time, it’s hard to deny the logic—both financial and professional—of Melo making hay in Chi-Town.

    ESPN’s Mike Wilbon quoted one NBA scout who believed that not even Anthony’s sketchy defensive reputation would be enough to dissuade the Bulls from pulling the trigger—assuming they give themselves the chance:

    The fatal mistake the Knicks made is that they brought Carmelo to New York to be the guy who makes everybody else better, and that's not who he is. Carmelo is a guy who needs teammates, and he'd have those [in Chicago]. He scores. He doesn't make other teammates better ... though his scoring and his presence will make the game easier for others. It would take some weight off of Rose. When Rose plays against Miami they swarm and blitz him ... What Carmelo would give [the Bulls] is an alternative. What he could do is finish games.

A Daunting Decision

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    Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

    We know what you're thinking: No mention of the Miami Heat? Absurd!

    Here's the thing about the Heat: Even though LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all hold an early-termination option on their contracts, it's important to remember that those were initially implemented just in case the Big Three experiment happened to fail.

    Miami's troika has simply built too good a thing for any of them to seriously consider walking now. Should that come to pass, it might be worth re-evaluating Melo's options, but until then, it remains too far afield to warrant serious consideration.

    How the Knicks finish the season—whether they make one last miracle run at the playoffs or find themselves buried in a hole that they dug too deeply—will likely factor into whether Anthony stays or goes.

    In the meantime, expect the free-agency whispers to only get louder, as one of the game's most uniquely talented stars inches closer to a decision that could not only shape his legacy but alter the NBA's power structure as well.