We've known this was coming since at least October, but now it's official. As Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Sunday, Carmelo Anthony has officially notified the New York Knicks that he is exercising the early termination option in his contract, and will become an unrestricted free agent as of the beginning of free agency on July 1.
Anthony's agent, Leon Rose, confirmed his client's decision — which the 30-year-old All-Star forward communicated to the Knicks in a "formal letter" on Friday, according to Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal — in a statement to reporters on Monday morning. From Steve Popper of the Bergen, N.J., Record:
By exercising his ETO, Anthony's forfeiting the chance to make $23,333,405 next season, but he's doing so knowing that A) he's a sure bet to receive far more lucrative multi-year offers from multiple suitors and B) playing the field affords him the option of possibly moving to a more attractive short-term title-contending environment than the one in New York.
The Knicks are coming off a disappointing 37-45 season in which they failed to make the playoffs (the first postseason miss of Anthony's 11-year career) in a very bad Eastern Conference. They're replacing their fired head coach with a first-timer who was in uniform this time last month. They've got a first-time personnel boss tasked with building a contender on the fly despite being totally capped out and over the luxury tax for 2014-15, having very little flexibility to add free-agent talent, having no picks in the 2014 and 2016 NBA drafts and being unable to trade their 2015 first-round pick due to league rules. It's not the most enticing setting at the moment.
Phil Jackson and the Knicks' brass had publicly and privately tried to sell Anthony on opting not to exercise the ETO, sticking around to collect his $23.3 million, opening the door to a higher prospective maximum salary, and allowing the Knicks to enter the summer of 2014-15 with Anthony in tow and enough financial flexibility (after the expiration of eight-figure contracts owed to Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani) to be able to make competitive offers to other top-flight free-agent talent. Anthony — who said in November that he wanted to retire in New York, but still has a lot of basketball in front of him before he gets to that point — apparently did not bite on Jackson's and Fisher's vision of the future.
That doesn't necessarily mean that Anthony's played his last game as a Knick. New York still holds Anthony's Bird rights and, despite being well over the salary cap and luxury-tax line, can both go even further into the red to re-sign him and offer him a longer, more lucrative contract than anyone else, a five-year deal worth a maximum $129 million. The most another suitor could offer him would be a four-year deal worth approximately $96 million. That said, though, some feel that Anthony — who said in his season-wrapping press conference that “without a doubt, at this point in my career it’s about winning" — might not necessarily go for the top dollar here.
"If he makes the choice to opt out, I think he's gone," a "person familiar with the matter" told Herring of the Journal.
The Bulls have Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah at center, a reportedly ready-to-go former MVP Derrick Rose coming back on offense, and an excellent head coach in Tom Thibodeau — with whom Anthony's agent has "been close friends for nearly two decades," according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News — who is reportedly pushing for Chicago to bring Anthony's scoring prowess into the fold. The Bulls' collection of movable draft picks and players "could [give them] the inside track if the Knicks' superstar decides he wants to move on," according to CBSSports.com's Ken Berger; the Knicks "are expected to explore sign-and-trade possibilities, especially with the Bulls, who have several non-guaranteed contracts that could make it viable" according to Scott Cacciola of the New York Times.
The Rockets — Oscar Robertson's preferred 'Melo destination, for what it's worth — would provide Anthony the opportunity to a near-contention core featuring the All-Star inside-out combination of Dwight Howard and James Harden, restricted free agent swingman Chandler Parsons and defensive-minded point guard Patrick Beverley. Houston would need to move a pair of high-priced reserves, former Bulls center Omer Asik and ex-Knicks guard Jeremy Lin, to create enough cap space to offer Anthony a contract approaching his full max contract. The Rockets "have long been confident that they could move Asik and Lin if necessary to create cap space because unlike their efforts to deal Asik during the season, they would not be seeking comparable talent in return," according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.
Reports circulated earlier this month that the Miami Heat were considering free-agent plans that included having top stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh exercise their own early termination options this summer and, along with Anthony, take pay cuts to enable the creation of a "Big Four" in Florida. James, Wade and Bosh all downplayed that chatter, and Heat team president Pat Riley called it "a pipe dream" (before noting, of course, that the creation of the Big Three in 2010 was considered a pipe dream, too).
The Dallas Mavericks have also been a rumored potential landing spot for Anthony, but while Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki said the Mavericks would "love to have him," he also acknowledged that he doesn't think it's realistic to think that Anthony will head to Texas. The Los Angeles Lakers, fresh off their own dismal season and firing of a head coach with whom Anthony didn't exactly get along in Manhattan, have loads of cap space, a reportedly 100 percent Kobe Bryant and the No. 7 pick in Thursday's 2014 NBA draft, but very little else; before the season, Anthony called it doubtful that he'd find himself in forum blue and gold come next year.
Just how viable any of these (or other) potential landing spots are remains to be seen. For now, all we know is that Anthony is indeed opting out and that he's indeed interested in experiencing full-fledged, unfettered free agency for the first time in his NBA career.
Which is to say, we know today exactly what we knew eight months ago.
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