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Has Carmelo Anthony’s play and free agency declaration turned off MSG shareholders?

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Carmelo Anthony lines one up in front of the Madison Square Garden crowd (Getty Images)

The Knicks won on Thursday night over the San Antonio Spurs, downing the defending Western Conference champions on the road to improve to 10-21. Carmelo Anthony returned from injury to pump in a needed 27 points on 10-20 shooting, but that performance was probably a bit of a highlight in an otherwise frustrating year. Injuries have abounded, teammates have struggled mightily, and coach Mike Woodson has had to answer to rumors about his permanence as head coach all season.

Anthony, meanwhile, made waves last fall for rightfully pointing out that he wanted to become a free agent this summer, expecting to opt out of the final year of the contract extension he signed with New York in 2011. This and the team’s poor showing, according to Forbes’ Mike Ozanian, is the reason why the Knick-owning MSG corporation’s stocks have struggled as well:

But the 2013-14 season has turned fortunes 180 degrees for both the Knicks and MSG shareholders. The team is 10-21 and it would take a miracle for the Knicks to make the playoffs. MSG’s stock had been red hot after Anthony arrived in the Big Apple AAPL -1.48%, easily outperforming the S&P 500 index. But since the end of October shares of MSG have dropped 5% while the overall stock market is up 5%.

Before the season began Anthony said he might consider becoming a free agent after this season and leaving the Knicks–exactly the opposite of what you would expect to hear from the leader of a team. And the reality is MSG investors have been holding the door to the Garden open for him since then.

I think we all can agree that this is a bit much.

First off, the Knicks stink – but it wouldn’t take “a miracle” for New York to make the playoffs. If the current winning percentages hold, they’d have to go 24-27 to make the eighth seed in the East, quite do-able, and there’s always the possibility that they could outpace the Raptors or Celtics in order to win the Atlantic Division, as both teams could be lining up some tank-ready trades in February. I don’t think the Knicks will make the playoffs, but “a miracle” is a little strong.

Furthermore, shares in MSG famously dipped a bit following Jeremy Lin’s jump from the Knicks to the Houston Rockets, but they popped right back up during the same offseason without the Knicks having made any significant moves following his run to Houston. MSG’s holdings are so vast, from hockey teams to arenas and theatres across the US, that pinning a dip like this on the Knicks (much less Anthony speaking out about his impending free agency) is a bit of a stretch.

So it isn’t as if investors are “holding the door to the Garden open” for Anthony to leave. On top of that, players for years have preferred to hit unrestricted free agency rather than sign contract extensions midseason – from Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird to LeBron James in 2010 – without their leadership credentials questioned. As such, nobody should be questioning the leadership credentials of Carmelo Anthony just because he has a desire to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time since joining the NBA 11 years ago.

Criticize him for plenty else – the shot selection, the defense, the move back to small forward – and you’d be spot on in this regard. Anthony wanting to choose his own fate with the last massive contract of his career, whether you think he deserves it or not (and we don’t), is just fine.

Do we really think Carmelo is going anywhere, though? It’s true that your humble author completely whiffed in guessing this time last year that Dwight Howard wouldn’t think twice about accepting more money and Los Angeles’ guaranteed extra season in returning to the Lakers during the 2013 offseason, but this is a different scenario. For one, Howard doesn’t want anything to do with Kobe Bryant, but in New York Anthony has the rule of the roost – as evidenced by his representatives creeping in and slowly taking over as the working agents for what seems like every other notable Knick employee.

The Knicks’ plan is simple. They’ll offer Carmelo Anthony a total of $30 million more over the course of his next contract to play until he’s 35, working for money he isn’t worth now in his ostensible prime, much less in 2019. They’ll point out that the team will have cap room in 2015 with Anthony already on board once Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani’s contracts come off the books and that the team should be able lure a big free agent that summer, and all Melo has to do is wait out one more year with his current lineup.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped Anthony’s people from going to the press and swearing up and down that Anthony will have options – so many options!

The New York Post’s Marc Berman reported earlier in the week that Melo doesn’t want to be seen of as “the next Marbury,” in this very funny piece you all should read:

That is why New York, Los Angeles, where he has a home, and even Chicago are on his short list, according to a source. The source said the Clippers — with buddy Chris Paul — are more attractive than the Lakers, though the purple-and-gold have cap space and the Clips don’t.

The Lakers also have coach Mike D’Antoni, for now. It’s hard to imagine Anthony wanting to play for him again, not after the battle they went through in New York. Of course, there is no guarantee D’Antoni will be around.

The Clippers would need to do a sign-and-trade to net Anthony, likely with Blake Griffin. The Knicks only would appease Anthony if a threat existed of losing him for nothing to a team with cap space.

The Bulls would intrigue Anthony, too, because he has a lot of respect for coach Tom Thibodeau, according to a source.

Come on. As if the Clippers would take him on with their cap space total of about negative $14 million. As if the Lakers would fire Mike D’Antoni to sign a player that would take shots away from their beloved Kobe Bryant. As if the Bulls would attempt to drop both Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer to scrimp enough money to bring Anthony, the notorious sieve of a defender at small forward in, for a massive contract that would put them right back into the luxury tax.

This isn’t to say that the Knicks are a sure thing either. The “free agents want to play in New York” ideal is a bit off, if you consider history. The team is rarely under the salary cap, but when it does have room for free agents they often have to settle for scraps.

Allan Houston, not even an All-Star at the time, only signed with the team in 1996 once Jordan and Reggie Miller turned New York down. That same summer Chris Childs signed with New York only after Gary Payton and Tim Hardaway turned New York’s millions down. Tyson Chandler did sign outright with New York in 2011, but the team had to deal for Larry Johnson, had to deal for Marcus Camby, Charles Oakley, Latrell Sprewell, Anthony, Marbury, Bargnani, and it only signed Stoudemire after several other franchise-level free agents chose other teams over New York in 2010.

Players love money, and we’ve no doubt they love New York (what idiot wouldn’t?), but they also want to win. And quite a few of them may want nothing to do playing alongside Carmelo Anthony.

Whether any of these potential free agents is an MSG stockholder is anyone’s guess.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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