The conversation started in some circles as soon as he got to New York, when he signed a three-year, $64.2 million extension that came equipped with an early termination option before its final season. Sure, Carmelo Anthony really wanted to be a member of the New York Knicks, and he made it happen, but how long would he stick around?
The whispers turned into full-throated chatter this summer, after the Knicks were ousted in the second round of the playoffs by the Indiana Pacers and next-to-impossible visions of Hollywood power trios began dancing in rumormongers' heads. In one breath, Anthony said he was "just not going to do it" — talk about the possibility of entering free agency after the 2013-14 season, that is — and in another, he was saying, verbatim, "I want to be a free agent," which confused some. That Anthony intends to exercise his ETO and hit the open market is completely unsurprising — only by tearing up the final year of his deal can he earn the absolute maximum contract, which would pay him $129 million over the course of the next five years, and which only the Knicks can offer him, since they hold his Bird rights and that's the way the 2011 collective bargaining agreement is structured; still, Anthony's comments struck an awkward note that hit a lot of ears wrong.
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That's led to some damage control and public-relations-fueled backtracking over the past couple of weeks, including 'Melo trumpeting his "big black book [and] big Rolodex" as items he'll use to recruit other stars to join him in New York — apparently he is all of our grandpas' most trusted business associates — and, during Thursday's TNT broadcast of the Knicks' 82-81 road loss to the Chicago Bulls, pledging career allegiance to the orange, white and blue:
They pulled all the strings to get me here, and I wanted to be here. And, I mean, I want to retire in New York, let's just be quite frank. I think a lot of people jumped the gun when I said I wanted to be a free agent. And yeah, I want people to come play in New York. I want them to want to play in New York. I want New York to be that place where, guys want to come play in New York.
TNT announcers Marv Albert and Steve Kerr followed the interview snippet by noting, with some amusement, the recent shift in Anthony's messaging:
... which is part of what New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro branded "the Five Stages of Melo:"
I. I’m not even thinking about the opt-out.
II. Actually, I am thinking about the opt-out.
III. Actually, I’m definitely going to opt out because I’ve never been a free agent and who among us, in their right mind, wouldn’t want to see what’s Out There?
IV. Though I’m going to opt out, don’t believe what you read because I have a Black Book with which I’m going to recruit my future teammates.
V. To paraphrase that old ditty from an earlier, glorious time, “I’m a Knicks man, and I gotta stay true, I’m down with the orange and the blue …”
... all of which is, to some degree, silly theatre, based partly in reality — Anthony will almost certainly opt out — but more so in fantasy, because even ace-level recruiting won't change the facts of the Knicks' case.
New York is hamstrung in its ability to add talent due to having more than $92 million on the books for next season and maybe not as much cap space as people think in 2014-15. Paying Anthony upward of $25 million per year for the next half-decade — a term that will see him reach the tender age of 34 — won't make it easier for New York to attract and retain the glitzy names in Carmelo's, um, Rolodex, especially with very few upcoming draft choices available for new general manager Steve Mills to use to add young, inexpensive supporting talent that can help build out a competitive roster. Those challenges remain real, regardless of whether Anthony would like to retire as a Knick (which, as the New York Daily News' Frank Isola notes, is a fate that's eluded a number of the franchise's past greats, including Walt Frazier and Patrick Ewing).
It's a nice sentiment, though, and I guess it's the thought that counts. Carmelo's all in for the long haul; that's neat, and it's be neater still if this round of comments put the kibosh on a season full of talking about the summer. With coach Mike Woodson searching for a rotation, Andrea Bargnani searching for his confidence, Amar'e Stoudemire searching for a miracle and Anthony searching for his jumper, there's more than enough dramatic material for the Knicks to sift through in the here and now.
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