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It’s looking more and more like Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony have an understanding.
They like each other. They respect each other. They would both truly like to see a Carmelo Anthony-led New York Knicks team working well within the championship picture. Both sides know Anthony, in his prime, is very much worth the maximum contract money he’ll make over the next two seasons.
It’s the seasons beyond that, though, that become tricky. And it’s that 2014-15 season, with the Knicks patiently awaiting the expiration of Amar’e Stoudemire ($23.4 million next season, wow), Tyson Chandler (nearly $14.6 million, yikes), and Andrea Bargnani’s ($11.5 million in 2014-15, for shame) contracts. Jackson can sell Carmelo on the idea that in the summer of 2015 he’ll be working in the greatest city in the world with four years and more than $100 million left on his deal and (FINALLY!) cap space to add teammates, but that would involve Anthony working in purgatory once again during 2014-15, possibly missing the playoffs for just the second time in his career.
And, the probable truth is, Jackson doesn’t really know if he wants to submit to that sort of plan himself. To pay Anthony an ungodly amount of money until he’s 35, to rebuild with a 31-year-old Anthony, with no assurances of adding a bevy of free agent helpers, in 2015.
We don’t blame either side. And it’s why you’re hearing more and more about Anthony working in concert with New York to get what he wants – a better team for 2014-15 and as much money as legally possible.
Chicago, Houston, Miami and others think they have enough to ham-and-egg things and offer Anthony just enough of both sides – great teammates, cool cash, hot treats and sweet summertime deals – to finagle a working scenario. This only begins with Carmelo and New York coming to an understanding. And soon.
Anthony has to decide whether or not to exercise the early termination option on his contract for next season, one that would pay him more than $23.3 million next year in the final year of his deal. He could re-sign with New York for the full maximum, making nearly $22.5 million next season and more than $29 million in 2018-19.
Jackson may not want him on those terms, especially as Anthony enters his 30s. It’s more than understandable. The new Knicks president just hired a rookie coach in Derek Fisher who is taking to his title just days after his playing career ended. New York is working with limited draft options over the next few years because of a series of pound-foolish moves, and no team is going to aid in the Knicks’ recovery and take Stoudemire or Bargnani or probably even Chandler (unless a contending squad really goes all-in) off their hands. An older personnel boss like Jackson likely wants to win now at any cost, but even he can see this is not going to be a short-term fix.
Anthony probably feels the same way.
Chicago intrigues because it would seemingly be the best fit for Anthony’s talents, and the Bulls remain a team that could either work up a passable deal for Anthony in tandem with the Knicks or blast its way toward enough cap space to sign Anthony outright. Even the best option, though, is not without its nags.
The Bulls owned the third-worst offense in the NBA last season, and even with Derrick Rose’s return the team still badly needs what Anthony does best. If it could come to a wink-wink agreement with New York regarding its 16th and 19th overall draft picks in the upcoming draft (Anthony cannot be traded on draft night), it could possibly deal Carlos Boozer and a small cadre of unguaranteed contracts (Mike James, et cetera) for Anthony in a sign and trade. Boozer’s $16.8 million deal expires in 2015, but for New York that’s an awful lot to play for a player you don’t need, just to grab two middling first-round picks. Even dealing for Taj Gibson, a sterling performer currently working in his prime, doesn’t really do much for a Knicks team still years away from contention.
The more likely scenario involves the long-held suspicion that Chicago would use the amnesty provision on Boozer’s contract, which would immediately clear up $13 million in cap space for Chicago. That’s a starting salary that would represent a massive pay cut for Anthony, who could make nearly $130 million in total on his deal in New York if Jackson decides to hand him the max. Chicago could use one of those draft picks on a player it can stash overseas and possibly deal veteran swingman Mike Dunleavy Jr. to a team with cap space (or for a trade exception) for just about nothing in return, and clear up more space to toss Anthony’s way in hopes of signing him.
Each of these moves, though, harms an already skinflint Bulls roster. The team can’t expect to deal Gibson, whose presence is solely needed in any scenario, and a cheap date like Dunleavy can’t be treated as mere fodder to toss off. Anthony is not the obvious and complete answer for Chicago, and damaging an already shaky roster in hopes of sending him more and more money is a risky proposition. Even if Anthony wants to give up cash in order to win.
Houston’s chances are less viable, as they’ve already cashed in years' worth of collected assets on both James Harden and Dwight Howard, though there is a solid chance Rockets general manager Daryl Morey could still make it work. If Morey can find a desperate team with cap space and unload reserves Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, there will be space available once the team declines its laughably miniscule option on Chandler Parsons – who would then have to go offer his talents on the restricted free-agent market, a daring calculation in what figures to be a player-friendly market. Houston will match any offer, of course, but some other team will make them pay.
The Lakers? They’ll have room and a lottery pick, but in spite of Kobe Bryant’s returning presence this is hardly a “win-now” scenario. Miami, just a few weeks removed from having the home-court advantage with five future NBA Finals games left to play after taking Game 2 against San Antonio, will always rank as a “win-now” setup. It’ll take some real conniving, and for each of the team’s stars to take far less money, in order to bring in a player in Anthony doesn’t really suit Miami’s needs (outside shooting, defense at all positions) at this point. Still, one should never count out a cornered Pat Riley.
In any scenario, Anthony would be giving up money in order to play for a winner. Even if some team miraculously finds a way to offer Carmelo the max for next season, he’ll still be leaving more than $33 million on the table.
That’s presuming, of course, that Jackson wants to offer Anthony the full amount. Or that James Dolan, fearful of status as always, overrides his new basketball el jefe and gives his beloved Carmelo as much as Carmelo can possibly earn.
And, again, that’s also presuming Carmelo wants to earn as much as he could possibly earn, and stay with a New York Knicks team that is no assured winner even in the leaky East.
The deadline is approaching, and both sides might be coming toward an understanding. Should Anthony and the Knicks decide to amicably part, though, will other squads have the assets and/or space to make a move feasible? And even then, will Carmelo be joining a surefire championship contender after all the pieces have been moved.
It’s a tricky setup, and these factions only have a few weeks to figure out the next few years of their franchise’s plan.
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