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Carmelo Anthony just agreed to a five-year deal worth well over $120 million to return to the New York Knicks. Actually, thanks to ShamSports.com's Mark Deeks, we can get precise — Anthony will earn $124,064,681 over the next five seasons. It's a contract he couldn't have gotten anywhere else, per the structure of the collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and its players; the so-called Larry Bird exception allows teams to offer a fifth year and a maximum raise of 7.5 percent in deals to re-sign their own free agents, while limiting other teams looking to poach a player to four-year deals.
This is why Anthony said before the start of the 2013-14 season that he planned to enter free agency come summertime. This is why he exercised his early termination option to make that happen. And this, we all figured, is why — after a free-agent tour that saw him meet with several teams limited to four-year offers that couldn't crack the nine-figure mark — he chose to take the longest, richest, most lucrative deal available to him, and stay in New York.
This is what we all figured, but now, Carmelo Anthony is saying it ain't so. From Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com:
"I want to win. I don't care about the money," Anthony told ESPN.com. "I believe Phil will do what he has to do to take care of that."
"I don't think we're that far away," he added. "People use 'rebuilding' too loosely."
[...] the 30-year-old Anthony said he is invigorated to work with a new team president in Phil Jackson and a new coach in Derek Fisher.
"It's a matter of me believing in the organization, believing in Phil," Anthony said. "I wanted to go somewhere where I can end my career."
That last sentiment — "I wanted to go somewhere where I can end my career" — echoes remarks Anthony made during an interview with VICE Sports before the start of free agency, in which he framed his decision as "looking at the next six to eight years of your career — the end of your career, at that. So do you want to spend that much time in that place?"
After spending three-plus years in New York, building a home and a life with his family in the No. 1 media market in the country, Anthony decided that he did want to spend that much time in that particular place. Not until after an "overwhelming" and "stressful" process, though, one that Anthony told Goodman resulted in "one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make."
"I was flip-flopping," he said. "It was hard. It was Chicago, but then after I met with L.A., it was L.A. But it came back to Chicago — and was pretty much always Chicago or New York. That's a situation where I could have walked in now to an opportunity to compete for the next however many years."
That juxtaposition is going to raise some eyebrows, and maybe elicit some eye-rolling. Anthony, like lots of other folks, looks at a Chicago team with Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, a reportedly ready for battle Derrick Rose coming back on offense, and stellar head coach Tom Thibodeau, and sees "an opportunity to compete for the next however many years." Then he looks at a Knicks team that missed the playoffs in a bad Eastern Conference, that traded its best defensive frontcourt player after finishing 24th among 30 teams in points allowed per possession, that is now piloted by a first-time personnel boss and a first-time head coach, and that still figures to prominently features the $34.9 million tandem of Amar'e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani ... and says he returned because he wants to win, and that he doesn't care about the money. When you put those things side by side, it kind of strains credulity.
Then again, maybe we should take Anthony — who, after all, said at the very start of last season that while he wanted to enter free agency for the first time in his career, he also wanted to retire as a Knick — at his word.
In the short term, Anthony would seem to have reasons to believe that the next Knicks team he plays on won't be worse than the last. Upgrades on the bench (Fisher needn't be a coaching savant, so long as he's not as glaring a negative as Mike Woodson was for large chunks of last season) and at the point (from Raymond Felton to Jose Calderon) could move New York closer to even-par on their own. Versions of J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert who aren't coming off summer knee surgeries could have stronger starts to the season, bolstering the Knicks' playmaking and (in Shumpert's case, at least) defense. The Knicks still figure to give up buckets in bunches, but stand a better chance of being able to cobble together 48 more-or-less competitive two-way minutes in the middle with with the quartet of Samuel Dalembert, Jason Smith, Cole Aldrich and Jeremy Tyler than they did during a 2013-14 campaign where an injured, overtaxed and often listless Chandler, Stoudemire and Bargnani ate up most of the center minutes.
A successful implementation of the triangle offense could help the Knicks nudge north in both points scored (by creating better looks through more ball and player movement) and allowed (by keeping turnovers low and creating better floor balance to prevent fast breaks) per possession, and better maximize the talents of the players on hand. Fisher said when he took the Knicks' coaching job that he was "not as down on the roster and the team as some of you [reporters] in the room are," and Anthony offered similar praise of the summer re-tooling ("I feel like we have a brand-new team. It's a new beginning"). And as Anthony notes — and as we've noted, too — LeBron James' decision to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers has left the East's power structure unsettled. Maybe 'Melo takes a look at this reorganized landscape — one year removed from a division title, a No. 2 seed and a trip to the second round — and wonders why this Knicks team couldn't have a puncher's chance again.
And maybe, as 'Melo said in that VICE interview, it's not just about this coming season: "And the average person is looking at it as next year, like it’s just one year. ‘Next year, you'll win a championship if you go here.’ We’re looking at the big picture here, now." Maybe he's thinking about the next few years — about the chances that Rose never gets back to MVP level, about all the miles on the wheels of a turning-30-this-season Noah, about Phil's rings, about a boatload of cap space for the Knicks next summer — and the big picture he sees is different from the one the rest of us see. Maybe he believes something that a declining number of NBA observers seem to believe: that a potentially talented but flawed team can be a contender if it's built (smartly and judiciously by a guy who knows how to win) around Carmelo Anthony.
If he's right, then he'll have it all — the money and the winning. If he's wrong ... well, there are worse consolation prizes than $124,064,681. (All the better to "invest in early stage digital media, consumer internet and opportunistic technology startups," my dear.)
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