Across a majestic Madison Square Garden performance of 62 points, Carmelo Anthony would've been wise to take a long look around, letting the thunderous noise, the love, wash down upon him. This is your life 'Melo, the best possible destination for the legacy of a ring-less superstar.
The losing, the decaying roster, has inspired 'Melo to consider closely the possibilities of free agency this summer. WIthin the past several weeks, a longtime confidant of Carmelo Anthony confesses, something changed. Never did he believe there was a chance Anthony would leave the New York Knicks – never the Madison Square Garden stage, never the $129 million contract extension.
Only now, the gloom of the Knicks' season – the uncertainty of the franchise's future – left that man to believe it's possible Anthony could leave New York in free agency.
"Chicago is much more in play for him than L.A.," the source said.
The Bulls traded Luol Deng for draft picks and are leaning strongly toward using the amnesty provision on Carlos Boozer. They could create a maximum contract slot for Anthony, pairing him with Derrick Rose. For Anthony, it is leaving a cap-strapped team through 2015 for a Chicago proposition with significant risks of its own. No one can be sure of Rose's return to his MVP greatness, but everyone can be sure of one thing: The franchise's mandate isn't winning championships, but sidestepping luxury and repeater taxes to turn the fattest possible profits for the owner.
As the Bulls have let talented player upon talented player leave because of money – Omer Asik and Kyle Korver and Deng – they've shown themselves to be a big market franchise with small-market sensibilities.
There's something else, too: Between the 22 combined championships in Chicago and Los Angeles, there's no adulation for a star who fails to deliver a title. The Knicks have gone 40 years without a parade – and could go another 40 without one – and still Anthony would forever be treated with a level of reverence in New York. There are no beloved ex-Hall of Famers like Patrick Ewing and Bernard King in L.A. and Chicago – just players who won championships, and just those long ago forgotten.
For those who think 'Melo's burden has left him too beleaguered in New York, it could be far worse elsewhere. Knicks ownership has turned the franchise over to him, and that'll only escalate in free agency. Whatever he wants, they'll give him. Owner Jim Dolan let him run out Mike D'Antoni and Jeremy Lin, let him have his eccentric workout coach on staff for a significant six-figure salary. They've centered the marketing on him; his Jordan Brand Nike deal is worth a mint in a Knicks uniform.
Truth be told, the grief that comes with this dysfunctional franchise is far less than he'd get with the Bulls and Lakers. In the end, Anthony would have to give up $40 million guaranteed to leave New York for opportunities that offer marginally better chances at championships. Anthony was fabulous on Friday night at the Garden – passing King's franchise record of 60 points and Kobe Bryant's Garden record of 61 – with ease.
In the end, this is the essence of Carmelo Anthony: a peerless scorer deserving of holding the franchise's and arena's forever records. Every generation has its stars who were spectacular, but never complete enough to be the centerpiece of a champion. There's no shame there. This was a night when 'Melo's legacy as a scoring ace delivered him into the brightest light of this season, on basketball's most glorious stage at the Garden.
For all the noise and all the love washing down upon him, Carmelo Anthony needed to understand that for his own good, his legacy, there's nowhere better for a ring-less superstar on a max scholarship than beneath those dusty, old championship banners from so long ago. This was 'Melo's night, his forever moment at Madison Square Garden. For him, there should be nowhere else.