Carmelo Anthony is easily the greatest player to put on a Knicks uniform since Patrick Ewing. Last season, he led the Knicks to a 54-28 record and their first playoff series victory since 2001 (vs. the Toronto Raptors). He’s craved the bright lights and, individually, he’s lived up to the hype. Continuing with the trend, Anthony left another imprint on the franchise on January 24, as he broke Knicks’ single game scoring record (previously held by Bernard King at 60 pts) and the single game Madison Square Garden scoring record (held by Kobe Bryant at 61 pts). Anthony scored 62 points on 35 shots and put on a performance many won’t forget.
Despite Anthony’s heroics during his time in a Knicks uniform, last season’s premature exit at the hands of the Indiana Pacers and the Knicks’ current turmoil has left Anthony’s future with the Knicks up in the air, as Anthony is able to opt out of his contract. The Knicks are currently sitting 21-35 and dealing with a plethora of injuries. Tyson Chandler, Raymond Felton, and Pablo Prigioni have all missed significant parts of this season, and these absences have contributed to the Knicks’ struggles. At the end of the season, Anthony is an unrestricted free agent, and has already stated that he is looking forward to being courted by other teams. The Knicks have the financial leverage: they have Anthony’s Bird Rights and can offer a five-year, $129 million contract, whereas their competition can only offer a maximum of four years $96 million. So far, the two biggest suitors being proposed are the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls. What can these two teams offer to Anthony that the Knicks cannot? Let’s see…
Los Angeles Lakers
Ahh, the purple and gold. Who could ever turn down an opportunity to play for one of the most storied franchises in NBA history? Oh, right Dwight Howard just did…
The Lakers will always have the allure of a big city and a history of championship rings, but what can they realistically offer Anthony? Next summer, the Lakers will have approximately $24 million in cap space, assuming Nick Young exercises his player option. The only players on the roster at that time will be the aforementioned Young, Robert Sacre, Steve Nash, and Kobe Bryant. Anthony would be able to go to a franchise known for its constant pursuit of championships and team up with arguably the most competitive player of our generation: Bryant. The Lakers will have little cap space after signing Anthony, however. Despite this, the Lakers General Manager, Mitch Kupchak, has always been able to acquire talent, even if it means a high luxury tax bill.
The problem is that the Lakers are about to undergo a transition phase. Kobe Bryant is in the final years of his career, and the Lakers are searching for a new superstar to take over the helm. In spite of the many individual accolades that Anthony has earned, he has been out of the first round of the playoffs only twice in his career. The only thing that matters in Los Angeles are championships, and one can only wonder if he would risk his legacy in such a questionable situation. In Anthony’s eyes, Los Angeles is likely a high-risk, high-reward situation. There is the potential for a championship, but there is also the possibility of flaming out under the pressure of Laker history a la Dwight Howard.
With the recent trade of Luol Deng for the partially guaranteed contract of Andrew Bynum, whom they immediately cut, the Chicago Bulls have given themselves the opportunity to sign a max free agent season. This opportunity is contingent on the amnesty of Carlos Boozer, which would clear his salary off Chicago’s books. Under the pretense that these circumstances are met, Chicago would be an intriguing destination for Anthony. It would give him the opportunity to team up with an All-Star in Derrick Rose, and Chicago would still have Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson to form a relatively young core. Despite the many reasons why Anthony would potentially join the Bulls, there are two reasons that may prevent this partnership. The first is Chicago’s notoriously frugal ownership. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf has been unwilling to spend above the luxury tax and has repeatedly tried to cut costs. Unlike the Knicks, the Bulls might sacrifice a player or two who may be vital to a championship run, like the Oklahoma City Thunder did with James Harden. Second, head coach Tom Thibideau is a defense first coach who is known for his ability to get the most out of his players. He has a strong personality and seems very disinterested with additional drama. Anthony has been catered to his entire career, especially now that the Knicks bending to his every whim. The Knicks hired his personal trainer to the team staff and have listened to his input in regards to free agents and potential acquisitions. Thibideau is unlikely to concede that much power to Anthony, and on the court, Thibideau will push Anthony on the defensive end. Anthony has been known to be a below-average defender, and one can only question if Thibideau will tolerate a lack of defensive commitment. So while Chicago may seem like a great fit on paper, a difference in coaching and financial philosophies may serve as a deterrent to Anthony’s arrival in Chicago.
The Mavs, led by Marc Cuban, are an interesting option. Actually, not really. They struck out on hometown hero, Deron Williams, two summers ago, and then again last summer with Dwight Howard. Cuban boldly said he’s glad he didn’t have a max player with Dirk Nowitzki clogging out cap space and restricting their flexibility. There’s a reason they are fighting for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. That’s largely because of Cuban’s bravado and apparent belief that quantity is better than quality. It’s very unlikely Anthony will go to Dallas, but they do have the cap space and can pair him with a future Hall of Famer, so they are worth the mention.
Considering these facts, along with Anthony’s history, I personally believe that he will stay in New York. He has the potential to be immortalized in Madison Square Garden, and they have made a commitment to him both on and off the court that very few teams would make. The Knicks can spend practically any amount of money that they want, and if he succeeds in bringing a championship to New York, he will have done so on arguably the biggest stage in the NBA. Furthermore, although the Knicks have provided him with reasons to justify his departure, Anthony will likely take a public relations hit, as he forced a trade to New York. By staying with the Knicks, and potentially taking less money, Anthony will give himself the best chance to win a championship and be known as one of the better scorers in NBA history.