NBA AM: Who Gets Carmelo Anthony?



Carmelo Has Options:  As the 2014 NBA Finals draws to a close and the San Antonio Spurs hoist their fifth championship in the Tim Duncan era, all eyes in the NBA will now shift to the 2014 NBA Draft next week in Brooklyn and to free agency the following week in July. No bigger name tops the would-be free agent list than New York’s Carmelo Anthony, and it seems far more likely than not that he’ll follow through with his season long pledge and opt-out of the remaining $23.41 million left on his deal.

There have already been reports suggesting that Carmelo has eyes for the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets, both win-now franchises, however those will not be the only teams to make a pass at him. While both grab headlines, both have their own issues in trying to obtain Carmelo at a price that makes sense.

Before we get into which teams make the most sense, it would be smart to re-visit what the Collective Bargaining Agreement will allow Carmelo to re-sign for.

Carmelo is eligible for a starting salary worth 105 percent of his last contract year, so that’s $22.5 million regardless of where he signs. If he remains in New York, they can give him higher annual raises and a guaranteed fifth year for a total package worth just north of a $129 million. If Carmelo leaves New York, even via a sign-and-trade, the best he can hope for is a four-year deal worth roughly $90 million.

So who are the suitors?

Chicago Bulls:  The Bulls are considered a frontrunner mainly because they have a lot of parts in place and a head coach that could maximize Carmelo’s bid for a championship. Keep in mind that as much as he may have eyes for Chicago, the Bulls are not nearly as ready to rip apart their team to run after Carmelo with cap space. There is real interest on the Bulls part, but it has to be at the right price and under the right structure. Currently the Bulls have $63.95 million in guaranteed salaries for next season, giving them no cap space to pursue Carmelo. In order to get in the game without a sign-and-trade, the Bulls would have to use their Amnesty roster cut on Carlos Boozer’s remaining $16.8 million salary, find “giveaway” trades for both Taj Gibson and Mike Dunleavy Jr. and not take any money back in return.

That’s not exactly palatable to the Bulls, even for a talent like Carmelo. The Bulls would prefer a sign-and-trade that offloads Boozer’s cash and allows them to keep Gibson. The Bulls are sitting on four young assets: Last year’s first round pick Tony Snell, third year swing man Jimmy Butler and two first round picks this year.

Under the current cap rules a deal of Boozer, Dunleavy, Butler and the draft rights to one of the first round picks is more than enough. The question because would New York take that back as compensation for Carmelo if he declares that he’ll walk to another team for nothing?

The Bulls have been here before in 2010, where they made moves, ate contracts and traded away assets hoping to get gems from the 2010 free agent class only to be left alone at the altar. They are not overly eager to repeat that process with Carmelo. So its unlikely the Bulls start shifting money, until they sit with him in July.

There is interest, but as one source close to the Bulls process put it, it’s not unlimited interest; it has to fit into a bigger plan to be workable.

Houston Rockets:  The Rockets are in a similar situation with Chicago, in that they will not have the free cap space to sign Carmelo outright. They are currently sitting on $56.98 million in salary commitments for next season, meaning they too won’t have anything close to the cash needed to sign him without either a sign and trade or a secondary deal that offloads cap cash.

The belief is that Houston would gladly shed the expiring contracts of both Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin in order to clear the cap space to get Carmelo. The wrinkle with both is how their deals are structured. Both were acquired using the CBA’s poison pill provision, which allowed the Rockets to offer massively back loaded years in order to pry them away from their respective teams. Both players have a cap value of $9.374 million next season, but are owed more than $15 million in actual cash payments. Moving that kind of money in the NBA is not easy, especially if you can’t take any of it back in trade.

This is where Houston’s draft pick this year and current roster assets like Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones are going to play a role.

Last year the Golden State Warriors needed to offload a similar amount of contracts and found a partner in the Utah Jazz, who extracted two future first round picks and three second round picks for eating Golden State’s bad money.

Houston is facing something similar to clear Asik and Lin, simply because teams know why they want to move them and can up the asking price on their cap space.

The Rockets are more than interested in obtaining Carmelo and doing it via a straight sign-and-trade deal would be more advantageous. However, if they have to go the liquidate to get cap space route they can, it might become harder and more expensive.

Given the bar that Golden State established on their cash dump, there may be a point in which that’s too much for give for Carmelo.

Dallas Mavericks:  The Mavericks do not get mentioned, but they will be very much involved in the Carmelo circus. The Mavericks have just $28.267 million in cap commits, and star forward Dirk Nowitzki has pledged to work with the team to help them secure more talent, offering to take less cash in his next deal to get more help.

Assuming Nowitzki follows the path laid by Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, a new deal in the $10-$12 million per year range gives the Mavs something in the neighborhood of $22.7 million in cap space to work with.

The Mavs are one of the few teams that could present a $20 million per year offer out right, without needing to dump their roster to do it. The Mavs do have some pending free agents in Vince Carter and Shawn Marion they would like to bring back, so Carmelo would need to leave a little bit of cash on the table to make that happen, but if getting a major money deal matters (it always does) the Mavs can make it happen without an elaborate re-arranging of their cap or liquidating young guys or future draft assets to do it.

The Mavericks do present a win-now situation with established players, a proven coach and an owner that has proven he’ll go “all-in” to win.

Don’t count out Dallas.

Miami HEAT:  Fresh off their Finals loss, there has been a lot of doom and gloom about the HEAT. The truth of the situation is they were still the best team in the East. They made it to four straight NBA Finals and they are well situated going forward to re-shape the roster to continue to compete.

Miami’s “Big Three” all have similarly constructed contracts. They can all opt-out this summer or next summer and their deals expire in 2016.

As things stand today, the HEAT have just one fully guaranteed contract for next season: Norris Cole’s worth $2.03 million. Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem both have player options for next season worth $1.44 million and $4.62 million respectively.

On the surface it does not look like Miami would have a shot at Carmelo given how much Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade all make, however when you boil it down to what’s owed to them, its gets easier to rationalize.

Currently all three have two years and $42 million remaining on their deals. Like Carmelo, each could opt out and sign new deals in the four to five year range worth anywhere from $90 million to $129 million.

Would all three trade their remaining two years and $42 million for four years and $80 million? If they would the HEAT are knocking on $12-$13 million in cap space. If Udonis Haslem trades his final year and $4.62 million for a two or three year deal in the $2 million per year range, the HEAT’s cap number comes up $2 million. If any of the Big Three take less money, there becomes more cash to pursue Carmelo.

It’s far more likely that Miami pursues lower priced free agents, but the HEAT have the means to get to the table with Carmelo. It really just boils down to money and whether all four guys would agree to less than market value to keep the NBA Finals training rolling.

LA Lakers:  The LA Lakers are not out of the discussion with Carmelo, they just are not front and center for a couple of reasons. Carmelo by himself doesn’t do much for the Lakers, howvere if Carmelo wants to bring a friend or two along for the ride the Lakers would gladly entertain that.

The Lakers are sitting on three guaranteed contracts next season – Kobe Bryant’s $23.5 million, Steve Nash’s $9.7 million and Robert Sacre’s $915,000. Nick Young has a player option that he is not exercising and the Lakers have a few million likely to be tied up in retaining Kendall Marshall, their lottery pick and a qualifying offer to Kent Bazemore. All in the Lakers are looking at roughly $24 million in usable cap space, which is more than enough to land Carmelo outright from the Knicks.

The problem is a core of Bryant, Carmelo and Nash might win the lottery next year, but it’s not winning a championship and the Lakers know it.

The Lakers are expected to meet with Carmelo, but it is unlikely that Carmelo is a Laker next year.

New York Knicks:  Lastly the home team. Carmelo’s heart is in New York. Everyone around his says that as an opening comment when talking about his situation. The problem is as much as Carmelo loves playing in New York, he is not sold that he can win a championship there.

The Knicks meet with him last week and presented their plan, and while Carmelo likes Phil Jackson and isn’t concerned about Derek Fisher as head coach, he is concerned that the Knicks do not seem to have a plan to overhaul the roster and get the Knicks into the discussion next season. Waiting for 2015 isn’t exactly what Carmelo has in mind.

The warning shot has been fired. If you don’t think that the reports that leaked after Carmelo’s meeting with the Knicks were not deliberate and strategic, you are crazy. Carmelo’s camp put it out there for a reason: ‘Fix this thing now or we are walking somewhere else.’

Your move Phil.

The Knicks have the money to offer Carmelo, and they are more than prepared to max him out to keep him in New York for the balance of his playing career. So money, as much as it’s been talked about, is not a problem. Not with the salary cap expected to eclipse $80 million over the next five years.

The problem for the Knicks is they can’t just offload enough of the roster junk without ripping the team down to the studs and starting over gradually. That’s not what Carmelo wanted to hear.

The Knicks leveraged their future to get to this point, and while it’s easy to say ‘give us 16 months to fix some things’, Carmelo wanted the fix yesterday and that is the problem.

The Knicks are not at all out of the discussion on Carmelo, they are just going to have to re-make the team fairly aggressively before July 5 and that may not be possible.

At the end of the day the Knicks can offer the most guaranteed money. They can keep Carmelo in one of the biggest markets in the NBA and they present the chance to build a roster around him.

What’s unclear is if that’s going to eventually be enough to keep him, especially considering the hoops others that would like him would have to jump through.

Moving cap money is not at all easy in the NBA, and that’s the one thing that’s holding the Knicks back, but also what could help them keep Carmelo where he is as many of the would-be suitors have the same problems.

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Porzingis Out, Nurkic Staying In?:  On the NBA Draft front, today is the day for early entry players to withdraw from the NBA Draft. This usually only impacts International players as the NCAA modified their rule some time ago, making today’s deadline more about International guys, although domestic players theoretically could pull out and play Internationally or the D-League and take another crack at the draft next year.

Two notable players have made decisions on this front with 18-year old Kristaps Porzingis opting to pull out of the draft, despite what’s believed to be a firm commitment from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Porzingis has a sizable, but not unreasonable, buyout with his current contract that would have cost him $1.6 million to get free of. Without a lottery level guarantee it seems Kristaps is opting to return aboard and see what next year brings.

The other notable is big man Jusuf Nurkic, who is opting to stay in the draft. The 6’11 Nurkic is considered one of the top center prospects in this draft, although many teams are split on his NBA potential. Some teams are very high on him; some view him significantly lower. Nurkic has a nominal buyout in his deal, which means he likely will be on a NBA roster next season, assuming he is drafted in the 12-25 range most project him to be taken.

Players have until 5pm EST to notify the NBA in writing that they would like to withdraw.

Basketball Insiders will drop a new Mock Draft on Wednesday, reflecting the draft after all of the players withdraw.

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