The Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have all made their cases to All-Star free agent Carmelo Anthony. Now, he sits back in Los Angeles and ponders his decision. With Anthony poised to weigh his options all weekend, Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy and Yannis Koutroupis discuss what they think he should do.
Yannis: Do you think that Carmelo is genuinely torn about what to do, or has the $129 million put on the table by the Knicks made his decision for him?
Alex: I think this is actually a tough decision for Carmelo. That’s obviously a lot of money and the New York Knicks do have an intriguing pitch now that Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher are at the helm of the organization, but I think he’s at the point in his career where winning is what is most important to him and he wants to do it right away. It kind of reminds me of where Dwight Howard’s mind was at last summer when he was going through free agency. He could’ve re-signed with the Los Angeles Lakers and taken more money, but his priority was finding a team that allowed him to contend in the short-term and long-term. I think Anthony is at that point as well, especially after watching many of his close friends win championships (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, etc.). He wants to experience that as well, and I think he has some doubts about the Knicks as they’re currently assembled.
It seems unlikely that the Knicks will be able to contend next season with their roster and limited cap room, so Anthony would basically be re-signing with the hope that they could persuade free agents to come to New York in 2015 or 2016. That’s a risk and there are a lot of unknowns there. Why do that when there are other situations out there – like Chicago or Houston – where he knows for certain that he would be playing with other stars as soon as next season? We don’t even know for certain which players will be available over the next two summers, so re-joining the Knicks and crossing your fingers on luring free agents is pretty scary. Jackson obviously helps their recruiting pitch, but keep in mind that if Anthony returns, he’ll be on a maximum contracts that restricts what New York can do since he’ll be making $22 million or more over the next five seasons. In the last year of his contract, he would be making $29.1 million. That’s great for Carmelo’s bank account, but not necessarily for putting him in a situation to contend. These are the prime years of Anthony’s career, so he needs to get this decision right and put himself in a situation that allows him to be successful.
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Yannis: And if I’m Carmelo, I have a big problem with the way that Phil Jackson was trying to use his zen on me through the media. I get that he has a long history of being successful with this tactic, but it’s best suited for trying to get certain results on the court, not for contract negotiations. Carmelo deserves a max contract from the Knicks just for leaving the door open to return there with how grim the immediate future looks. Sure, Jackson has the financial flexibility to make some things happen a year from now, but 2014-15 looks like it’s going to be a nightmare.
Let’s give Fisher the benefit of the doubt for a second and say that he’s going to be better at being a head coach than he was at guarding Troy Hudson, or any mediocre point guard with the slightest burst of quickness for that matter. The potential for them to be anything more than a low-level playoff team just isn’t there. And, at 30 years of age, Carmelo is out of years to spare for rebuilding. That fifth year near $30 million is awfully hard to pass on, but who’s to say he would exercise his ETO for one last big deal and pass on that fifth year anyway? That tends to be how it happens. It’s nice that the Knicks are willing to offer the max now, but the damage was done already and the free agent market is just too appealing. It’s somewhat comical that a big part of their pitch is trying to lure Pau Gasol over, given that Phil Jackson was originally opposed to the Lakers trading for him, citing concerns about how he’d impact their chemistry. Now he’s the key to getting Carmelo to come back? Do the Knicks seriously think Gasol is entertaining moving cross country and playing for a third of what the Lakers are willing to give him if Carmelo signs? There’s no chance. He’s probably listening to what Carmelo wants to say and voicing a mutual desire to play with him, but explaining to him that it makes a lot more sense for both of them to partner up on the Lakers, not the Knicks.
Alex: It’s so hard to predict what’s going to happen next for the Lakers since their roster is empty and they don’t even have a head coach. I understand what they’re doing: “Let’s give LeBron or Carmelo the chance to construct our roster and coaching staff.” But I just don’t know if that was the right way to approach this situation. The only way I see the Lakers as a legitimate option for Carmelo is if he and LeBron decide to team up there. In that scenario, ‘Melo would have to take a pay cut though since the Lakers don’t have enough money to offer two max contracts. That would be a fun trio – LeBron, Carmelo and Kobe, along with Julius Randle – but that’s basically all the Lakers would have. They would be filling out their roster with minimum deals. It’s one thing to have a couple minimum players on your team, but we’re talking about the majority of the Lakers’ roster being minimum players. I think it’s a pipe dream though.
As I said yesterday in our LeBron discussion, this is where that enormous Kobe extension really hurts the Lakers. If they had more money to throw around this summer, they could’ve landed two stars and put some nice pieces around them. Instead, it’s hard to envision how this team becomes a contender again. I just can’t see James and Anthony both landing in L.A.
In terms of Anthony just going there on his own, I don’t see why he would see that as an attractive situation compared to some of the other options out there. The max contract he can sign in L.A. would be significantly less than what he would receive in New York, and does he actually have a shot at contending on the Lakers? Yes, he could help pick his head coach and there are obviously a lot of things to love about Los Angeles as a market if you’re a superstar athlete, but I just don’t know if that’s the best option for Anthony. We don’t know how Kobe is going to look returning from this latest injury, and yet he’s going to be one of the highest-paid players in the league over the next two years. And how do the Lakers put a winning team around Anthony and Bryant, given their cap situation? I know L.A. fans aren’t going to like my take on this situation, but I just can’t see Anthony leaving money on the table and turning away from more attractive rosters to don the purple and gold.
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Yannis: What a pipe dream that is for the Lakers, landing both Carmelo and LeBron. Had Kobe just taken a few million less, it would be slightly more realistic – but still probably too farfetched to ever come to fruition. The only scenario in which I see Carmelo joining the Lakers is for the max with Pau staying for the $8-9 million in cap space they’d still have to spend after using the stretch provision on Steve Nash. This becomes the truest test of Kobe Bryant’s ability to recruit. Of all the people that have talked to Carmelo and tried to recruit him to play with them, I don’t think any of them have his respect like Kobe does. And, like I said with LeBron, there has to be some comfort that comes with joining a franchise that takes such great care of their stars. Carmelo has hopes of this being his second-to-last big contract, not his last big one, and who would you trust to take care of you the most right now?
It’s the Lakers, but the fact that the CBA limits their ability to improve so much once their salary cap is spent is concerning. If the shackles were off, we know the Lakers would spend whatever it took to put together the best team possible. They had one of the worst seasons in franchise history last year and still made a $100 million profit after revenue sharing cost them another $40 million in profits. The difference in pay from what he’d be making from the Knicks per year is not that great. If Carmelo believes Kobe can get close to his previous level, I think the Lakers are a lot more of a threat to sign him than many are giving them credit for – and that’s without even mentioning that he can have a big say in who his next head coach is, something he’s never had in his career. The team that probably gives him the best chance to compete for a championship next year, though, is definitely the Houston Rockets.
Alex: I disagree. I just don’t know if a core of James Harden, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard wins a title. Harden and Anthony are two defensive liabilities, so Howard would definitely have to clean up a lot on that end of the floor. Also, all three of those guys want the ball in their hands and demand their touches. Can they make it work with one basketball? This Big Three would be very different from the one that assembled in Miami in 2010. All of those guys were unselfish and fine with making sacrifices for the better of the team. From what we know about Harden, Howard and Anthony, I’m not confident that they would make it work. I’m not sold on Kevin McHale as a head coach either; I’m surprised the Rockets are bringing him back next season because I don’t think he’s the championship-caliber coach that this team needs given their aspirations.
Look, they’d be a very good team, and I think Houston is more attractive than some of the scenarios mentioned because that core is nice on paper (and would be unstoppable in NBA 2K). But I just don’t know if they come out of the Western Conference. There are just too many good teams out West. I think Carmelo’s best chance at winning a title right away is in Chicago, where he can team up with Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Tom Thibodeau in a depleted Eastern Conference. I think the fit is better in Chicago since he’s surrounded by unselfish, team-first guys who play defense, and it’s easy to envision that team walking to the Finals out of the East (especially with things up in the air in Miami and not looking so good in Indiana).
Yannis: I made it clear when we were talking about LeBron how I feel about the Rockets. I still think they get Carmelo the closest to competing for a championship of all of his potential suitors, but I don’t want to rely on James Harden and Dwight Howard to make the necessary sacrifices to guarantee the team meets their potential. They’ve come so close to winning before that they seem to think they already know what it takes and believe they can do it themselves.
Now the Bulls, they seem to have a better grasp of reality. They know they’re a player of Carmelo’s caliber away from being a true contender. However, what in the world is going on there? Are Gar Forman and Tom Thibodeau ever going to be on the same page and have a good relationship? And, why is Derrick Rose’s camp going on the offensive about not being involved in the recruitment when he clearly was? For someone who makes everyone better on the court, he sure does seem to have a problem with helping get better players on board. There’s just something not right about the Bulls. And, I’m sorry – but I’m not giving Rose a pass for the last two seasons. Is Carmelo supposed to really believe that he’s going to ride with him through the thick and thin over the next four years? He was practicing at full strength and watched his team need him desperately in the playoffs TWICE!
Do you think Kobe Bryant would have watched in street clothes if he could play? I know Noah is ready to go to battle every night no matter what, but how can Carmelo feel like Rose wants it as bad as he does? It doesn’t seem like it. And, will ownership pay the luxury tax? I have my doubts about that too. Everyone is pegging Chicago as the favorite to steal Anthony away from the Knicks, but I see the Lakers as that team, since they have newfound stability in the front office with Jim and Jeanie Buss settling their differences and a star I know is going to play every night he’s physically capable of doing so.
The last team we need to talk about is the Dallas Mavericks, although I’m not sure they’re relevant in the discussion. What do you think?
Alex: As I said when we were discussing LeBron’s future, I just don’t see the Mavericks as a legitimate option for these superstars. I love Dirk Nowitzki and I want to see him play on a contender again, but why would Carmelo or LeBron join the Mavs for less than the max (the most they can offer after re-signing Nowitzki is $16.8 million) in order to play alongside an aging Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler? I just don’t think that roster is very attractive. Does that team even go on a deep playoff run in the West? I have my doubts. The organization is run really well and it’s unfortunate for the Mavs that they have struck out on other free agents like Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Deron Williams because this conversation could be very different if they had another star player in their prime, but they don’t and I just don’t see a player leaving money on the table to join that roster. I think they’re probably my least likely destination for Anthony, when you consider the contract and personnel.
Yannis: My tongue-in-cheek comments about how I think Mark Cuban may be too hands on for LeBron James didn’t go over too well in Maverick land. I honestly think that Dallas is a destination for top-tier free agents, but the competition for guys like that is extremely stiff now and the Mavericks have continually come up short. I’m not sure the reason exactly, perhaps it was Cuban’s unwillingness to keep that championship team together when he should have. The re-acquisition of Tyson Chandler, I think, is an admittance of a mistake on his part, but with every year that has passed since then Dirk’s gotten closer to the end of his prime and like you said – there’s just no guarantee, even with Carmelo that they become a contender. No max contract or instant contender status makes their offer easy to pass up.
So, AK, I’m putting my money on the Lakers despite how big of a long shot they seem to the masses. How about you?
Alex: I think it’s down to New York or Chicago. I could honestly see it going either way, but I’ll stick with the Bulls. That has been my prediction from the beginning so I’ll stay with it, even though reports of Anthony liking Phil Jackson’s vision do make me less confident in my prediction. I just think the situation in Chicago is very attractive and I think he’ll take the chance to compete for a championship over the mega contract, just like Howard did last summer when he chose the Rockets over the Lakers. Fortunately, it sounds like we’ll have a decision from Anthony soon so this process won’t be dragged out too much longer.
Where do you think Carmelo Anthony should sign? Who do you agree with? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.
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