It was reported on Friday that former Syracuse Orange player and NBA all-star Carmelo Anthony would opt out of the final year of his deal. The move would make him an unrestricted free agent a year before what is expected to be a free agent bonanza in the summer of 2015.
One might ask what would possess Anthony to not only forfeit his $23.3 million option for next season but also potentially take a pay cut by signing with another team. I think the answer is relatively simple. Carmelo has never been a free agent. He extended his rookie deal with the Denver Nuggets early and was traded to New York. He's never experienced the full court press, wining and dining of full free-agency which, apparently, it a sort of rite of passage for NBA superstars. Also, if 2015 does prove to provide a flood of quality players as expected, testing free agency now gives Carmelo a better opportunity to be the biggest fish in the pond. In 2014, he'll have his choice of pretty much any team that can afford him. Reports are that the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks are on 'Melo's short list.
Really, though, I only see this going one of two ways. First (and most likely), he stays in New York. Sure, he participates in the spectacle of free agency and partakes in whatever perks are a part of that but, ultimately, he dons the orange and blue of the Knicks again.
I say this for a couple of reasons. For one, I think Carmelo likes New York. Chicago, Houston and Dallas all might be great towns, but none are quite like NYC. And, with the possible exception of Chicago, none are immediate title contenders. Better than the Knicks, sure, but more than a Carmelo Anthony away from a title too.
Also, I think Carmelo wants to be "the guy". Not that he's a selfish player, but I think he wants to be clear-cut franchise player and believes that he has the talent to build a championship team around. The Bulls already have that player in Derrick Rose (if he can ever get healthy). Even though he's in decline, Dwight Howard could still be called that in Houston and James Harden is on his way there as well. The Mavs are really the closest thing to a team on 'Melo's short list without a true franchise player. Dirk Nowitzki is on his last legs and Vince Carter hasn't been Vince Carter in close to half a decade.
There's another option I find intriguing, in unlikely. Rumors have been swirling recently that the Miami Heat are exploring ways to add Carmelo to their already potent trio of Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and, of course, LeBron James.
At first glance, if seems impossible. Even with those Big Three currently on less than maximum deals, Carmelo would surely command more than Miami can afford. The X-factor there is that LeBron James can also opt out at the end of this season. Say what you want about 'Bron. His commitment to winning is unquestionable. It's the reason he was willing to take on the ire of pretty much every basketball fan outside of Miami in order to join the Heat. He doesn't care what people think. He just wants to win. I wouldn't put it past him to take a significant pay cut if it meant being able to get Carmelo to South Beach.
Carmelo too would likely have to agree to a deal paying less than the maximum allowed, and that's where the "if"s and "but"s begin. I have no doubt Carmelo wants to win titles, but is he willing to sacrifice his paycheck to get them? Also, the Heat are a defensively oriented team. Carmelo is a better defender than he's given credit for, but can he commit to his performance on that end of the floor the way the Heat will demand? And, of course, the biggest "if" is, can Carmelo follow the lead of Chris Bosh and go from top dog on mediocre teams to second or third banana, all for the sake of a ring (or two or three)? As good as Carmelo is, LeBron is still no worse that 1A to Kevin Durant's 1B for the title of "Best Basketball Player on Planet Earth". the heat will be LeBron's team, no questions.
Ultimately, though, I think the answers to these "if"s will keep Carmelo from forming up like Voltron with James, Wade and Bosh. I think Carmelo wants to be the one to return the Knicks to the halcyon days of Willis Reed and Clyde Frazier. I think he trusts Phil Jackson to build a strong team around him and, via his new puppet coach Derek Fisher, install a system that will maximize both Anthony's and the teams success.
In any case, though, the road to the Eastern Conference title appears to go through South Beach for the foreseeable future. Whether Carmelo decides if he wants to beat them or join them remains to be seen.