- Ian Begley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Teams can openly court Carmelo Anthony at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday. With that in mind, we offer you five things to know about Anthony’s free agency.
1. The suitors: In addition to the New York Knicks, the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets are expected to make a strong run at Carmelo. Teams such as the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks may also pursue Anthony, but many pieces have to fall into place to make those destinations a reality.
Chicago is considered the strongest challenger to the Knicks for Anthony’s services, but they would likely have to orchestrate a sign-and-trade to acquire Anthony. Same goes for the Rockets, who traded Omer Asik last week to New Orleans in an effort to create enough cap space to ink Anthony or LeBron James.
2. The money: The Knicks can offer Anthony the most money of any team vying for him this summer. New York can give Anthony a max contract worth $129 million over five years. Other teams can offer Anthony a max deal of $96 million over four years.
It is unclear at this point if the Knicks and president Phil Jackson are willing to offer Anthony a maximum contract. Jackson declined to answer a question about potential money for Carmelo last week. Jackson has also publicly asked Anthony to “stick to his word” and take less than maximum money to re-sign with the Knicks. It should also be noted that Dallas owner Mark Cuban has said he will not offer free agents maximum contracts this summer, so Anthony would have to take a pay cut to sign with the Mavericks.
If Anthony were to end up with the Big 3 in Miami, he’d have to accept a hefty paycut. One scenario in which Miami could create enough cap space to acquire Melo would leave him with a contract worth $70 million less than the max contract he can sign with the Knicks. The possibility of Carmelo ending up in Miami took a severe hit on Monday with the news that LeBron James will seek a max contract. If James signs a maximum contract, it will make it extremely difficult for the Heat to make Anthony a competitive offer even if Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade return at discounted rates.
3. The favorite? ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported over the weekend that the Knicks remained optimistic that they will re-sign Anthony when it’s all said and done this summer. Stein reported that Anthony and Jackson have “connected” somewhat, which is one factor that leaves the Knicks optimistic about getting Anthony back to New York.
But Anthony is looking to put himself in position to win on a yearly basis, and the Bulls' roster offers him a strong chance to do that -- provided Derrick Rose remains healthy. Anthony and the Bulls have already done their homework on one another, so there is interest from both sides.
Houston can potentially offer Anthony a chance to team up with Dwight Howard and James Harden. But the Rockets are in the Western Conference, much more difficult terrain than the East. That’s another reason Chicago is considered such an attractive destination for Anthony.
4. The factors: As we see it, the five biggest factors at play, in no particular order, are money, Lebron, Phil, winning and family. We’ve talked about the finances above. The LeBron factor is interesting because Anthony and James are close friends and would like to play together if the situation is amenable to both parties.
Some teams are attempting to clear enough cap space to sign both James and Anthony. The teams that fail to lure James will certainly go hard after Anthony, so that’s something the Knicks will have to try to fend off in the coming days. As discussed above, the idea that LeBron will seek maximum money will hinder any plans of Carmelo playing alongside LeBron in Miami. It also will make it more difficult for Anthony and James to play together in any other city.
Phil also factors in greatly here. He has stated publicly that he wants to bring Anthony back, but he’s also comfortable with the idea of moving on without him.
If the Knicks and Anthony get in to nasty negotiations, will Phil acquiesce to Anthony’s wishes or play hardball?
Anthony has also stated a desire to put himself in position to win. But he’s also said he’s taking a long-term view of the situation. So it will be interesting to see if Anthony prioritizes teaming up with superstars over continuing to try to build something that can last in New York.
Finally, Carmelo’s family is one of the factors here that has been undervalued. Anthony himself talked about how tough it would be to uproot his 7-year-old son Kiyan from New York to another city. So you have to wonder how that will weigh on Anthony when it comes time to make a decision.
5. The prediction: If we were placing a bet (and we’re not), we’d put our money on the Knicks.
The Knicks are favorites over Chicago by the slightest of margins because of the contract they can offer Anthony, the opportunity to play in the NBA’s biggest media market and the idea that Anthony can keep his family in New York.
Anthony will have to put his trust in Jackson to turn things around and re-build the roster around him. But the prediction here is that Anthony will have enough faith in Jackson to do so.
Question: What do you think is the most important factor for Carmelo in free agency?
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3dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann