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In the end, there was a 54-win regular season, a division title for the first time since 1994 and a playoff appearance that extended beyond the first round for the first time since 2000. The New York Knicks have Carmelo Anthony to thank for this, since he is the resident star of this team. But in the aftermath of another season ending prematurely, there's no better time than the present to start wondering about Melo's future in Gotham.
Will it exist beyond next season?
At the moment, I think it's a 50/50 proposition. And it's not just because of the Knicks' repeated futility or cap-strapped circumstances.
It is because Melo has the freedom to opt out of his deal. To stay or go elsewhere, like Los Angeles or Miami, assuming the Heat can create cap space. It is because Melo can opt out at the same time LeBron James is free to go elsewhere -- or stay in Miami. Not to mention the potential allure of 2014 being the Summer of Melo.
Does anyone see the picture yet?
If not, shame on you because Melo and his reps at Creative Artists Agency see the picture. As do LeBron and his crew.
"It's all about choices," one confidant of both players told me during the NBA Finals. "In the end, listen to them. They never use the word 'money.' They know that's a turnoff. But they always use the words 'business' or 'choices.' They see it just as clear as anyone else does."
This, too, is clear: For all the buzz the Knicks created in 2012-13, they still ended their season well short of their aspirations. By the time the playoffs began, they were barely in the championship conversation.
Deep down, we all knew the Indiana Pacers were better. That Miami was better. That Chicago would've been better if Derrick Rose were healthy. And that the Brooklyn Nets were coming on strong.
Fast-forward to now, and the Knicks have been firmly removed from the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference before mid-July even arrived.
The Heat still have LeBron, Chris Bosh and a championship nucleus intact, even if it includes the questionable health of Dwyane Wade. The Pacers re-signed power forward David West and stole sharpshooting forward Chris Copeland away from the Knicks.
If that wasn't bad enough, Rose is scheduled to be back. Joakim Noah and Luol Deng will be healthy. The Bulls also added Mike Dunleavy Jr. in free agency, so they're not going anywhere. And adding Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to their roster makes the Nets better than the Knicks -- at least for the moment.
In the meantime, you'll hear folks like Knicks coach Mike Woodson say, "Melo is the face of this franchise. He's a star. He's so important to us, to what we want to do, I don't know what we'd do without him. I, personally, don't think about life without him here because I can't imagine it."
Without Melo, of course, the Knicks are in the lottery instead of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Another factor to consider about Anthony and the decision he faces next summer: Melo wants to go Hollywood, whether he's in New York or not. His wife, La La Anthony, already is Hollywood, with a new movie about to come out.
The aspirations of the Anthony family are obvious and predictable. Melo's basketball decisions are not just about basketball. It's about positioning himself -- and his wife -- for a post-basketball career beyond the corridors of MSG.
That qualifies as a problem. Couple it with Amar'e Stoudemire's salary still on the books, along with that of Tyson Chandler, and what you have is a Knicks team that might possibly be stuck in a familiar malaise for the next couple of seasons.
If you're Carmelo Anthony, do you really want to deal with this when you have options?