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The only thing surprising about Carmelo Anthony announcing his intention to become an unrestricted free agent next summer is that it's come across as a surprise to everybody.
Anthony is entertaining the prospect of free agency because he wants to be wooed. Because he wants to hear how much he's loved. Melo is all but screaming "Show me the money!" in the direction of Knicks chairman James Dolan -- as well as to anyone else who is listening. Which isn't a bad thing, by the way.
It's a good thing, because the more Melo screams, the more he'll have to justify it with his play. And the more he justifies it, the more of a priority will be placed on the Knicks' continued upward trend beyond the realms of mere respectability.
Focus will be spent on how they spend their money. Whom they spend it on. What level of commitment is made, and what benefits are being reaped.
"At the end of the day I don't want to go anywhere," Melo told reporters Thursday. "I don't plan on going anywhere."
Melo isn't lying. He just isn't telling the truth, either.
All Melo knows right now is that he'd rather have the $129 million the Knicks can extend his contract with once he opts out next summer than the $96 million he can get from any other team in the NBA. But what if the dominoes fall in a different direction, steering him away from Gotham City?
Does anyone really believe Melo's loyalty runs that deep? Or that the Knicks have done anything to garner such loyalty?
It's time to put the cards on the table:
The same Carmelo Anthony who arrived in New York City in 2011 is the same one who's still here and has been in this NBA since 2003. He's the same surreal scorer (25 career points per game, a league-high 28.7 last season) who also has been beyond the first round of the playoffs just twice. In other words, he'll entertain you, establish himself as a bona fide star, but usually ends up conceding to someone either with more star power, with a better team, or both -- culminating with Melo sitting at the end of every season extremely and justifiably well-paid, but with not even a trip to the championship round to show for it.
Except this time, he finds himself in position to do more about it.
Unlike when Melo was in Denver, a place he wanted to leave, the Knicks' star forward actually wants to stay here. He just doesn't want to stay here and lose.
Melo is not interested in continuing to marvel at the achievements of one of his best friends (LeBron James) for years to come. Either the Knicks need to facilitate a way for the two superstars to join forces or position themselves to get someone else to make the 'Bockers viable. And Melo is smart enough to know the present roster won't cut the mustard.
So this season -- with impending free agency -- is the perfect opportunity to put the franchise on notice.
First, secure coach Mike Woodson by getting the Knicks to pick up the option on his third year -- which Melo has already done. Second, do everything you can to assure Dolan you want to stay ... without actually committing to staying. Melo doesn't need to tell the Knicks, with new president and general manager Steve Mills, what to do, because he knows they already know.
If Amar'e Stoudemire isn't healthy again, convince him to retire so those numbers will come off the books. By acquiring Andrea Bargnani, whose $23 million comes off the books after the 2014-15 season, you now have either Bargnani or Tyson Chandler -- or both -- as bait in the final years of their contracts.
It's all about maneuverability, the ability to position yourself as a franchise to pursue LeBron. It doesn't matter that it's a long shot to get him because Miami and Cleveland are his preferences. Melo knows it's possible that LeBron will move on. That both of them want to play together. And that the possibilities are endless when your conversations are with a billionaire with ties to Wall Street.
"I want to be a free agent," Melo reportedly said. "I think everybody in the NBA dreams to be a free agent at least one time in their career. I'm not going to go through the season thinking about my contract. I'm signed to a contract now, so I'm not going to think about whether I'm going to opt out, whether I'm going to re-sign. I'm not doing that."
That would be because he doesn't have to. Melo already knows what he's going to do.
He knows the Lakers aren't a bad option, especially because they're expected to have enough cap room to pursue two max-contract players, not just one. He's also represented by Creative Artists Agency, armed with knowledgeable and connected minds to bloat his bank account substantially.
They'd love for him to be in New York or Los Angeles. They know Melo can't lose in this deal.
Just so long as two things occur:
1. He doesn't acknowledge immediately that there's no way on earth he's leaving.
2. He continues winning basketball games.
Part 1: Mission accomplished.
Part II: Lord only knows.