- Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com
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NEW YORK -- In the middle of a letdown start to the season with a guaranteed dose of uncertainty to follow, there is one thing the New York Knicks can count on.
Carmelo Anthony is going to do what is best for Carmelo Anthony.
Not the team he's on, not the team he's planning to be on, but himself. He isn't the first player (and won't be the last) to look out for No. 1, but it's a clear principle to constantly keep in mind when examining Anthony's future.
This week, Anthony had to deny reports that he'd already decided he was going to leave the Knicks in free agency next summer. He said he's not even thinking about next summer.
There's no reason not to take Anthony at his word; he probably hasn't made up his mind. But also realize that at some point he is going to, and those choices will not be based on what he can do to help the Knicks assemble a championship roster.
This is what Anthony does.
If the Knicks do not turn around their season when Tyson Chandler returns from injury, you can expect the Anthony issue to become a monster heading toward the February trade deadline. Because if Anthony doesn't think the Knicks are best for him over the next five years, he will make it an issue and possibly force a trade again if he thinks that would be best for him.
The Knicks, sources say, have zero intention of trading Anthony no matter what he says about next summer. Not only did owner Jim Dolan personally seal the deal to bring Anthony to New York, but the front office realizes it has one of the most talented players in the league and won't be able to get fair value in return.
Dolan's Knicks have never made rebuilding trades, and they're sure as heck not going to start with the biggest star they've had since Patrick Ewing. And there's no questioning Anthony is such a star. He was the engine for their 54-win season in 2012-13 and is the biggest reason Madison Square Garden keeps selling out despite huge ticket-price hikes. Give him this: From a monetary standpoint, Anthony is an excellent return on investment. But from a championship team standpoint, that is a different conversation, and it isn't one that will take place with Anthony and the Knicks anytime soon.
The only team that can offer Anthony a five-year max contract next summer is the Knicks. That gives them about a $30 million advantage. That is the team's best chip in the negotiation.
Anthony's history is simple; he does not leave money on the table. When Dwight Howard had the same choice last summer, he left the Los Angeles Lakers and took a four-year deal for less with the Houston Rockets because he felt they were a better team. As Howard put it: "I'm betting $30 million on it." Anthony has never been a betting man.
In 2006, when contemporaries LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh signed three-year contract extensions so they could be free agents in 2010, Anthony was unwilling to take the risk of leaving nearly $20 million in guaranteed money on the table. He took the full five-year maximum salary, thank you.
In 2011, when he was frustrated he hadn't been a free agent in 2010, Anthony demanded a trade from the Denver Nuggets and essentially demanded that the trade be to the Knicks. He could have easily waited until he became a free agent the following summer and signed with the Knicks, but he was concerned that potential changes in the new collective bargaining agreement might cost him money. There was the risk that by waiting until he became a free agent, Anthony might lose a few million in guaranteed money. He was not interested in that, and his agents did a good job of forcing the trade to get him what he wanted.
If you need to be reminded, the Knicks traded the bulk of their roster and a major chunk of their future flexibility to get Anthony in February 2011 instead of signing him outright in December after the lockout ended. Essentially, that's why they're stuck with Amar'e Stoudemire's contract now and why their draft pick this year is headed to Denver no matter where it falls.
Anthony did it so he could sign a contract extension under those more favorable terms with the Knicks immediately after the trade. For their willingness to break off half their roster to acquire Anthony, what did the Knicks get? Two extra years. That's it. And that time frame is nearing its end.
This season always promised to be intriguing for Anthony because he only promised the Knicks those two extra seasons. But instead of at least playing it out, Anthony announced in the preseason that he intends to opt out of his contract next summer no matter what. It wasn't helpful to the team, but that has never been Anthony's prerogative when it comes to the business aspect.
He knows that by maximizing what will probably be his last big contract, he will set himself up to be the NBA's highest-paid player once Kobe Bryant's newly minted deal expires in 2016. Anthony may not have the rings that his 2003 draft-class brethren have, but among them, he's gotten the biggest paychecks from his teams.
Bottom line on all of this: Don't expect Anthony to change his stripes. It has always been all personal business -- whether it's getting the Knicks to get rid of a player who cramps his style (read Jeremy Lin) or forcing a trade to best suit his earning potential, you can count on Anthony.
In a way, such transparency is refreshing.
8dEthan Sherwood Strauss