Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Melo Free Agency: Winning in New York is Attainable Under Phil

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Even with LeBron James on the market, Carmelo Anthony is the talk of NBA free agency to this point as his future appears to be most in question.

Melo is currently enjoying life this week on the free agent market. It must feel good being the object of affection—wined and dined while seeing yourself plastered on the side of arenas and getting pitched different plans to slip the constantly elusive ring on your finger. He’s waited for years and tasted it for months and its finally here. So far Chicago, Houston and Dallas have been granted stops on the Summer 2014 Carmelo Free Agency Excursion and the Lakers are next on the list before the hometown Knicks round out the tour.

For several reasons, the frontrunners for Anthony’s talents at the moment are Chicago and New York. Those two places are the ones most able to give Carmelo what he’s looking for plus they both play in the weaker east where a path to the NBA finals is dramatically simpler than navigating the west. Right now the smart money is on the Bulls or Knicks landing the superstar forward.

Analysts and experts alike have made it sound like a foregone conclusion that if Melo wants to win, he’ll join Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and company in Chicago. Many feel it’s an integrity-testing choice for Melo; a test of whether or not he cares most about money or winning. Personally, I would disagree. While it’s true that winning is imminent most immediately at the United Center, it might not be as ideal a destination as it looks long-term. And if Carmelo returns to New York even for the max deal of $129 million, it doesn’t make him greedy and it doesn’t meant winning isn’t of great importance to him.

It could still be a priority in a possible return to the Knicks. It’s at least one person’s opinion that Melo should settle for somewhere in the $110 million range to shut up detractors, save the team some money while still getting paid grossly all at once. It looked as though he would have to make some kind of compromise but recent rumors have it that the Knicks unofficially told him they would offer the maximum. Even if they do it shouldn’t be an indictment of Melo in any way and independent of potentially hamstringing the team financially, his production is worthy of the max.

Yes, I am a lifelong Knicks fan, a staunch Carmelo supporter and this is a New York-themed platform but this isn’t an idea of the sensational or delusional variety. The origin isn’t a place of bias nearly as much as it is a place of mere observation.

Melo could and may win elsewhere but the idea of winning in New York can’t be totally discounted. For the first time in a long time, a positively anxious look towards the future in New York is legitimate. One would guess the chances are good he returns and I also side with the notion that if Anthony is really looking big picture as he claims, New York could very well be the best spot for him. And that’s not purely because of the financials either—we’re talking basketball too. Chicago is far ahead in looking like a consistent contender but the gap is going to close and with Melo and future additions the Knicks aren’t going to be too far behind.

 Jim O-USA Today Sports

Jim O-USA Today Sports

Stating the obvious: Phil Jackson hopping on board changed everything. In a short span of time, Jackson has begun an overhaul in New York. He got the Knicks into a draft nobody thought they’d find a way into, cleared some cap space, improved the point guard situation and is in position to keep advancing this team and sooner rather than later.

He’s providing a direction, implementing a plan and providing previously nonexistent stability. The ideal next step is to get Melo back on the wing ready to key a possible triangle offense.

One major issue in Chicago is the fact that the Bulls need to maneuver their pieces  cover their bases monetarily to acquire Anthony. They will amnesty Carlos Boozer to gain some financial relief but are still trying not to give up assets similar to the way New York had to in order to trade for Melo. Anthony would then be arriving on a roster without a major piece like Taj Gibson (someone who Melo would want there). In the end its possible the most Chicago can offer is around $16.2 million dollars per year. Over four seasons that comes out to barely half of what Melo can earn in New York including the fifth year, one in which an aging Anthony’s skills will be on the decline.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

If Rose comes back the player he was there’s no argument that the Bulls are set up to challenge for the Eastern conference crown with the addition of Anthony’s volume scoring. I’m just not ready to assume it’ll go as planned. My fellow critics of this move point to the health of Rose and whether he can return to top form. Too many are taking it as fact that Rose will return to and remain on the basketball court, looking like the D-Rose of old in the process.

Despite being one of the league’s most unique and electric talents, the guy has a notable injury history and has played only a handful of games in two years. No matter Melo’s decision, it’s going to take a leap of faith—either in Jackson’s plan or in Rose’s health. I’ll believe D-Rose is himself when I see it—of course its possible Rose can be dynamic again but it may not be a risk worth taking for Anthony who would be locking himself in an unenviable position for the remainder of his prime.

However it’s no secret that New York has a ton of money coming off the books at season’s end and will have their best opportunity in over a decade to build a winning product. Centered around Carmelo and orchestrated by Jackson, the Knicks could be poised for contention for Anthony’s final four seasons. Its possible deciding to leave for Chicago could end up being a short-sighted knee jerk reaction.

Is Chicago an option possibly $60 million overall better than the Knick? Not even close. It’s easy leave that kind of bread on the table when it isn’t your money. I’d probably throw up just considering it no matter how much I had and you would too. Can’t begrudge him making all he can while still in his prime. Melo doesn’t necessarily have to sacrifice money for wins though; over the long haul, opportunity is attainable in New York. Doesn’t mean he feels the same way—just a thought.

The Bulls are the obvious pick at first thought and logical in a variety of ways but the bigger picture says Phil Jackson and New York can also give Anthony the best of all worlds: happiness for his family, an opportunity to win, a city to be beloved in and the most money. I truly feel as though all are of enormous importance to Anthony and it’s no longer blasphemy to look with hopeful eyes towards the Knicks future—not anymore.

I’ve said it before but its worth noting: fans and Carmelo alike are in a position to give their blind faith to Jackson. It seems redundant to continue leaning on him solely for hope but it’s been delivered thus far and really flipped around this entire scenario. Granted, fans have no choice but to rely on Jax while Melo weights his options.

The bottom line is where it looked impossible Phil has found ways to improve the team as well and the culture around it in time to make the Knicks inexplicably more attractive to Carmelo. There’s something brewing at the Garden and while it’s no sure thing, New York presents Anthony with a noteworthy platform to attain everything he’s looking for. At the very least, it isn’t Carmelo forgoing the opportunity to win—not by any stretch.

Tags: Basketball Carmelo Anthony NBA New York Knicks Phil Jackson

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