This summer, one very pivotal NBA player will be making a huge career decision. Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony has been the identity of the New York Knicks ever since he was traded there in the middle of the 2010-2011 NBA season. But the homecoming for him there has been all but great. The Knicks have won only one playoff series since he has been there and this year was a monstrous disaster. Carmelo has the option of opting out of his contract this summer and has made no secret that he will do so. But what has become the biggest question is where does he land? Of course there are plenty of teams taking a look at him, but where would be the best fit?
Carmelo came to New York with a plan to take the Knicks to the next level. But unfortunately, that plan never came to fruition. The Knicks fell as far as to miss the playoffs this season and because of that, Mike Woodson was fired as head coach of the Knicks by new team president Phil Jackson. Many view the arrival of Jackson as the one big bargaining chip to keep Melo in New York. With his multiple rings he has won and his wealth of knowledge, he could help persuade Melo that he can build a winner around him. While that sounds great in theory, it may not be the easiest thing to get done because of the Knicks current cap situation. As of right now, the Knicks have no cap space to pay anyone. And if they were to sign Melo back, that would mean they are paying big money to Melo, Amare Stoudemire ($23,410, 988 million next season), Tyson Chandler ($14,596,887 million owed next season) and Andrea Bargnani (11,500,000 with potential for making 12,612,500 with incentives). Bargnani, Stoudemire and Chandler would count for $50 million in cap space by themselves. So imagine how small the cap space would be if they re-sign Melo.
The only way anyone would be able to be brought in to help this team would be via mid-level exceptions or veteran minimum contacts. The reality is there are no players out there that would take the veteran’s minimum and make a huge difference on this Knicks team next season. And on top of having no cap space, the Knicks will not have a first round pick in this year’s draft due to the trade that brought them Carmelo Anthony from Denver. The Knicks are pretty much stuck with what they have unless they can trade one or more of their tradable assets: Chandler, Tim Hardaway, Jr., or Iman Shumpert. Getting rid of one of these three would give the Knicks at least a draft pick and in Chandler’s case, maybe a couple players for the price of his contact. The question that Melo has to answer is if he would be willing to sacrifice one year of his career if the Knicks are not able to make some cap space or obtain a first-round pick. With Phil in the fold now, that may be an interesting proposition for Melo. But then again, does he want to sacrifice a year of his career when he will be 30 to start the 2014-2015 season?
Staying put is an option, but there is also another attractive option in the East. The Chicago Bulls have been one of the toughest teams in the NBA. You can count on seeing an extremely physical team that gives 110% every time they touch the court. Chicago has been one of the best defensive teams in the last three years. But unfortunately it has been ugly for them offensively. Star point guard Derrick Rose has suffered season-ending knee injuries in back-to-back seasons and that has left the Bulls very limited offensively. Coach Tom Thibodeau has been extremely creative in how he has ran his offense, but there is only so far that can carry the Bulls when the playoffs come around. The Bulls have seemingly always been a wing scorer away (even with Derrick Rose) and Melo would give them exactly what they have been missing. But even if Rose does end up getting injured again, Melo gives the Bulls at least a frontline scorer that will be able to carry them more than in prior seasons. But with Melo, you have to be concerned about his defense. Under Coach Mike Woodson he has improved there, but Woodson and Thibodeau in Chicago are two different levels of defensive intensity. Melo’s scoring would be welcomed, but he could end up driving Thibs a little crazy with his defensive lapses at times. Ultimately, for Melo to land in Chicago, he must be willing to take a serious paycut from what he got in New York. Estimating based off the projected additional $5 million added to next year’s cap by the NBA, Melo may have to come down to roughly 12-15 million a year to be a Bull.
With Anthony’s arrival, there could also be some departures. It is expected that Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer (scheduled to make $16,800,000 next season) would be amnestied as part of Melo coming to town. But the Bulls may have to get rid of power forward Taj Gibson (scheduled to make $8 million next season) depending on how much Melo craves from the Bulls contact-wise. That would be a huge blow to a team that built its identity on defense and rebounding. And Taj actually would be a good compliment to Melo and Rose as the starting power forward. Ultimately, Melo coming to town could affect this team and what they look like come next year, provided Melo signs to come to town. The scoring would be excellent (Bulls averaged league-worst 93.7 points per game), but are the Bulls willing to invest the money into him at all costs? Or will Melo make the sacrifice financially to be a part of this team with Gibson still in town?
But Chicago is not the only potential destination that is out there for Melo. A team in Texas has their eye on what Melo’s talents could do for them. No, not the Spurs or Mavericks, but the Houston Rockets. Even with arguably the top big man and shooting guard in the NBA, the Rockets bowed out to the Trailblazers in the first round. One thing about the Rockets is they are a team that likes to shoot a lot of three’s. With that being said, the Rockets do not have a very consistent post game. Dwight Howard has been inconsistent at best in the post all year long. And Harden, who could post up guards if he wanted, seems to be content with living on the perimeter. Melo would provide some post game for that team while allowing Howard to roam the paint. The Rockets could potentially have two interchangeable forwards in Melo and Chandler Parsons and become a very versatile at the forward spots. That would make their offense even more dangerous. But in adding Melo, some things have to be figured out first. The Houston Rockets put “poison pills” in the contracts of backup big man Omer Asik (owed $14,898,938 next season) and backup point guard Jeremy Lin (owed $14,898,938 next season) when they were restricted free agents from Chicago and New York respectively. That kept their former teams from re-signing them, but it will also be something that could potentially hinder this team from bringing Carmelo there to Houston. Houston has to find someone to take one or both of the big money deals that Asik and Lin have in order to fit Melo in and give them some cap flexibility.
If the Rockets are not able to trade Asik or Lin while bringing in Melo, then Parsons could be hitting the open market via trade or free agency. The versatile wing player is their best trade asset and the Rockets are indifferent so far as to whether they will pick up his option for next season or let him be a restricted free agent. If someone is to offer him a sizable deal (which someone will do), then he could be headed out of H-Town. The smart move would be for the Rockets to pick that option up, but that is in their hands. Another issue with Melo going to Houston would be the way Melo, Harden and Howard would play together. Harden and Melo both need the basketball to be effective on the court. Harden can create for other teammates, but we all know that Melo is a stone-cold scorer. Would Melo be happy to play off the ball and be sort of the third banana? In my opinion, I don’t think he would. Also, acquiring Melo would still not solve the issues the Rockets have at the point guard spot. Patrick Beverly is a solid, but he is a backup point guard on a championship team. Instead of focusing on Melo, the Rockets need to focus on a point guard to make the game easier for Harden and Howard offensively. And another thing, the Rockets are not exactly the best defensive team on the perimeter and adding Melo would not fix that issue at all.
Last but certainly not least are the upstart Charlotte Hornets. They used to be the Charlotte Bobcats, but they will now return to the roots of what was once the Charlotte franchise. They made a playoff appearance this season and even though they did not win a game, things are looking up for this franchise. They have an All-NBA caliber big man in Al Jefferson and a point guard in Kemba Walker that is starting to mature into the player some thought he could be when he entered the NBA. The only thing that seems to be missing from this team is a wing scorer. Gerald Henderson was solid, but they need more of a guy that is going to average 20+ points a night and put pressure on defenses. Melo is just the right fit for what they need there. His presence would allow for more space in the post for Jefferson and would also make it hard for teams to help when Walker drives to the basket. His acquisition would help make the Hornets a viable threat in the East. And with Ben Gordon ($13 million) falling off the cap for next season along with some other tradable contacts, Melo could receive $15-$18 million per year. But with Melo coming to Charlotte, there are still some issues.
If the Hornets decide to bring in Melo and then then what is done with young wings Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeff Taylor? Both play the small forward position and the only difference between them is that Taylor can shoot better. In my opinion, it forces the Hornets to make a decision on what to do with MKG and we all know he will be moved in this scenario. Kidd-Gilchrist counts more against the cap than Taylor ($5 million for MKG next year compared to 915k for Taylor next season) so that creates even more space to sign Melo. Adding Anthony would take down their efficiency defensively (Top 5 ranked defense in the NBA) but make them more dangerous offensively. The biggest question the Hornets have to ask themselves is what will the impact of Melo be on their team in regards to playoff success? The addition of Melo, even though it will help their team, will not get them to a championship-level. And make no mistake about it, Carmelo has said that he wants to win and by win he means get a title. There is no way that Charlotte would be able to do that within the first three years of a contract they would give him. And with that being said, Melo would be out of his peak years of performance by the time they could essentially be in any kind of position to be a real contender.
Ultimately, Carmelo’s career is at a crossroads. He has been a great scorer in the NBA, but he has not been a great winner over his career. He has a huge decision on his hands that could define his career even more than before. Does he take the money and head back to New York, take less money to head to a contender, or does he head to a potential up-and-coming team in Charlotte? Melo is playing his cards close to his vest at this point, so only time will tell where he goes. But one thing is for sure: it will be fun to watch how this plays out.