If Carmelo Anthony leaves the New York Knicks as a free agent this summer and signs for less money elsewhere – and it’s a huge “if,” roughly the size of 30 million dollar bills stacked one atop the other – his avowed motive will be to join a team with which he’d have a better shot at winning an NBA title.
OK, fine. Those teams exist, because the Knicks’ avenues to improve are largely blocked by massive salary obligations to other players and a shortage of draft picks. Locking in with the Knicks for another five seasons, at approximately $129 million, mostly would assure Anthony of more of the same: frustration, eliminations and his nose pressed against the Finals glass while his buddies are grabbing hardware.
So even among Anthony’s supporters and critics – rarely on the same page about the high-scoring, ball-dominating All-Star forward’s polarizing game – there seems consensus that, if he truly craves that which he cannot buy, he’d best be served by seeking it somewhere else.
[Insert decision tree here: Those who doubt Anthony's single-minded lust for a championship, over all the attention, fun and earning opportunities that flow to him win or lose by virtue of playing in New York, can stop reading right now. So, too, can those who believe the extra $30 million, mostly at age 34 in the fifth year of a deal he cannot get elsewhere, renders moot any other-team scenario. What follows is of interest only to readers who actually believe Anthony will change teams in July…]
Then the question becomes: If the team he chooses has to start throwing pieces overboard just to pay him, won’t that be counterproductive to achieving the very goal he purportedly is seeking?
Anthony, remember, has been there, done this. When he leveraged his trade out of Denver in February 2011, he ostensibly got what he wanted – New York in all its Big Apple glory. But it came at a hefty price in the form of valuable Knicks players (Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov) and draft picks (including the 2014 first-rounder this June).
Even as the Knicks added Anthony as a marquee scorer, what they gave up all but killed the plan at its genesis. Cue the sad trombone.
So, fast-forwarding to the summer of 2014, what can we expect? Anthony and a team that covets him making the exact same mistake?
If, say, the Chicago Bulls – the team currently in the media’s crosshairs as fitting, wanting and flat-out needing Melo, with or without center Joakim Noah‘s supposed “recruiting” advice – tries to dredge enough salary-cap space to compete monetarily with the Knicks, it effectively will have to do what New York did. Either via sign-and-trade or the outright purging of players, Chicago would start any Anthony acquisition process by taking several steps backward.
First, the Bulls would have to amnesty Carlos Boozer to shed the $16.8 million due him in 2014-15. They would have to renounce cap holds on players such as Kirk Hinrich, D.J. Augustin, Nazr Mohammed and a few other near the bottom of their payroll.
And still, Chicago might need to shed more. Power forward Taj Gibson, for instance, might have to be traded to clear his $8 million salary. So what if Gibson, the Bulls’ Boozer replacement, has become a legitimate candidate for the NBA’s Sixth Man Award? His money would be all that mattered, just so VP John Paxson and GM Gar Forman could shove it across the table toward Anthony.
At which point Anthony – if he were really serious about wanting to win – ought to push it right back and say, “Not necessary, gentlemen.”
That’s right. Turn down money. Turn down a lot of money.
It’s the only way a move by Anthony to another team makes sense and serves both parties’ needs. And both parties’ needs do merge: If the Bulls or anyone else tear down their roster so much that they go backward before they can go forward, they likely won’t get where they want to go and he won’t either.
A team that has or painlessly can create cap space to max out (or near-max) Anthony’s contract probably doesn’t already have in place the pieces or track record he can trust to win big now and into his late prime. A team that would wince to do so ought to beware.
Chicago is way more viable as a contender with Gibson, to name one, than without him. Which looks better, a frontline of Anthony, Noah and Gibson, or one of Anthony, Noah and Phil N. DaBlanc, some low-salary schmoe scrounged after the rest of the money is in Anthony’s pocket?
The thing is, Anthony should want this, too. And he can afford it.
By the end of this, his 11th NBA season, Anthony will have been paid approximately $135 million. That’s about $6 million more than LeBron James, a four-time MVP. Since the start of the 2010-11 season, Anthony has pulled in more than $10 million more than James, who was playing for less money while going to three straight Finals and winning two of them.
This is where critics might ask: What has Anthony done to justify premium pay over what the game’s best player earns? Sticking to the topic, though, we’ll simply ask: Why can’t Anthony afford to take less now, the way James (and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) did, to chase what he allegedly really craves? When Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen negotiated new deals in their 30s to keep their Big Three together in Boston, they took a combined pay cut of $23 million annually.
Keep in mind, Anthony’s off-court income from endorsements and other enterprises was recently estimated to be $8 million annually. His wife LaLa is an entertainer, bringing more cash into their celebrity household. The Anthonys might end up hosting telethons but they’ll never need to be the beneficiaries of one.
Fitting into Chicago’s ideal cap number would push Anthony’s paycheck down considerably; without stripping themselves of Noah, Gibson, Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Tony Snell and a few others, the Bulls might only be able to offer $11 million or $12 million in starting pay, building out to about $52 million over four years. That’s even a steep discount from approximately $95 million over four if he maxes out with a new team.
An insult? No, because Anthony would be getting while giving. He’d be getting the best possible cast of teammates, into which he could air-drop as the primary scorer. He’d be getting a fresh start in a market poised to adore him for what he might bring. He’d be getting one of the league’s most respected and resource coaches, Tom Thibodeau, who engenders blood loyalty in his locker room (if not his front office).
There would also be a bonus benefit of Anthony accepting a much lower offer, as in, money, meet mouth. If he prefers to max out financially, then he’s tracking a vastly different scoreboard than James, Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant. But no team should prostrate itself at that particular altar for him, least of all the Bulls. I’ve already gone on record that his and their cultures, at any price, would mix about as well as brown shoes and tuxedos or, y’know, Mike D’Antoni and Dwight Howard.
If, on the other hand, Anthony truly wants a title, he in essence could buy an enhanced path to one by making sure the roster he joins is the strongest possible. That’s how four years, $52 million, compared to five years, $129 million, can literally have a better ring to it.