HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Any way you slice it, $23.3 million is a lot of money … even for a guy who has already made millions.
But for Carmelo Anthony, the decision to forgo that money he would have earned by opting-in for the final year of his deal with the New York Knicks, no giant sum of cash can replace the uninhibited freedom he will experience this summer as an unrestricted free agent for the first and only time in the prime of his career.
Anthony had to make the best decision for his future. And any future that doesn’t include the all-out pursuit of a championship situation would have been the wrong choice.
By courting free agency, though, a player of his stature also courts some inevitable backlash, too.
So welcome to impossible, ‘Melo. You lose no matter what you do.
Opt-in with the Knicks for one more season of who-knows-what-will-happen-hoops at the Garden, you get knocked for not chasing titles in what is clearly the physical prime of your career.
If you opt-out and test free agency without re-signing with the Knicks, you get blasted for leaving the Phil Jackson-and Derek Fisher-led lab-test team and chasing titles elsewhere.
Melo’s bottom line is simple. He can sign a contract worth $130 million over five years with the Knicks and only the Knicks, a fortune no one knows for sure the Knicks are offering. He can sign a maximum deal with another suitor for $96 million over four years.
Chatter of him possibly taking less than a max deal to help whichever team he signs with bring in additional free agent help sounds great, but that’s nothing more than chatter at this point.
This is the world your good friend LeBron James has lived in the past four years. The moment he turned his back on Cleveland to take his talents to South Beach a huge segment of the basketball public made up their minds about him. No amount of winning would change those opinions. LeBron’s gamble turned out to be a 50-50 championship proposition, with losses in the Heat Big 3’s first and last seasons together sandwiching back-to-back title seasons.
Win in New York and your star would never fade.
Bolt New York for Chicago or Houston or Los Angeles or Miami and ‘Melo takes James’ title as “the easiest target in sports” — at least temporarily. There’s also no guarantee Anthony will win it all in his new city. None!
Anthony knows this all too well, as he detailed in a recent interview with Vice.com (see below) that was released today:
“I came from a smaller market in Denver. Not so much scrutiny, but media its everywhere … but not like the level it’s here in New York. Playing in a small market, you can only go so high — as far as individual players goes,” Anthony said in the interview with ViceSports.com. “There’s only so much you can do and at a point in your life you got to look for something else … a bigger stand, a bigger stage, a bigger market.
“When you go to a place like New York … you feel the excitement, you feel the difference. The energy is different, the fans are different, the game is different.”
Anthony also opened up a little bit on what might influence his decision to come, be it say on the roster to the life he leads away from the court.
“As far as player personnel goes, I would love to be involved in that. At the end of the day, you’re creating a family. You can’t create a bond with somebody that’s not going to fit in with you, or someboday that’s not going to be there when you need them the most and don’t understand the game and how to win and situations in the game and things like that.
“As much as it has to do with having the top guys on the team — superstars per se — you need the rest of your soldiers.
“The average person just sees opportunity to say that ‘oh ‘Melo should go here, ‘Melo should go there, I think he should do this, I think he should do that’. But they don’t take into consideration the family aspect of it, your livelihood, where you’re going to be living at. Do you want your kids to grow up in that place? Do I want to spend the rest of my career in that situation? In that city? All that stuff comes into play.
“The average person is looking at it as next year. ‘Next year he’d win a championship if we go here.’ We’re looking at the big picture here, now. You’re looking at the next six to eight years of your career – the end of your career at that. Do you want to spend that much time in that place?”
All that said, Anthony is wise to move on now and absorb whatever hate comes with his decision to test the free-agent waters. At 30, there is no planning for four and five years from now. Chase titles today and deal with the venom tomorrow.
I’ve never understood this misguided notion that these players, these unrestricted free agents, owe it to the franchise, its fans or a city to grind out the best years of their careers in a dead-end situation.
When Anthony is in the twilight of his career and a shell of the player he is now, there will be no sympathetic fan base that has adored him from the time he came into the league. That opportunity evaporated the moment he departed Denver for New York. He’s already a hoops nomad, a wandering warrior in search of that coveted Larry O’Brien trophy.
Every other member of the top five of the heralded 2003 Draft class already has at least one championship ring (and before you make jokes, Darko Milicic was the first one to get secure his while riding the bench with Detroit in 2004). James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all sit at the big-boy table when titles and Finals runs are discussed. Anthony has just one conference finals appearance on his resume — and that was back in 2009 with Denver.
Anthony has every right to fight his way into that mix, be it alongside LeBron, Wade and Bosh in Miami — in that “pipe dream” Heat boss Pat Riley mentioned last week — or elsewhere.
A Heat “Big 4″ would be absolutely diabolical and an instant title favorite, even with the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs coming back intact.
Anthony could be lethal in Chicago, too. He’d be playing alongside a defensive stopper in Joakim Noah and an offensive catalyst of his ilk in Derrick Rose (provided Rose is back to his usual self next season after two seasons of injury woes). Any concerns about him not being a good fit with Rose or in Tom Thibodeau‘s system fade when I think of the way Anthony plays in international competitions.
That’s also why I am convinced he could co-exist without issue on a Lakers team that features Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and whatever roster is pieced together around them. Anthony has been miscast as a one-dimensional talent for far too long. Put him in an ideal situation and we’ll see from him the same things his contemporaries see in him during the Olympics: an offensive juggernaut willing to do what it takes to win.
If ‘Melo chooses right, we’ll see it soon, possibly as early as training camp somewhere like Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles or even Miami.
This decision is an impossible situtation, of course … but one that you have earned, ‘Melo!