Carmelo Anthony should reconsider his decision to become a free agent this summer. Perhaps he shouldn't do it at all.
In fact, for big-name players who have the option to be free agents this summer, the prudent move might be to stay in their contracts. That includes LeBron James.
If you take a step back and look at the entire landscape, the advantages for choosing that path become clear. And such a decision by the marquee players in the market would raise the curtain on the Summer of 2015 -- potentially the biggest year in NBA free-agent history.
Anthony has already made a major contract mistake once in his career, a choice that has limited his options to this day. His lack of long-term thinking in 2006 caused him to miss the free-agent bonanza in 2010 because, unlike his superstar peers such as James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Anthony set himself up to be a free agent in 2011. That was a year too late.
Wade, James and Bosh, who were thinking ahead in 2006, teamed up in Miami. Anthony was left to listen to toasts about missed opportunities and future dreams at his wedding while James was checking out mansions in Florida.
If Anthony opts out this summer, he could be compromising himself again, this time doing it a year too early. He could miss out on a great chance to find the best situation with the best teammates. By opting in for 2014-15 and signing a new max deal in summer 2015, Anthony would earn an additional $4.27 million through 2017-18 and be able to lock in an additional season, per Larry Coon.
"It really comes down to what the player truly wants because that is what matters, you will execute his decision," said one of the NBA's top agents, who does not represent Anthony. "But I would advise my star clients that 2015 is a better year to be a free agent if getting onto a championship contender is the top priority."
This past October, in an informal announcement, Anthony said he was looking forward to using the opt out in his contract to become a free agent this summer. He referred to it as a "dream" scenario.
As the Knicks' season has spiraled downward, he had added that he would be willing to take less money on a new deal and that the Knicks' off-court problems would play into his decision. This has only increased the belief that Anthony will follow through with choice to leave his $23 million option and head to the open market and, quite possibly, look for a destination other than New York.
Faced with what is happening right in front of his face, this decision would seem logical. But when Anthony spends 10 weeks thinking about it -- the time between the Knicks' season ending in mid-April and his opt-out deadline of June 30 -- he'll see a more complicated set of circumstances.
Opting in with the Knicks and playing out his existing contract is not an option Anthony is considering now, a source close to Anthony told ESPN. He still plans to become a free agent and sign a new deal this summer. That's understandable, especially in what has to be an extremely frustrating season in New York.
This is not lost on the Knicks. After months of projecting a confident stance that Anthony would remain with the team into the future, doubts have crept into the front office and the prospect of Anthony leaving this summer has become worrisome, according to league sources.
Although the Knicks would like to lock up Anthony long term and can guarantee him roughly $30 million more than any other team over the next five years, even they would understand if Anthony wanted to put off the decision for a year. It could be beneficial to everyone.
This is why:
The market this summer for top-line free agents is relatively weak. The teams projected to have at least $15 million in cap space this summer are the Dallas Mavericks, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers.
Several other teams could get to that area, which is still well short of a max contract slot (about $22 million), by waiving some players or not re-signing some of their own free agents. These teams include the Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers and, under extreme circumstances, the Heat.
Here are some of the teams in 2015 that are projected to have large cap space: the Knicks, Lakers, Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs and possibly the Houston Rockets. The Heat and the Bulls, in better cap position that year, could be very much in the game again, as well.
Here are the top players who are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this summer: Luol Deng, Paul Pierce, Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki. James, Wade, Bosh, Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay and Anthony are the top players who have the choice to become free agents if they want, or each can push it to 2015.
Now, here's the list of players who have the option to be unrestricted free agents in 2015: James, Wade, Bosh, Anthony, Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, Marc Gasol, Roy Hibbert and Goran Dragic. Plus names such as Randolph, Gay, Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap, David West, DeAndre Jordan, Thaddeus Young, Arron Afflalo, Al Jefferson and Monta Ellis.
Anthony has made it clear he wants to play in a big market; he forced his way to New York in 2011 to get there. The difference in big-market teams with cap space and overall talent on the market in 2015 compared with 2014 is dramatic.
The Knicks, Celtics and Lakers (if they wait) could have the chance to add multiple stars that summer. The Heat's options could be much more open. The opportunity to select a desirable location and draw another star or two with Anthony is massively different, especially if the players with those 2014 options stay in their contracts.
Anthony's list of realistic options this summer is much slimmer. Even if he follows through with his offer to accept a pay cut, there is not a clear-cut choice of where to go, just a lot of questions and muddy answers.
The Lakers? They are aware of the difference in the free-agent choices, and that's why it has been reported by several outlets that the Lakers might sit out much of the 2014 market and wait until 2015, when they'll have more money to spend and the pool of talent in free agency will be much deeper. L.A. certainly is an attractive option for Anthony, but the reality is the Lakers are nearly as big a rebuilding project as the Knicks. And, without knowing how Kobe Bryant will return from two devastating leg injuries or how free agency will play in 2015, it's hard to tell what the Lakers will be.
The Bulls? To make room for Anthony, even at a reduced rate, would require several roster moves. They would have to use the amnesty provision on Boozer and possibly eat more than $16 million. Then the Bulls would have to execute at least one cap-clearing trade, perhaps even moving prized forward Taj Gibson, to make it happen. In addition, they'd have to put off signing prized European prospect Nikola Mirotic. It also would put into doubt whether the Bulls could afford to sign Jimmy Butler to a long-term extension before next season.
None of these items is all that attractive to the Bulls. When Anthony went to the Knicks, New York had to gut its roster to make it possible in a trade with the Denver Nuggets. That did not work out well in the long run, and why Anthony would want to replicate this is unclear. But Chicago is indeed a possible landing place for Anthony and would create a "big three" with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. But about a dozen dominoes would have to fall to make it happen.
The Heat? It would take James, Wade and Bosh all opting out of their deals. Then the Heat would have to let one of them leave, which is extremely unlikely. Or all four of them, including Anthony, would have to accept pay cuts that would average in the range of $10 million apiece per season. This is not impossible, and the word "impossible" should never be used with the Heat anyway. Also, the same agency represents Anthony, Wade and Bosh. However, even with Pat Riley leading the discussion, this is even more of an extreme reach than the Bulls.
The Suns? This is an intriguing option because of their young roster and desirable location plus their renowned training staff that has extended players' careers. However, the Suns have restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe to deal with, and it would be hard to fit both unless they work together and both accept less than market value. Again, it's possible but would require some challenging orchestration that involves tens of millions of dollars.
The Mavs? Owner Mark Cuban has struck out on his top choices in free agency in the past two years. He has another window this year with Nowitzki publicly promising to take a pay cut to accommodate a player such as Anthony. This actually might be the most realistic scenario but would take Nowitzki's willingness to forfeit a hefty portion of his salary. This would be an upgrade for Anthony without a doubt, but it is questionable whether Dallas is truly the best he can do.
All of these scenarios are generally the same for James, which is why staying with the juggernaut Heat makes the most sense for him. Especially with the potential in 2015 to get one of those big-name stars alongside him in Miami, a chance Anthony might miss out on.
The point is there is no natural fit for Anthony on any team. Finding a new home for him would require sacrifice, roster overhaul, teammate cooperation or complex trades to execute. This is not 2010, when there were major-market teams everywhere with gaping salary holes they were eager to fill with a star such as Anthony.
The natural reaction here, and the one Anthony probably is thinking about most, is that just about any scenario would be better than the Knicks, who have no draft pick, no cap space and very few tradable assets to improve their situation next season. This is absolutely true; it is doubtful the Knicks will be a contender next year, and Anthony turns 30 this May.
But if Anthony is worried about his prime passing without getting on a championship-contending roster -- which could end up being the Knicks in 2015 -- making his decision in 2014 rather than waiting 12 months could close a lot of doors.
"You know that saying 'Good things come to those who wait,'" a Western Conference executive said. "It can be tough to sell your fan base or your owner the idea because free agency is less of a sure thing than even the draft. But there is no doubt that 2015 is going to be a huge, huge summer. Let's put it this way, if I had a choice, I'd rather be spending my money then rather than now."
There's also something else on the table.
"There's another factor in play here, as well," an Eastern Conference general manager said. "If Melo signs a new deal with anyone this summer, even if it's with the Knicks, he will be forced to a take a cut because his max number is $22 million and his option is worth $23 million. If he waits until next summer and then takes a new four or five-year deal after that, it will extend his prime salary years out a year farther. That either means he's going to get an extra $25-30 million added to his career earnings or, if he's willing to take that big pay cut, it softens the blow because it adds a year of earning. Trust me, the Knicks will be pointing this out to him. And his agents should be, as well."
Every year, the biggest dates on the NBA calendar are the trade deadline in February, the draft in June and July 1, when free agency starts. This year, the big date will be June 30, the deadline for Anthony and James to make their choices.