Carmelo Anthony race crowded

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Carmelo Anthony has yet to publicly reveal the process by which he plans to entertain other teams in free agency now that he has opted out of his contract with the New York Knicks, but the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers are among the teams that expect to have the opportunity to make their pitch to him starting July 1, according to sources close to the situation.

Teams can't formally contact free agents until 12:01 a.m. ET July 1, but sources told ESPN.com that the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat are two more teams that could join the race for Anthony, depending on how things play out before, during and after Thursday's NBA draft.

The Bulls are widely regarded as the early favorite to steal Anthony from the Knicks, with sources saying Monday that Chicago has been quietly planning for this free-agent pursuit for months, going back to the January trade of Luol Deng to Cleveland. Sources say every move Chicago made during the season's second half -- including the seemingly minor signings of veterans Ronnie Brewer, Lou Amundson and Mike James to very tradeable contracts -- was made with the hope they might be helpful in a potential sign-and-trade with the Knicks for Anthony.

Sources say the Rockets, meanwhile, have begun working on trade exits for center Omer Asik and point guard Jeremy Lin to clear enough space under the salary cap to make a representative offer to Anthony. The Rockets have been confident for some time, sources say, that they can not only move both players if necessary in deals that create the requisite flexibility but also rival the Bulls' sales pitch.

The Lakers are in the advantageous position of having enough room under the salary cap to make a maximum offer to Anthony without having to clear any salary, but it is believed Anthony would want them to strengthen their roster before he would seriously consider a move to L.A. Sources say the Lakers, to that end, have been exploring their options with the No. 7 pick in Thursday's draft and have told teams they are prepared to package the pick with the expiring contract of Steve Nash (owed $9.7 million next season) for the right offer.

ESPNDallas.com reported Sunday that the Mavericks, armed with plenty of cap space themselves, likewise expect to be granted a face-to-face sit-down with Anthony. Yet Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki, who also is bound for free agency July 1, has acknowledged that the Bulls and Rockets have better odds of prying Anthony out of New York, labeling Dallas' chances "not really" realistic.

Earlier this month, ESPN.com reported the Heat had begun internal discussions about pursuing the former scoring champion to try to grow their Big Three into a Big Four, but the Heat could pursue Anthony only if LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade opt out of their current deals later this week and are willing to take less money to re-sign and play alongside Anthony. Heat president Pat Riley has since confirmed the club has pondered pursuing Anthony but conceded the scenario is a "pipe dream" given the financial complexities involved.

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