After weeks of hand-wringing and speculation, representatives for Carmelo Anthony are currently finalizing negotiations to keep the forward in New York, sources said. The Chicago Bulls and the Houston Rockets have been told by Anthony's representatives to move on.
Certainly, that Anthony would remain with the Knicks was far from guaranteed. Though the Knicks were able to offer him the most money, the Bulls, Rockets and Dallas Mavericks all offered better opportunities to win right away. On the Knicks' end, it wasn't clear if Phil Jackson even wanted one of the league's best scorers back in the Big Apple. Given Anthony's age and well-publicized struggles on defense, some wondered if another long-term max contract would be a wise investment.
In the end, though, a return to the Knicks made sense, if only because each of the non-New York options presented a massive gamble for Anthony.
In Chicago, there was no telling if Melo would have meshed with Rose, or if Rose would ever again be even a semblance of his former MVP-winning self. Likewise, going to the Miami Heat would have been simply too complicated, and now with LeBron James returning home to Cleveland, the point is moot.
Meanwhile, jumping back to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Western Conference would have made Melo's path to a title even more difficult. Never mind that betting on any of these less-than-rosy situations would have required Anthony to sacrifice millions in earnings.
So now, the decision has been made, and it feels like the right one: Anthony gets to go back to the team he pushed to join three Februaries ago, and the Knicks solidify a foundation and can begin to build once again.
But the warm feelings on both sides will prove temporary if a satisfactory infrastructure isn't in place soon. Keeping Anthony in New York was the easy part for Jackson. Now he must find a counterpart for Melo, another cornerstone to build around. The Knicks need to add a player who's even better than Anthony. That will be a significant challenge, and one that will give Jackson a chance to earn his $60 million.
Anthony's decision to return to the Knicks demonstrates a vested faith in Jackson's roster-building sorcery, a belief that the Knicks will be in contention sooner rather than later. That faith might not be misplaced.
This deal itself should provide fair value. Some doubt Anthony can be the linchpin of a championship team. But Anthony has never played better than he has with the Knicks. He's rebounding more than ever, dishing assists at career-high rates and playing as efficiently as he ever has. Last year, Anthony was worth 14.2 Wins Above Replacement (WARP), ninth-best in the league. His 33.6 WARP over the last three seasons ranks in the 98th percentile of all players. To state the obvious, that's max-worthy production.