Reading Between The Lines: What Does Carmelo Anthony’s Future Hold?

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Carmelo Anthony

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Carmelo Anthony may have held his last press conference as the centerpiece of the New York Knicks this past week, leaving the rest of the NBA world to watch and wonder what his future may hold.

Anthony plans to opt out of the final year of his contract this summer, making him an unrestricted free agent able and able to choose whichever team he wants to play for. There are many that believe he’ll return to New York to be the next superstar to play for Phil Jackson, and there are others that believe he’ll move onto a contender ready to compete for a Larry O’Brien Trophy next season — perhaps the Chicago Bulls.

In his final presser of the 2013-14 season, ‘Melo made a few things clear:

So what are we to make of his comments?

He wants to stay, but he wants to win

This is going to test how strong of a recruiter Jackson is. If Anthony is being honest and truly wants to remain with the Knicks, he’ll only do so if he’s convinced Jackson has what it takes to put together a championship-caliber roster and an able coach. The problem: Jackson has one summer to do it.

There are some valuable pieces in play already. Tyson Chandler is a former Defensive Player of the Year,  Tim Hardaway Jr. was one of the top rookies in the league and J.R. Smith is a former Sixth Man of the Year. The team needs to upgrade at the point guard position and find more depth. And Jackson has some weapons to do just that … but not until the summer of 2015, when the contracts of Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and Chandler come off the books.

“I don’t know if I can afford to wait another season of losing,” Anthony, who’s 29, said. “I really can’t see that picture right now.”

A rookie head coach

In terms of coaching, the future doesn’t look too bright for Mike Woodson, and it seems as if Jackson is leaning toward bringing in former point guard Steve Kerr to take over. Kerr has never coached at the NBA level before, but that hasn’t stopped Jason Kidd or Mark Jackson — two former point guards-turned-coaches — who both are now leading teams into the playoffs.

Will Anthony buy into the notion of having a first-time coach on the sidelines, or does he want a proven winner?

Anthony offered support of Woodson, and the two seems to get along over the past two years. But Woodson hasn’t led any teams to the NBA Finals, which is where Anthony wants to wind up.

“If we can put ourselves in position to at least compete at a high level over the course of (the next contract),” he said, “then I’m willing to stay here and I’m willing to ride or die for New York.”

I’m not concerned about money

Well, that’s because he’s made a lot of money already in his career, and regardless he’ll demand another multi-million dollar contract which will be more than enough.

The Knicks, though, can offer Anthony the longest and more lucrative deal — with a maximum of $129,135,806 over five years. Other teams can offer Anthony up to four years worth $95,897,372.

This is a similar situation LeBron James found himself in when he left the Cavaliers for Miami, when he was willing to relocate to be on a competitor despite making less money.

Weighing the Knicks vs. the Bulls, Lakers, Rockets and Clippers

If the Knicks are Anthony’s No. 1 option, Chicago may be 1A. The Bulls have long been rumored to have Anthony’s attention, as he recently asked what it was like to play under coach Tom Thibodeau and has a strong relationship with Joakim Noah. The Bulls, though, may need to part ways with some key players in order to make room for Anthony, and that could make the team less of a contender.

The Lakers are going to do whatever it can to provide a contending club around Kobe Bryant. A number of contracts will come off the books, and the team will have room for Anthony — but is there attention more on the coveted 2015 free-agent class that includes Kevin Love?

Houston has made big-time moves to acquire James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Dwight Howard in recent years, but general manager Daryl Morey has the contracts of Lin and Omer Asik to dangle if he wants to make a sign-and-trade for Anthony. But that be contingent on Jackson’s view of Lin and whether he believes Asik will fit in the triangle. A trio of Harden-Howard-Anthony would be quite formidable.

The Clippers, too, would need to acquire Anthony via a sign-and-trade, and if Anthony wants a championship-winning coach then Doc Rivers is the guy. Chris Paul and Anthony once had hopes of playing in New York together, but they might be able to settle for Los Angeles. However, Blake Griffin‘s emergence this season lowers the Clips’ need for Anthony

Verdict

Will he or won’t he? My money is on Anthony staying in New York and trying to make the Knicks an NBA champion. If Jackson believes he can fix the Knicks, I think he can convince Anthony to stay.

Sam Spiegelman is a native New Yorker covering sports in New Orleans. He likes Game of Thrones way too much. Tweet him @samspiegs.