By the time you read this, provided that he hasn't been abducted by aliens or that he isn't using Elvis Dumervil's fax machine, Carmelo Anthony has provided the New York Knicks with the requisite notice that he will opt out of the final year of his deal, pushing aside $23.3 million to evaluate his options around the league.
At age 30, and playing the best basketball of his career, Anthony should have rampant interest around the NBA, interest likely only surpassed by a "sniffing around to see what's out there" LeBron James, if indeed he chooses to do the same.
So, the question now becomes, where is Melo most likely to land (and if you're a reader in Houston, what are the Rockets' chances of landing him)?
Well, thankfully, we have online sportsbooks to give us some basis off which to work when searching for answers. So courtesy of sportsbook.ag, let's briefly examine, team by team, the likely suitors and what they may need to do and hope for in order to sign Carmelo Anthony.
First, one quick level set on the 2014-2015 NBA Salary Cap. As of right now, it's projected to be at $63.2 million and the tax level is forecasted to be at around $77.0 million. All right, let's go...
CHICAGO BULLS -300 2014-15 Salary Committed: $68,020,817 Players Under Active Contract: 8 Ok, let's start off with the fact that -300 is truly "oddsmakers know SOMETHING" territory (bordering on "where can I get odds on a tampering investigation?" territory) . The Bulls are essentially a prohibitive favorite to land Melo, according to these odds. In order to do so, bettors are counting on the following:
1. ...that Carmelo truly is not all about the money, and that he's willing to take less on an annual basis and on an overall guaranteed basis than the five years, $125 million that New York can offer him. (For what it's worth, the best the Bulls can probably hope to do, once all is amnestied and cleared out, is get to a starting point of around $19 or $20 million on a four year deal.)
2. ...that Carmelo is buying into Tom Thibodeau's style of ball (to an extent) and vice versa. According to reports, Thibodeau has begun calling around to some of Melo's old coaches to get a gauge on his coachability. So there's that.
3. ...that Carmelo is willing to partner with Derrick Rose's balky knees. Any easier path to the Finals that the Eastern Conference presents gets negated if Rose goes down again.
4. ...that the Bulls are willing to amnesty Carlos Boozer (which should happen within about four seconds of Carmelo showing even faint interest in the Bulls) and are able to move another salary while taking little to no committed salary back (likely it would be Taj Gibson getting moved).
NEW YORK KNICKS +220 2014-15 Salary Committed: $69,078,624 Players Under Active Contract: 8 Where the Knicks are against the cap doesn't rally matter as they can sign Anthony to a max deal and go as far over the cap and tax thresholds as they want to, since he's their free agent. If you're betting on the Knicks to retain Anthony, you're counting on the following:
1. ...that guaranteed money is the MOST important thing to him. The Knicks can offer around $30 million more of it than anyone else.
2. ...that Anthony buys into the vision of Phil Jackson as team president and Derek Fisher as the new head coach. For what its worth, Anthony said he had a "great" meeting with Jackson last week, but it sounded like one of those "great" meetings that a salesperson tells his boss he had with a prospect when he's just trying to get his boss off of his back.
3. ...that Anthony believes that with all of the new cap space available next summer that there's a free agent that would sign or a big name that would force a trade to New York to chase a title with him in 2015.
4. ...that Anthony's wife a) has serious pull and b) is adamant that they remain in a major media center.
MIAMI HEAT +650 2014-15 Salary Committed: $70,267,178 Players Under Active Contract: 6 The committed salary numbers are drastically skewed because they include LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh all back with the Heat at their "opt in" numbers for 2014-2015. It's generally assumed that any chance of Anthony landing in South Beach includes those three all opting out of their deals, and re-signing at drastic salary reductions for everyone involved, including Anthony. So if you think Carmelo is landing in Miami, you are counting on the following:
1. ...that James, Wade, and Bosh are all willing to go down to around $14 million per year or so in order to land Anthony (or any big name free agent, for that matter), which seems dubious considering they've already won their rings together. That's a lot of money to fork over to get to a mountaintop you've already been to twice (and for Wade, three times).
2. ...that Anthony is willing to take a similar deal to the Big Three. Say, four years, $52 million. That's over $70 million -- SEVENTY. MILLION. -- in guaranteed money he'd be foregoing to play with decrepit Dwyane Wade, aging Chris Bosh, LeBron heading into his post-30 years, Pat Riley's slick hair and big promises, and whatever scraps are left over to fill out the roster. If this were strictly wagering, and Melo had to buy a ticket to do this, you'd walk up to him after he left the betting window and say "Dude, what are you THINKING???"
3. ...that Anthony buys into the ease of the Eastern Conference giving the Heat what amounts to a relative cake walk to the Finals for at least the first couple years of the deal.
HOUSTON ROCKETS +1500 2014-15 Salary Committed: $64,036,925 Players Under Active Contract: 10 The Rockets' numbers come with the caveat that they still have Chandler Parsons baked in at his team option of $964,750 being exercised. Reports have been that it will not be exercised, making Parsons a restricted free agent, but that has not happened officially yet. If and when it does, Parsons' cap hold will increase from $964,750 to the tender offer which will be a few million higher, and will remain at that level until he either signs a new deal, in Houston or elsewhere. So, if you're counting on Anthony becoming a Rocket, you expect the following:
1. ...that the Rockets can somehow move the deals of Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin and take no guaranteed salary back in return. Each has a cap figure of around $8.4 million, but an actual salary of nearly $15 million. Moving Asik should not be a problem, as seven footers who can play generally have a market. Lin, even with his perceived marketing cachet, may require something nice to be stapled to him when they Fedex him out (Terrence Jones, multiple draft picks, cash, some combo thereof, etc.)
2. ...that the Rockets are willing to clear the deck and cut several of the non-guaranteed players from the roster. I'm guessing this won't be an issue.
3. ...that, like with the Bulls, Anthony is willing to take a little bit less than market annually for an immediate chance to win a title.
4. ....that the value of playing with two All-Stars in their primes trumps any perceived value in playing in a glitzy market, and that Anthony sees James Harden and Dwight Howard as two better All-Stars to play with than a rehabbed Rose and Joakim Noah.
For what it's worth, and this isn't the Rockets homer in me, +1500 is incredible value for an "Anthony to Houston" bet. I think the bigger obstacles for Houston are in the moves that need to be made leading up to the Anthony courtship (specifically trading Lin) than in the courtship itself.
DALLAS MAVERICKS +2000 2014-15 Salary Committed: $31,250,100 Players Under Active Contract: 8 We are starting to drift into "long shot" territory now. If you're betting on the Mavericks to land Anthony, you're banking on the following:
1. ...that they are willing to go full boat maximum on Anthony. I can't imagine him taking less on a per year basis to sign in Dallas.
2. ....that Anthony buys into Mark Cuban's willingness to make big moves, pay luxury tax, and win at all costs. Unfortunately for Anthony, one of these moves might include "drugging and brainwashing Carmelo Anthony."
3. ....that Anthony likes barbecue and country music a lot more than we thought.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS +2500 2014-15 Salary Committed: $36,259,471 Players Under Active Contract:4 The only thing putting the Lakers into this conversation is the same thing that always keeps them in these "Will a star player sign there?" conversations -- hey, they're the Lakers! So if you're feeling daring and wanting to toss a little down on a team near Hollywood, here's what you're hoping for with Anthony and the Lakers:
1. ...that the Lakers promise Anthony some say on who the new head coach will be. The Lakers haven't picked a head coach yet, presumably as a sweetener for a free agent to have some input if they choose to sign there.
2. ....that Anthony buys into the Lakers' mystique attracting a marquee free agent to join him in 2015, although Kobe's $25 million due in 2015-2016 is a major cap choker. I wonder if all of the people saying "Well, he's been the face of your franchise, you got to take care of him!" when they gave him the two year extension for nearly $50 million still feel that way.
3. ....that Carmelo's wife has MAJOR say in the decision. Nowhere better for her to be than near Hollywood.
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This is where I'll draw the line on possible teams, but know that sportsbook.ag had three other teams on the board: the BOSTON CELTICS +2500, the LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS +3000, and the BROOKLYN NETS +5000. Of those three, the only one with a remote chance to land Melo would seem to be the Clippers, as the Celtics aren't set up to win for the next few seasons, and the Nets are cap clogged with $88 million already committed to their roster in 2014-2015 (and assume the Knicks aren't doing any sign-and-trades to help Brooklyn). But the Clippers seem to have a good thing going, and the incremental improvement of moving DeAndre Jordan to make room for Anthony would seem to be negligible, if even existent at all. (Jordan improved his game huge from 2013 to 2014.)
One interesting final note: Bill Simmons in his final NBA wrap up column looked the odds (in his own mind) on where LeBron would end up going. He put at +400 the likelihood that LeBron and Carmelo would join forces in Cleveland, which is interesting in that the oddsmakers on sportsbook.ag don't even see the Cavaliers as a board worthy option (on a board that extends all the way out to +5000).
Whatever the case, the NBA's next Summer of Decisions truly began today.