Maybe a change of his birth certificate would help. Solutions-oriented fellow that I am, I propose Carmelo Anthony shorten his first name to Carlo, proving that he doesn’t need ME anywhere near it. Then we might take seriously the man’s desire to win first — which means playing defense, passing the ball to teammates, committing to a hardened playoff mentality and not turning an NBA game into driveway one-on-one every time the basketball arrives in his hands, or suction cups, with 10 seconds or fewer on the shot clock.
For this renowned volume shooter to become one of the sport’s true greats, Anthony must abandon the ME. Otherwise, it’s futile to opt of his contract for a better chance of winning a championship, because his selfishness will damage any team’s glorious ambitions. Whether he re-ups in New York with the Knicks or signs for less money with the Chicago Bulls or Houston Rockets, he’ll have to adapt his game to a team philosophy or waste away as another gifted scorer who doesn’t compromise for the greater good.
Only days from free agency, Anthony joins trade-leveraging Kevin Love as the two known prizes on the open market, with LeBron James possibly joining them next week. You could view them as three-fifths of the starting lineup on the next U.S. Olympic team. For now, view them as explosives that could blow up the league’s competitive foundation. Love either will take his double-double machine to the Golden State Warriors, who don’t want to relinquish Klay Thompson but might have to, or the Celtics, who have the Nos. 6 and 17 picks in the Thursday draft in exchange for a superstar who, not coincidentally, just happened to take a weekend vacation to Boston last month.
An Anthony move to another team only requires his signature. It could be that his opt-out, executed Monday, is simply his way to get paid in New York. Though Phil Jackson asked very nicely for Anthony to play out his final season for $23.3 million, CarMElo declined, putting him in line for a $130 million deal over five years. Jackson isn’t in love with Anthony as a player, for all the aforementioned reasons, and has said he won’t “lose sleep’’ if his only gate attraction at Madison Square Garden leaves town. In his first monumental test as Knicks president, Jackson must decide if Anthony is worth a long-term contract that could hamstring his roster reconstruction efforts, or begin the post-CarMElo era with a sign-and-trade offer that conceivably brings a package of veterans and draft picks from the Bulls. That way, Anthony receives his maximum money AND gets a new address where winning can happen immediately. Such a place would be Chicago, where Joakim Noah is revolutionizing the post game while Derrick Rose — or some knee-ravaged form of him, anyway — can return and work the pick-and-roll with Anthony.
But I must remind you that the Bulls are owned by Jerry Reinsdorf, a cheapskate who plays games in free agency by claiming to target big names and never getting them. And I do mean never; I was there just after the Jordan era when the Bulls, supposedly serious about signing two “full boat’’ free agents, embarrassed themselves by sending Benny the Bull, the Luvabulls and punchline general manager Jerry Krause to the commercial gates at O’Hare to greet the likes of Tim Duncan and Tracy McGrady. Duncan stayed in San Antonio and won five championship rings. McGrady made a fortune in Orlando, then a first-class shop. They missed on Grant Hill, Eddie Jones, everybody. When Kobe Bryant opted out and stayed with the Lakers, the Bulls were second. When James opted out and signed with Miami, the Bulls were also-rans who settled for Carlos Boozer and grossly overpaid him, a contract weighing down the franchise to this day.
Even if the Bulls strike a deal with Anthony, will he and glamourpuss wife LaLa like a town where winter lasts six months? More to the point, will CarMElo willingly adjust to a system, coached with high efficiency by Tom Thibodeau, requiring him to shoot less and get dirtier? And will he do so with a deal that can’t top $96 million over four years for a team other than the Knicks, assuming Reinsdorf goes that high?
We’re about to find out if Anthony values money and being CarMElo over accepting less money, a possible trophy and sub-superstar status. We may have received a hint when Anthony, via a video interview with VICE Sports, tag-teamed with his agent Monday to emphasize how much he still likes New York.
“Carmelo loves being a Knick, he loves the City and the fans. At this stage of his career, he just wants to explore his options,” Creative Artists Agency’s Leon Rose said.
“My son goes to school. He loves it here,” Anthony said. “To take him out and take him somewhere else, he’d have to learn that system all over again. He’d have to get new friends, and I knew how hard it was for me when I moved from New York to Baltimore at a young age. Having to work your way to trying to have friends and go extra to try and make friends and trying to fit in and trying to figure out the culture in that area. As far as basketball goes, it’s hard to just say, `OK, I’m going to here. I’m going to make this decision. I’m going to do that.’ Because everybody’s affected by that.”
Should Anthony remain, attention would turn to his close friend, James, and a possible pairing at some point in the Garden. There will be pressure from the league for Anthony to remain in New York because not having a marquee player in the No. 1 market would sting — and make the first season of Jackson and new coach Derek Fisher a living hell. Not that CarMElo will listen to anyone but his own whims.
My forecast: He stays for something close to the $130 million.
And his name changes to CarME$o.
It’s so much easier to get things done in title town San Antonio, where Tim Duncan will eschew retirement — why would he retire, with a possible sixth ring ahead? — and remain with the Spurs for his $10.3 million player option. Tell me who’s worth more: Anthony for as much as $26 million a year or Duncan at almost one-third the price?