Carmelo Anthony won't be the most coveted free agent or biggest star on the open market next week.
LeBron James could be taking his talents somewhere other than South Beach after his agent informed the Heat Tuesday that he will opt out of his contract. Anthony opted out Monday. Both will become unrestricted free agents July 1.
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The two are close friends and there have been reports that they would like to play together. But if it were to happen, it likely would be in Miami or perhaps in Los Angeles with the Lakers, who have the cap room to make a big splash in free agency.
Reportedly, the Cavaliers and Hawks also could try to make moves to clear money to sign James and Anthony.
The Knicks don't have the flexibility to fit James. As of now, all they have for free agents are the mini-midlevel exception and minimum salaries. Next summer the Knicks should have the space to sign multiple stars, and were hoping James would be available then.
It is believed that James will return to Miami, where he's led the Heat to four straight Eastern Conference championships and two NBA titles.
But by opting out of the final two years and $42.7 million remaining on his deal now, James is giving potential suitors time to clear salaries and applying some pressure on Heat president Pat Riley to upgrade the roster after Miami was dominated by the Spurs, 4-1, in the NBA Finals.
The Heat could be handcuffed, though, depending on what Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade do. James is expected to sit down with Wade and Bosh before June 30 to discuss their plans.
They teamed up as free agents in 2010 to form the "Big 3" in Miami. All three would have to opt out and take less money in order to fit in a fourth star-caliber player, such as Anthony. Riley called such a scenario "a pipe dream," but he didn't rule it out entirely.
The ultra-competitive Riley has proved he'll do whatever it takes to win. He said last week he would do what is needed to be done to keep the three together. Riley said in a statement Tuesday that James' opting out wasn't a surprise.
"Players have a right to free agency and when they have these opportunities, the right to explore their options," Riley said. "The last four seasons have been historic and LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Erik Spoelstra have led the Miami Heat to one of the most unprecedented runs in the history of the NBA. We look forward to sitting down with LeBron and his representatives and talking about our future together."
Ultimately, it is up to the three stars to take big pay cuts, but not as big as the one Anthony would take to sign with Miami.
The Knicks can pay him $129 million over five years. The most another team could give him is four years, $96 million. The Heat would be able to pay Anthony between $55 million and $60 million over four years if everything breaks right.
Anthony's first choice is to stay with the Knicks. But he has said he would take less money to improve his chances of competing for a title. Playing in Miami would offer that. But the Bulls appear to be the favorite to sign Anthony if he leaves the Knicks. Anthony also has some concerns about uprooting his family.
The Bulls can put James first on their wish list now. The Rockets always had him there, with Anthony as their second option. The Cavaliers hoped to reunite with James, but it's unlikely he will return to Cleveland unless another star joins him.
The Los Angeles Clippers also could be a possibility for James, if not Anthony. Both are close friends with Chris Paul. James' agent is Paul's brother, Rich Paul. But the Clippers would have to shed salaries to take on a big contract.
The Knicks have $64.8 million committed to Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Andrea Bargnani, J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, Pablo Prigioni and Tim Hardaway Jr. next season.
To be able to sign James, the Knicks would have to deal some of their higher-priced players to under-the-cap teams that could send back smaller deals and draft picks -- which isn't likely.
The Knicks are set to be well under the cap next summer, when Stoudemire, Chandler and Bargnani come off the books. They also would like to maintain flexibility for 2016 when Kevin Durant could be a free agent.
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