Carmelo Anthony must tell Knicks tomorrow if he'll become free agent

Carmelo Anthony looks on during the third quarter

Carmelo Anthony looks on during the third quarter of a game against the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden on April 13, 2014. (Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.)

A new Melo Drama will be starting soon.

Carmelo Anthony has to inform the Knicks by tomorrow that he is opting out of his contract and become a free agent July 1. Anthony is likely to excercise that option although in his heart, he probably wants to remain a Knick. He forced the trade to the Knicks in 2011, and wanted to lead them back to greatness. The Knicks won one playoff series in Anthony's three-plus years with them, and failed to reach the postseason this season. Unless team president Phil Jackson can pull off some magic in trades, the Knicks aren't expected to contend next season either, and Anthony may not want to waste another year.

The Knicks can pay Anthony the most -- five years at roughly $129 million. But Anthony, 30, has said winning is more important than money, and contending teams, including the Bulls, Rockets and perhaps the Heat, have him high on their wish list.

The Mavericks and Lakers will be under the cap and have varying degrees of interest in Anthony. But Chicago could be the Knicks' biggest competition.

The Bulls have All-Stars Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, a proven coach in Tom Thibodeau and play in a major market. To clear money they may have to use the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer and make a trade or two. Reportedly, Chicago would rather deal Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy Jr. than Taj Gibson.

The most another team can give Anthony is about $90 million over four years. Miami will come in well below that. Ultimately, Anthony has to decide whether staying and building something with the Knicks -- which would also allow him the most money -- is more important than joining a star-studded team that can win now.

"As far as the money, it don't really matter to me," Anthony said in February. "If I go somewhere else I get paid. If I stay in New York I get paid. That's not my concern. My concern is being able to compete at a high level, at a championship level. Coming at this last stretch of my career I want to be able to compete at that level."

The Knicks are gearing to make their big push in free agency in the summer of 2015. Jackson will try to improve the Knicks now, but he doesn't want to hinder their flexibility.

That's why Jackson wanted Anthony to "opt in" and become a free agent next summer, which would give the Knicks the ability to sign multiple stars. Jackson also hopes Anthony will take less than a max contract to stay, which is possible.

But if Anthony leaves, the Knicks could sign at least two marquee players and start fresh. As of now, the players who could be free agents in 2015 include Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kyrie Irving and Marc Gasol, and in 2016 Kevin Durant.

Anthony met with Jackson, general manager Steve Mills and new coach Derek Fisher in Los Angeles recently. Anthony said at an event Wednesday that the meeting went "great," and "I like what Phil is doing," with respect to the Fisher hire. But Anthony wouldn't discuss his future.

There are many factors at play in all of this. Heat superstar LeBron James also could opt out and become a free agent. James and Anthony are close friends, and will likely have a conversation over the next week.

If James and Anthony want to play together, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh also must opt out and take big pay cuts. Heat president Pat Riley called adding a fourth superstar "a pipe dream," but he didn't entirely rule it out.

Houston will try to sell James on forming a younger Big Three with Dwight Howard and James Harden. If James says no -- few believe he will leave Miami -- the Rockets will go all-in for Anthony. Free agency is still nine days away, but the moves teams make between now and the first few days of July will determine whether they believe they have a chance at landing Anthony.

So the Melo Drama begins.

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