Carmelo Anthony's days as a Knick could be nearing an end.
Anthony can become a free agent July 1 and Yahoo! Sports reported that he is leaning toward leaving the Knicks in favor of a chance to contend right away. The report said the Bulls and Rockets are emerging as frontrunners to sign Anthony away from the Knicks.
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This past season was the first time in his career that Anthony failed to reach the playoffs, and there are no certainties that the Knicks will make it next season even if he stays, Phil Jackson's presence as team president notwithstanding.
The Knicks could return with a roster similar to last season's in an effort to maintain their cap space in 2015, when they figure to have the room to sign two All-Stars. Jackson is hesitant to take back players in any trades that will impact the Knicks' flexibility for the summer of 2015 and the summer after it.
But there also are no guarantees that they will be able to sign the marquee free agents when the time comes, and Anthony might not want to take that chance.
Jackson, general manager Steve Mills and coach Derek Fisher met with Anthony and his agent, Leon Rose, in Los Angeles on Friday to lay out their blueprint. They want Anthony to be a part of it, but Jackson has sent some mixed signals.
The Knicks can pay Anthony more than any other team, five years for roughly $129 million. But there's some question as to whether that's Jackson's plan.
He has said he hopes Anthony will take less money to give the Knicks the ability to sign other quality players. Jackson also has said he hopes Anthony will "opt in'' for the final year of his contract instead of opting out. But a league source said Anthony will opt out by the June 23 deadline.
Anthony might not have appreciated Jackson's going public with the concessions he hoped the All-Star would make regarding his contract. Right after the season ended, Jackson also was very matter-of-fact in saying the Knicks will survive with or without Anthony.
"I'm all about moving forward,'' Jackson said. "Just deal with what is and move forward. If it's in the cards, man, are we fortunate. If it's not in the cards, man, are we fortunate. We're going forward anyway.''
In February, Anthony said he would take less if it means having a better team, but he added that would be the case in New York or elsewhere. The most another team could sign Anthony for is four years and about $95 million.
This past week, there were reports that Anthony and LeBron James want to play together. One report indicated that it could happen with the Lakers.
ESPN reported that the Heat could be eyeing a "Big Four'' and is exploring how it can add Anthony to a team with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. All four players would have to opt out, and Anthony would have to take about $70 million less than the Knicks can pay.
Before Chicago and Houston can make a run at Anthony, both teams have to make moves to clear the money to sign him.
The Bulls would have to amnesty Carlos Boozer and deal Taj Gibson and perhaps another player. There were reports during the season that Anthony asked Bulls All-Star center Joakim Noah about coach Tom Thibodeau and that Noah was recruiting him to Chicago.
If Derrick Rose is healthy, the addition of Anthony to a team that has trouble scoring could make the Bulls a formidable team in the Eastern Conference.
The Rockets would have to move Omer Asik and former Knick Jeremy Lin to put themselves in position to sign Anthony. They already have a solid nucleus with All-Stars James Harden and Dwight Howard, rising young point guard Patrick Beverley and underrated forward Chandler Parsons.
If the Knicks lose Anthony, they'll have more money to spend next summer, when Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol and Rajon Rondo could be unrestricted free agents. Kevin Durant hits free agency in 2016.
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