Carmelo Anthony celebrates at the buzzer after defeating the Atlanta...

Carmelo Anthony celebrates at the buzzer after defeating the Atlanta Hawks at Madison Square Garden. (Jan. 27, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

Carmelo Anthony says he wants to be a free agent. He says he wants to be pursued and recruited similar to the way LeBron James was in 2010. But he also keeps giving every indication that he’s staying with the Knicks.

Just this past week, in response to criticism from TNT analysts Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith, Anthony said he has “a big Rolodex’’ and plans to use it to recruit players to New York. A few nights later, he said on TNT, “I want to retire in New York.’’

Anthony probably is telling the truth, and the Knicks will do everything to keep him after he opts out of his contract in the summer. They can pay him a max deal worth about $34 million more than any other team can give him.

Whether they should or shouldn’t max him out is a story for another day. This is about this season, and the theory that Anthony’s situation will be a distraction for him and the Knicks is hard to buy. This is not a young team. The Knicks are veteran-laden. Anthony can block it out and just focus on playing and putting the ball in the basket.

It won’t become a distraction unless stories hit the papers or web that the Knicks are looking to trade this player or that player to try to get additional flexibility to sign another big-time free agent next summer.

If the Knicks believe they can win a championship this season with this team, they might not be quick to do anything like that. But Anthony won’t be able to recruit players if the Knicks don’t clear salary at some point. As of right now, they don’t have the cap space to add a marquee free agent.

They could have $65 million tied up in Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Andrea Bargnani, J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, Pablo Prigioni and Tim Hardaway Jr. next season. That’s because you figure Stoudemire won’t opt out of the $23.4 million he’s owed and Bargnani won’t opt out of the $11.5 million left on his deal. They actually become valuable trade chips when they enter their final season.

Maybe the Knicks will wait until after the season to shed salary, or if things don’t work out as they expect, they could try before the February deadline.

There is plenty of basketball to be played until then and plenty of chances for Anthony to talk about his future. If he doesn’t stay with the Knicks, the Lakers seem to be the team he most likely would join.

Just don’t forget that their coach is Mike D’Antoni. That’s another story for another day.

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