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Knicks' Carmelo Anthony dives into marketplace

Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony waits for a free

Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony waits for a free throw during the second half of a game against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee on Feb. 18, 2014. Credit: EPA / Mike Brown

Carmelo Anthony can remove "test free agency" from his bucket list, and depending on what team he chooses, he might be able to take "win a championship" off it, too.

Anthony became a free agent for the first time in his career at 12:01 Tuesday morning and will begin to visit the cities and facilities of teams seeking his services Tuesday.

The Bulls are first up on the Anthony free-agent tour, according to a league source, followed by the Rockets and Mavericks on Wednesday and the Lakers on Thursday.

The source also said the Knicks reached out to Anthony shortly after midnight to remind him how much they want him back.

They reportedly are increasingly optimistic that they will be able to re-sign Anthony, who opted out of his contract. They can offer him the most money -- five years and $129 million. Other teams can pay a maximum of roughly $96 million over four years.

Team president Phil Jackson said he hopes Anthony will take a less-than-max deal to give the Knicks more flexibility to add players. Anthony has said winning is more important to him than money. But if a maximum contract would keep Anthony in a Knicks uniform, it's doubtful that they would decline to give him one.

Anthony, 30, is the best player the Knicks have had since Patrick Ewing, and they don't want to let him get away. Their plan is to eventually team him with another star and try to build a championship contender.

The Knicks, as of now, don't have the salary-cap room to add a major piece this summer. But they're in position to be well under the cap next summer, when Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Marc Gasol could be free agents. They also hope to have flexibility in 2016 for Kevin Durant.

Jackson could explore ways to acquire Lakers free agent Pau Gasol, but it likely would require a sign-and-trade because the Knicks have only the $3.2-million taxpayer midlevel exception and minimum contracts to offer free agents.

Agreements can be reached as of Tuesday, but nothing can be signed until July 10.

Anthony forced a trade to the Knicks in February 2011, likes playing in New York and recently sounded reluctant to uproot his family. But this is where it becomes interesting as Anthony sits down with other team executives, coaches and fellow star players trying to recruit him.

Most consider the Bulls the favorites to sign him if he leaves the Knicks. They're a ready-made contender -- especially in the Eastern Conference -- if Derrick Rose can return from his latest knee surgery and remain healthy. Joakim Noah reportedly recruited Anthony during the season. There also have been reports about Anthony doing his due diligence and inquiring about the Bulls' organization and coach Tom Thibodeau.

Chicago would need to waive Carlos Boozer through the amnesty provision and trade some other players to create the cap space to pay Anthony a near-max contract. The Bulls would rather part with Mike Dunleavy Jr. over Taj Gibson or Jimmy Butler.

The Rockets have targeted LeBron James and have visions of a James-Anthony pairing. (The Suns reportedly are thinking that big, too.) But if the Rockets strike out on James, they will go after Anthony full-bore.

A Big Three of Anthony, Dwight Howard and James Harden would be impressive but still could come up short in the loaded Western Conference.

That's why Anthony is expected to choose an Eastern Conference team, a move that might give him a better chance to play in the NBA Finals than if he went to the Western Conference. One exception could be the Lakers, if James and Anthony join forces with Kobe Bryant.

The Heat might be out of the picture for Anthony if James wants a maximum contract, as has been reported by various outlets.

It was expected that after opting out of their Heat contracts, James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would take less money to clear room to sign another star. A max deal for James seemingly would put the Heat way out of Anthony's price range.

Other Knicks who hit free agency Tuesday are Kenyon Martin, Toure' Murry, Cole Aldrich and Shannon Brown. The Knicks didn't extend a qualifying offer to Murry by Monday's deadline, making him an unrestricted free agent.

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