Phil Jackson didn't lose often as a coach, and he would rather not lose his best player during his first offseason as an NBA executive.
Re-signing Carmelo Anthony will be the primary focus for Jackson and the Knicks when the All-Star small forward hits free agency at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. The Bulls, Rockets, Heat, Mavericks and Lakers also have interest in Anthony.
All of them, other than the Lakers, are contenders or would be with Anthony. The Lakers could be, depending on the other moves they make.
ESPN.com reported that Anthony was in the process of arranging a trip to Chicago to meet with the Bulls before traveling to Texas for Wednesday meetings with the Rockets and Mavericks.
Meanwhile, Jackson has work to do regardless of whether Anthony re-signs.
The Knicks improved during a 30-hour stretch last week when they acquired Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin and Wayne Ellington from Dallas for Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler on Wednesday. They also received two second-round picks in the trade and drafted scoring small forward Cleanthony Early and versatile defender Thanasis Antetokounmpo on Thursday.
Even if those moves aren't enough to convince Anthony to stay, the Knicks have two things going for them: They can offer him the most money -- five years for $129 million, about $34 million more than any other team -- and he doesn't sound as if he wants to uproot his family and move his young son to a new school in a different city.
The Knicks reportedly are increasingly optimistic that they can keep Anthony, whether at a discounted rate or a near-max deal. But Jackson has said he's concerned because anything can happen, and the availability of free agent LeBron James also makes everything "tipsy-turvy," in Jackson's words.
The Knicks could try to entice Anthony to stay by acquiring free agent Pau Gasol, who won two titles under Jackson and with Derek Fisher on the Lakers. The Knicks need more size and a skilled big man who fits the triangle offense.
But the Knicks have only the $3.2-million taxpayer midlevel exception to pay Gasol. Other teams, including the Lakers, would give him much more. There also is a report that the Lakers want to re-sign Gasol and add Anthony.
This could be another summer when stars team up. The Rockets, Heat, Lakers and perhaps the Suns could try to sign James and Anthony.
James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are free agents, as is Udonis Haslem. They sound willing to take less money to create space for the Heat to sign another star-caliber player. It could be Toronto's Kyle Lowry or it could be Anthony, James' close friend.
The Knicks, as constituted, can't re-sign Anthony and another high-profile player. Besides the taxpayer midlevel exception, the Knicks have only minimum contracts to offer.
Jackson would have to trade Amar'e Stoudemire or Andrea Bargnani to a team under the cap for draft picks or players with non-guaranteed contracts or use them in sign-and-trades. That could be a way to get Gasol.
"We have many handicaps, obviously, with our salary cap being what it is," Jackson said. "But there's always a possibility. We're not going to rule ourselves out of any gambit that could possibly put us in the chance to really do something special."
Jackson has said he doesn't want to impact the Knicks' salary-cap flexibility in the summers of 2015 and 2016. He could try to sign players to one- or two-year deals or pick up players who have that much time left on their contracts.
The Knicks have 10 players with fully guaranteed deals. Jeremy Tyler's is partially guaranteed. Lamar Odom's contract isn't guaranteed, but Jackson and Fisher will give him a shot to make the team, and they have their two draft picks.
The Knicks have nine players who are guards or small forwards. Jackson said he will clear up that logjam this offseason, but there is one small forward the Knicks hope to keep.
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