Moke Hamilton, NBA Analyst In just about all walks of life, good leadership yields above-average results. Want proof? Look no further than the Phoenix Suns. First-year head coach Jeff Hornacek has capably led a young team devoid of any NBA superstars and has made them into one of the NBA’s darlings.
Moke Hamilton, NBA Analyst
In just about all walks of life, good leadership yields above-average results. Want proof? Look no further than the Phoenix Suns. First-year head coach Jeff Hornacek has capably led a young team devoid of any NBA superstars and has made them into one of the NBA’s darlings.
For that, the franchise can thank Dwyane Wade and his selfless leadership, because he had to both take a great risk and make a selfless sacrifice to make the Miami Dream Team a reality.
In July 2010, as a free agent, Wade was coming off of a season in which he earned the maximum allowable $15.8 million. As a free agent, he was eligible to sign a new deal that would pay him 105 percent of that number—$16.6 million.
With the annual 10.5 percent raises that the league’s prior collective bargaining agreement allowed, Wade could have easily commanded the maximum-allowable six-year deal worth a total of about $125 million.
Instead, he opted to be a bit more prudent.
Carmelo Anthony could follow suit.
Instead of being primarily concerned with his bank account, Wade led by example. Turned off by the losing and yearning to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy that he helped the HEAT win in 2006 once again, Wade made his paycheck his secondary concern in the months leading to his free agency back in 2010.
And eventually, he led a revival and opened the door up to a dynasty.
Led by Wade, James and Bosh were each convinced to settle for $14.5 million salaries instead of the maximum-allowable $16.57 million. The three collectively squeezed themselves into Pat Riley’s available cap space. The result was an instant contender and, almost four years later, a team that is on the cusp of cementing itself as the contemporary era’s first dynasty.
Had Wade decided that money was his priority, he would have signed an extension long before he had the opportunity to chase James and Bosh. And if he had not led by example in making money his secondary concern, the HEAT almost certainly would not have happened.
Without a sacrifice of his own, recruiting both James and Bosh to Miami would have been a difficult, if not impossible sell. The selflessness required to leave money on the table and sacrifice for the greater good of a team—think that didn’t resonate with James?
As the Knicks play out the string on a pitiful season and Anthony ponders his next move, at this point, the future of both the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets—two teams to which Anthony could conceivably seek a sign-and-trade—looks a bit more promising than the immediate future of his Knicks.
With a capped-out roster and a trip to the NBA’s draft lottery upcoming, there is no savior walking through that door, at least not right now. Yet, that could all change in July 2015. Whether or not it does depends largely on Anthony.
If he does decide that he truly wants to remain in New York and he is true to his word in that his primary concern is building Gotham’s team into a contender, forgoing his free agency and opting into the final year of his current contract is his silver bullet.
With the option of playing out the 2014-15 season while earning $23.33 million, Anthony could announce his loyalty to the Knicks and roll with the team into July 2015 with less than $15 million in guaranteed salaries.
That number could be even lower if the Knicks found a way to get Raymond Felton or J.R. Smith off of their books.
With moderate cap increases over the next two offseasons, if Anthony delayed his free agency by one year, the Knicks could, in theory, roll into July 2015 with somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million in cap space, and again, perhaps a bit more if Felton or Smith are dealt.
For reference, Wade split $44 million with James and Bosh, so why couldn’t Anthony split a little more than that with, say, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Love?
What about Tony Parker and LaMarcus Aldridge?
How about Arron Afflalo and Marc Gasol?
…or with any other combination of other players who may find themselves as free agents in 2015? That list also includes the likes of Paul Millsap, Omer Asik, Goran Dragic and Danny Green.
In short, the answer is he could.
The real question is whether or not he would.
In professional sports and in the NBA, the double-standard is real. Franchises make moves in their best interest and are almost never admonished for making cold decisions or being disloyal.
Back in February 2011, after Kendrick Pekins had worked tirelessly to return from a torn PCL and MCL that he sustained in Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Finals, on deadline day in Denver, he received news of a trade that stunned the NBA.
In an instant, believing it was in the best interest of his franchise, Danny Ainge traded Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Jeff Green and broke up a championship team that played most of the 2010-11 season without its heart.
Nobody—except the Celtics players and fans who had grown to adore Perkins—gave a damn.
The day he was dealt, the Celtics got pummeled by a less-talented Denver Nuggets team. That night, Kevin Garnett told the assembled media that he hoped Ainge and Doc Rivers knew what they were doing.
The next year, on deadline day, Ainge struck again, agreeing in principle to trade Ray Allen to the Memphis Grizzlies for O.J. Mayo.
Allen was admittedly blindsided by the news of the trade and was notified of it before it became official. At the 11th hour, it fell through, and so did Allen’s belief in the concept of “loyalty” that is so often spoken of with regards to the league’s players, but never to its front offices or executives.
Allen spoke in depth on the subject with Slam Magazine.
After revealing details behind Ainge delivering the news to him that he had been traded, Allen summed it up perfectly.
“[T]here’s no great loyalty shown amongst the teams to the players,” Allen said.
“They’ll trade you in a heartbeat. When they trade you, they’ll tell you, ‘We’re a team but we have to do what’s best for our squad.’ As a player, if we want more money or ask for a trade, we are looked upon as being greedy or disloyal.”
Think about what James went through after leaving Cleveland. Think about Dwight Howard after forcing his way out of Orlando.
And now, think with respect to Anthony. Think about that double-standard before ridiculing him for doing what is in the best financial interest of himself, his family and his career.
On July 1, 2014, Anthony will be 30 years old. In all likelihood, he will sign one more mega-contract in his career. It is simple math: at 30 years old, could command a fifth guaranteed year from the Knicks, but if he opted to wait until the following summer, at 31 years old, it would be a much tougher sell.
Aside from the raw financial incentive, waiting until 2015 would come with two additional noteworthy elements.
First, Anthony would very likely suffer through another underwhelming season in New York, while he aged. The light does not begin to appear at the end of the tunnel until the conclusion of next season, when the contracts of Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and Tyson Chandler expire.
Why should Anthony agree to waste one of the last few high-level years he has remaining?
Second, Anthony would put himself at risk of suffering a damning injury that could adversely affect his market value. Ask Russell Westbrook or Shaun Livingston, one play can change everything.
What would result if Anthony opted to put off his free agency until 2015, but tore his ACL in a regular Wednesday night game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Madison Square Garden in January 2015? Would the Knicks re-sign him to a five-year deal that summer?
Probably not, and almost certainly not since Anthony would be closing in on 31 years old at the time.
If Anthony decides that the risk of him playing out his final season is too great, that does not make him disloyal and that does not make him greedy. It makes him nothing more than a player that is looking out for his best interests, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that in the world of professional sports.
What it would do, though, is make it apparent that when it came down to it, Anthony’s appetite for risk simply could not stand up to his want for security—$136 million career-earnings and all.
The bottom line as it relates to Anthony is this: the Knicks are in trouble and the franchise is at a crossroads.
The parallel that I have previously drawn as it relates to Anthony opting whether to stay or go is Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki struggled with Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks for 13 years, seeing teammates come in and get shipped out. There were high-highs and low-lows for them both.
The harder the journey is the sweeter the victory, and Nowitzki will tell you that himself, and although Anthony’s situation differs from Nowitzki’s in some key ways, he is faced with a decision that Nowitzki did, as well.
When Cuban got his hands on Nowitzki, he was just a skinny 20-year-old German kid with potential, just beginning his career. The Mavs had prudent basketball minds and an owner committed to winning. They also had the benefit of a less restrictive salary cap system that allowed them to exceed the cap and laugh in the face of the luxury tax while paying Nowitzki’s ever-increasing salaries.
The Knicks do not have those luxuries.
What they do have, though, is exactly what Pat Riley had back in May 2009—a superstar who has grown tired of losing and one who claims that winning is the most important thing to him.
If that is indeed true, Anthony has an option—he can forgo his free agency for one year. He could commit an act of selflessness that would show every fan of the Knicks and the NBA that he values winning more than anything else. And for sure, that is something that would resonate with any other free agent that Anthony attempted to recruit to New York in July 2015.
In the alternative, if Anthony re-signs with the Knicks, he would be eligible for a maximum salary of $24.14 million for the 2015-16 season. With the same moderate cap increases assumed above, with that salary on their books, the Knicks could realistically find themselves with somewhere around $25 million in cap room in July 2015. That type of coin could certainly buy one maximum-salaried free agent, but it could hardly afford two.
If you were Rondo or Love—the most coveted prizes that will be available that summer—would you rather go play with Anthony in New York, knowing that the team’s financial flexibility would be limited moving forward, or would you rather team up in Los Angeles with a front office that is led by Mitch Kupchak and has proven that it knows how to build a winner?
Most of the league’s superstars know that there is strength in numbers and that it takes three.
If Anthony wants to build that in New York—if he wants to attempt to pull a Wade and be the mastermind behind a dynasty—he may have a means to do so.
It would come with significant risk and it would not be the best business decision, but in terms of basketball and in terms of winning, it would give Anthony the best opportunity to do what he set out to do when he became a Knick back in February 2011.
As a player, Anthony has improved. As a man, he has matured. Now, he has an opportunity to set an example and lead. Like Hornacek and his Suns, the Knicks can rise and like Nowitzki with the Mavericks, Anthony can commit.
Like Wade and his HEAT, he can break out his blueprint and figure out how to help build a triad with dynastic potential and with the Knicks looking like anything but a playoff team, Anthony will have lots of time to think about his decision before July 1, 2014.
If the Knicks are lucky, they will have the opportunity to revisit the conversation of his market value and maximum-salary commitments one year later than they think they will have to.
At that point, it could, in theory, be a group discussion involving Rondo, Love, Aldridge, Parker or other players thirsting for a crack at an NBA title—just like James and Bosh once did.
The real question is whether or not that is the primary thing that Anthony yearns for.
Because if it is, and if New York is where his heart truly is, there is something he can do about it.
Moke Hamilton is the NBA Analyst for SNY.tv and, along with Lead Writer Harris Decker, hosts the Knicks Blog Podcast each and every Wednesday. Follow him on Twitter: @MokeHamilton