Ranking NY Knicks' Most Believable 2014 NBA Free-Agency Rumors

Sara Peters@3FromThe7Featured ColumnistJuly 4, 2014

Ranking NY Knicks' Most Believable 2014 NBA Free-Agency Rumors

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    "What will Melo do?" is not the only question the New York Knicks must ask themselves when contemplating free agency this offseason. Besides Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks' new free agents Kenyon Martin, Cole Aldrich and Toure' Murry aren't rushing to wash and press their New York jerseys either.

    Plus, although Patty Mills is not for sale, Pau Gasol and a list of other household names have put themselves on the market, and the Knicks will have to decide what they'd like to bid on. 

    Although fans' pipe dreams know no bounds, the realistic possibilities are far from endless. For one matter, there are strains on the team's purse strings. As ESPN New York's Ian Begley explains:

    The Knicks currently have the taxpayer’s mini mid-level (starting at $3.3 million). If Anthony signs with another team, they are likely to have the full midlevel exception (starting at $5 million). They will also be able to offer veteran’s minimum deals. So in the best-case scenario, the Knicks will have $5 million to offer free agents this summer. This can be split among multiple players.

    Even if Melo stays in New York and takes a huge pay cut, the budget wouldn't loosen up until after next season ends—which complicates matters if the Knicks try to land a big-ticket free agent now who'd sneer at $3.3 million.

    Although nearly everything about Anthony's future is foggy, he has made it clear that money is not his main motivator. He wants to suit up in whatever city will give him a real shot at the championship, right away, and be a happy home for the Anthony family that is already settled in New York. (And if LeBron James is on that team, that would be awful nice too.) 

    Which team has the best chance of uniting Anthony and LeBron? Which team gives Melo the best chance to win a championship in 2015? Which squad is he best suited for? Who wants him most? Who needs him most?

    What city will La La and the gang happily move to? Which of the Melo suitors can actually afford him, even at a discounted price? With or without Melo, what assets do the Knicks have, what skills do they still need, and who can they afford? 

    Based upon the answers to all those knotty questions, here are 10 free-agency possibilities for Knicks, ranked from least realistic to most likely. 

Melo Joins the Lakers

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    Kobe Bryant wasn't able to make it to the Los Angeles Lakers' "Pretty Please Melo" campaign Thursday, according to USA Today's Sam Amick. What Kobe missed, according to ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne, was his team promising Anthony that it would offer him the maximum four-year, $97 million contract that it could.

    However, it is a championship, not money, that Anthony wants the most. Other than Kobe, the Lakers have nothing that would convince Melo they could go from 27-55 to NBA champions in one year. Or two. Or even three. 

    Even when Kobe was healthy last season, the Lakers looked about as likely to win an NBA championship as the Hickory High School team without Jimmy Chitwood. 

    The one thing that might convince Melo to don the purple and gold is if LeBron James does the same. The Lakers are clearing cap space and may actually have the money to bring them both to LA to create another Big Three with Bryant.

    Yet, LeBron may hesitate for the same reasons Melo will. Even if the Lakers could promise that Anthony would join the team, they could not, with a straight face, claim that they would have a better chance of winning a championship than the Miami Heat.

    So far, LeBron is not interested. According to The Washington Post's Cindy Boren, as of Thursday morning, the Lakers "haven’t heard back from Rich Paul, James’ agent, or James about scheduling a meeting."

    True, the Anthony family has a second home in the City of Angels, which could make the personal challenges of uprooting his wife and kids less of a concern than it would be if he moved elsewhere. Yet, it would be even easier to stay in New York. So the only reason to move would be if the Lakers could offer something wonderful that the Knicks couldn't...and they can't.

Melo Goes to Phoenix

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    According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, league sources said that the Phoenix Suns are also determined to make themselves attractive to both Melo and LeBron by promising them the opportunity to play together.

    Wojnarowski also suggests that the Suns can offer James and Anthony the chance to play for an "instant championship contender." 

    Not sure how he works that one out. Yes, the Suns' talented young core, including Miles Plumlee and Eric Bledsoe, performed better than many expected in 2014-15, but they still ended the season 48-34. Yes, they picked up more promising young talent in the draft. 

    Yet they are hardly an instant championship contender, especially when compared to the Miami Heat which, by the way, did win the Eastern Conference Finals a few months ago. 

    LeBron and Melo are too impatient to be willing to wait for the Suns to grow up, even if they got to wear the same jersey.

Melo Heads to Miami to Become Big Four

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    The fickle Miami Heat fanbase might be slavering for Carmelo Anthony to come down and make the Big Three into a Big Four. (At least the small segment of them who didn't bin their Heat swag after the NBA Finals.)

    Heat management confessed to ESPN.com last month that it planned to tighten its belts and then make a play for another big free agent who may or may not (but probably will) be Anthony. Since then, the Heat's many big-ticket newly minted free agents—James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem—have all opted out of their contracts.

    That might mean that James and company are seriously considering leaving South Beach. Or all this might have been done for the very purpose of clearing space for Anthony, as ESPN's Ian Begley thinks. Yet, surely not all of those unrestricted free agents will be so eager to take pay cuts just so Melo can move in.

    Besides, Melo has not publicly declared interest in joining the Heat. When he made his grand tour this week to talk to his eager suitors, Miami was not one of the stops. 

    This deal is highly unlikely, but if it does happen, it's going to be a result of the players chatting among themselves and not because of anything the Miami front office does.

Pau Gasol Joins the Knicks

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    Without Tyson Chandler, the Knicks' main options at the 5 spot are Samuel Dalembert, Cole Aldrich and a collection of power forwards who'd rather play the 4. Therefore, the rumblings about getting newly minted free-agent champion center Pau Gasol into a blue-and-orange jersey has some Knicks fans drooling...but it isn't going to happen.

    Even if he wants to come to New York and is willing to take half of what he made in LA, the Knicks simply cannot afford him, as Howard Beck explained on a Bleacher Report video. After making $19 million last season, Gasol would be highly unlikely to consider a max paycheck of $5 million his first season. Plus, he is already being wooed by the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder.

    The only reason that this rumor isn't at the very bottom of the list is that Carmelo Anthony may be trying to recruit Gasol for the Knicks. According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Anthony was trying to get Gasol's digits Thursday so he could personally persuade him to come to New York. 

    Gasol has said he's aiming for about $10 million and hasn't ruled out taking closer to $5.3 million. Yet if Anthony stays in New York, Gasol could only get $3.3 million at best. If Melo can convince Gasol to take the minuscule paycheck for just that first year, with the promise of bigger, better and richer things to come, it would be a great win for the Knicks. 

Knicks Re-Sign Kenyon Martin

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    When he was healthy, Kenyon Martin always came off the bench like a raging hell beast, making any opponent think twice or three times before coming anywhere near the bucket. When his teammates began to lose heart, he would fill them with energy and confidence through the sheer force of his contagious fierceness. 

    Yet, he wasn't always healthy. And he isn't young at 36 years old. And once he suffered an ankle injury in mid-January, rumors of his return grew fewer and farther between until they disappeared altogether when the season ended.

    Nevertheless, an NBA source told the New York Post's Marc Berman that Martin is rehabbing after getting ankle surgery in the spring and may very well return to active duty with the Knicks next season...depending on how they decide to spend that few million dollars they have available.

    Assuming Pau Gasol is a no-go, the Knicks would bring Martin back on the cheap. There is, however, another inexpensive big man among their free agents whom they'll be more likely to keep. 

Knicks Re-Sign Cole Aldrich

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    Pau Gasol is a long shot. Kenyon Martin's injuries of last season will give the Knicks pause. If Samuel Dalembert mimics what he did in Dallas, he'll only be good for 20 minutes per game. The team drafted French center-forward Louis Labeyrie, but he will likely be stashed overseas for at least one season. They let the New Orleans Pelicans issue the summer league invitation to Florida big man Patric Young.

    That leaves Cole Aldrich as the next best option as a true center.

    And that's not such a bad option. He proved he deserved more minutes than he received last season. He was above reproach in his two starts at the tail end of the season, averaging 34.5 minutes, 4.0 blocks, 12.5 points and 13 rebounds. Plus, he only cost $2.5 million last season.

    Aldrich is promising, cheap and necessary. The Knicks won't want to let him go, and so far they don't have much competition for him anyway.  

Knicks Let Toure' Murry Go Elsewhere

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    The Knicks chose not to offer young point guard Toure' Murry a qualifying offer per ESPN's Marc Stein (h/t CBS Sports' Matt Moore), thereby allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent. 

    Called up from the D-League, he won over New York fans with his grace under pressure when playing big minutes while Raymond Felton was injured. Although he wasn't a big scorer and turned the ball over a bit too much, Murry showed pro-level poise and good court vision.

    When announcing the decision to let him become a free agent, Knicks management said, in the same breath, that they would like to keep him.  

    However, the Knicks have a brief history of declining qualifying offers to promising young point guards and breezily watching them walk away. (Ahem. Jeremy Lin. Ahem.)

    There are also new guards on the roster. Now that New York has Jose Calderon to start at the point and Shane Larkin and Pablo Prigioni ready on the bench, Murry is less of a priority, despite being affordable.

    The Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors and Brooklyn Nets all expressed interest in Murry in recent months, per CBS Sports' Matt Moore. Chances are the young guard will be changing into one of those jerseys soon. 

Melo Goes to Houston

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    The Houston Rockets' biggest assets are James Harden and Dwight Howard, and Carmelo Anthony is smart enough to know that he can't abide both of those ball hogs at the same time. After last season Melo wouldn't mind sharing some of the scoring burden with others, but if he had to fight to get touches, he wouldn't enjoy his time in Houston. 

    Then again, in order for the Rockets to have a shot at affording Melo, they might need to unload Harden anyway—which would make them a better fit for Melo's game but probably less likely to win a championship.

    The way that this might happen is if the Knicks do a sign-and-trade of Anthony for Harden. As ESPN's Chris Broussard explained (h/t RealGM), not only could such a deal happen, but the Rockets could take it a step further and make a play for LeBron James by trading away Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin to clear space for new fat contracts. 

    The Rockets (and Howard in particular) are falling over themselves to make this happen like nerdy boys asking the prom queen for the last dance. They're not waiting to unload Asik. They're already in the process of inking a deal to send him to the Pelicans for a 2015 draft pick. 

    If Houston could land LeBron first, Melo might be willing to go, but there are better basketball reasons and personal reasons for him to go elsewhere.

Melo Goes to Dallas

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    Melo met with the Dallas Mavericks for two hours Wednesday in a meeting that Mark Cuban described as "purely a business meeting. No tours. No banners. All basketball and business" on Cyber Dust (per Fox Sports Southwest's Mike Fisher). 

    The Mavs might not be wooing Melo with the same romantic gestures as other teams, but they really don't have to.

    Although Dallas did not make it past the first round of the playoffs this past season, it put more pressure on the champion San Antonio Spurs than anyone else, taking them to seven hard-fought games.

    Now in the offseason, Dallas has reclaimed Tyson Chandler, whom Melo played with in New York and helped the Mavericks win a championship.

    Plus, Dallas can give Carmelo the thing that the Knicks so dreadfully failed at in 2013-14: scoring support. Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis alone were good for 40 points last year. As long as their shots don't falter like those of Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, Andrea Bargnani and J.R. Smith, the Mavericks could offer Melo a big, strong Texas starting lineup to settle into.

Melo Stays in New York

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    Despite a 2013-14 season that was disappointing ("soul-crushing" might be more accurate), the Knicks still offer a lot that other teams cannot.

    First and foremost: New York.

    New York is a huge market, especially for basketball. Carmelo is a Brooklyn native, so the Big Apple is still home. He also knows what it's like to be uprooted and moved away, since his family made the move to Baltimore when he was still in grade school.

    The Knicks can also offer him the most money, though that seems to be less of a priority.

    With every wave of his hand, Phil Jackson has shown that he is committed to making significant changes to the roster and leadership. He has plans to include Anthony but will proceed without him if need be. The opportunity to work with Jackson on this mission must be a factor in Melo's decision.

    Of all the changes to the roster, the addition of Jose Calderon may be the most satisfying for Carmelo, who has suffered for years with underperforming point guards. If Melo could coerce Pau Gasol to don the blue and orange, that could be the final piece he's looking for.

    According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the Knicks on Thursday "had exuded an increasing confidence they can hold off the free-agent courtships of Chicago and Houston and were further encouraged with Anthony's desire to talk to Gasol about New York, sources said."

    If Melo bases his decision mostly on personal reasons, he will stay in New York. If he bases it mostly on career reasons...there might be one other team that makes sense. 

Melo Goes to Chicago

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    The Chicago Bulls, who went down in flames in the 2013-14 playoffs, tanked because they had no offense. None. The Bulls of 2014-15 should not have that problem, provided that Derrick Rose is healthy. 

    Is he? Melo knows better than the rest of us, because according to Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders, when Melo visited Chicago Tuesday, he watched Rose practice.

    If he was convinced that Chicago's slightly dimmed star point guard will be back to his 2011-12 form, he may be ready to unite with Rose's 15-plus points per game, superb court vision and uncanny ability to break down defenses in the paint. D.J. Augustin, Mike Dunleavy and Jimmer Fredette could also be relied upon to score, if they remain with the Bulls.

    Also in the Bulls' favor is their renowned defense. While Melo's devotion to D has improved in recent years, he would no doubt love to unload some of the defensive burden onto someone else—and who better to share the job with than Joakim Noah?

    According to USA Today's Sam Amick, there is also the possibility that Luol Deng will head back to Chicago—his long history with the Bulls may cause him to overlook the temporary indignity of being traded to Cleveland midseason.  

    One thing that could draw Melo to Chicago is the very thing that might make him stay away: They need him. Badly.

    With Anthony on the squad, Derrick Rose healthy, Deng back in a Bulls jersey and Noah continuing to be a snarling, scrappy beast on the glass, Chicago would have all it needs to be a real championship contender. The question is, Does he want to risk falling into another offense that doesn't have the tools to win playoff games?

    Alex Kennedy also reported that the Bulls brass left their meetings and dinner with Melo "feeling very confident that Anthony is seriously considering signing with Chicago, according to sources close to the situation."

    Carmelo is expected to take at least the weekend to decide on his next move. The Knicks' next moves will follow accordingly. 

    So, enjoy your hot dogs and fireworks this weekend, basketball fans. Come Monday, it's going to get real interesting.