Is Carmelo Anthony’s smart play to opt in and play out contract with Knicks?

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According to every reliable source, Carmelo Anthony is going to opt out of the final year of his contract this season and look either to re-sign a five-year deal with the Knicks or move on to another team to be part of a contender. If Anthony wants to jump ship and go somewhere like oft-mentioned Chicago, he is going to have to take a serious pay cut. More and more fans seem to think he will.

But is that really the smart play here?

The smart play may be to play out his current deal, make $23 million next season on an likely struggling Knicks team, then join a potentially huge free agent class in 2015 where he could team with someone or someones to form a serious contender.

First, let’s look at what Anthony is giving up if he really wants to bolt to a contender like Chicago — it’s a lot. Ken Berger lays it out at CBSSports.com.

If the Bulls amnesty Carlos Boozer, the starting point for the cap room they could offer Anthony, according to league salary sheets, is $13.8 million. To even get there, they would have to renounce free agent Kirk Hinrich (and lose his Bird rights) and trade their first-round pick and the pick they are getting from Charlotte (which together would amount to another $2.7 million on Chicago’s books)…

But let’s play along, shall we? Let’s say the Bulls renounced Hinrich ($5.2 million cap hold gone), kept their picks, and traded Taj Gibson ($8 million) and Mike Dunleavy ($3.3 million) while bringing back no salary in the process. They would be able to start Anthony at about $20 million in the first year of a four-year, $85.4 million deal — give or take, depending on how much they need to sign (hot European prospect Nikola) Mirotic….

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s back up to where Anthony’s four-year deal with Chicago would start: $20 million. That’s $1.7 million less than Anthony is making this season and $3.3 million less than he’d make in the first season of a five-year, $130.9 million deal he could get from the Knicks. The compounding effect of Anthony’s initial sacrifice, plus forgoing the fifth year the Knicks could offer at $30.3 million, would mean that Anthony would be leaving $45 million on the table to sign with the Bulls.

That’s a lot of cash to leave on the table. This isn’t a simple “winning vs. money” situation because he already learned that if you go to a gutted team it may not work out as expected.

Which brings us to an interesting idea put forward by Brian Windhorst over at ESPN — Anthony should not opt out. He should play out his contract with the Knicks and make $23 million next season and suffer through what likely will be another rough season in New York.

Why? To really control his destiny in the summer of 2015.

The market this summer for top-line free agents is relatively weak. The teams projected to have at least $15 million in cap space this summer are the Dallas Mavericks, Orlando Magic,Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers. (Note that teams such as the Bulls and some others could make moves to get into that range, but they have to weaken existing rosters to do it.)…

Here are some of the teams in 2015 that are projected to have large cap space: the Knicks, Lakers, Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs and possibly the Houston Rockets. The Heat and the Bulls, in better cap position that year, could be very much in the game again as well.

Now, here are the list of players who have the option to be unrestricted free agents in 2015: James, Wade, Bosh, Anthony, Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, Marc Gasol, Roy Hibbert and Goran Dragic. Plus names like Randolph, Gay, Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap, David West, DeAndre Jordan, Thaddeus Young, Arron Afflalo, Al Jefferson and Monta Ellis.

Again a quick note on 2015: Whether any of the big three from Miami are available depends on what they do this summer. Also, it is expected around the league that LaMarcus Aldridge will stay in Portland with a new deal now that the team is successful. There could be other changes as well, this is more than a year away.

All that said, the chance to partner with a bigger name in a major market — or draw one to play with him in New York — is better in 2015 than it will be this summer. If winning really matters, there will be more potential options that season.

But it means likely another season of struggles with the Knicks to get there.

Could Anthony be that patient? Or does his desire to get out of this deal — and maybe out of New York — trump that?

There are no easy answers for ‘Melo. But with the Knicks season ending mid-April he’s going to have a lot of extra time to think about the options.

Blazers beat Lakers 97-81, tie Denver for final spot in West

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Damian Lillard scored 22 points and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Los Angeles Lakers 97-81 on Sunday night to pull even with Denver in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Both the Blazers and Nuggets are 35-38 with nine games left in the regular season. They play each other Tuesday in Portland.

Denver lost at home to the New Orleans Pelicans earlier Sunday night.

Portland took control by outscoring the Lakers 37-24 in the third quarter and led by as many as 26 points. Los Angeles shot 39 percent from the field and was outrebounded 61-42.

Allen Crabbe added 18 points off the bench for the Blazers, and Noah Vonleh grabbed 14 rebounds.

D'Angelo Russell led the Lakers with 22 points, and reserve Tyler Ennis scored 14.

Portland led 40-32 at the break after an unsightly half in which the teams took turns struggling from the field. At halftime, both were shooting exactly 32.6 percent.

The Lakers won their previous game against the Timberwolves but have won consecutive games only once since mid-November.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Shot 62.4 percent against Minnesota on Saturday, their best mark since hitting 64.1 percent on March 12, 2003. Coming into Sunday, they had shot 50.6 percent over their last five games.

Lakers: Rookie forward Brandon Ingram, who started the previous 19 games and averaged 12.1 points on 48.4 percent shooting, did not play because of right patellar tendinitis. Said coach Luke Walton: “He was out there warming up and it’s not right.” Corey Brewer got his first start for the Lakers.

 

Watch Russell Westbrook drop a triple-double in epic battle with James Harden (VIDEO)

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HOUSTON (AP) Lou Williams scored 31 points off the bench, James Harden finished with 22 points and 12 assists, and the Houston Rockets never trailed while cruising to a 137-125 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.

Russell Westbrook had 39 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists for his second straight triple-double and his 36th this season, but Harden led the Rockets to a 25-point lead through three quarters in the matchup between top MVP candidates.

Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon added 24 points apiece for the Rockets, whose lead was trimmed to eight on a 3-pointer by Westbrook with about 90 seconds left. The Rockets scored four quick points after that to secure the victory.

Harden left late in the game after crashing into the court and appearing to injure his left wrist but said in a TV interview he expected to be OK.

Houston jumped out to a 9-0 lead and was up by at least 20 for most of the game. It was a stark change from the first three games between these teams this season, which were decided by a combined seven points.

Williams made 11 of 15 shots, going 7 of 8 on 3-pointers. He didn’t miss a shot until his layup was blocked by Jerami Grant early in the fourth quarter.

Houston won its fourth straight overall and has won nine of their past 12 games against the Thunder.

The Rockets shot 71 percent in the first half, and Harden made a layup before grabbing a rebound and hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to extend Houston’s lead to 113-88 entering the fourth quarter.

The Thunder chipped away with a 12-4 run midway through the fourth quarter to get within 126-114 with 4 minutes left. Williams hit a 3-pointer after that to slow down the Thunder the team’s late run.

The Rockets had a 16-point lead in the third quarter before they used a 13-4 run to make it 108-83 with about 90 seconds left in the quarter. Williams had two 3-pointers in that stretch and a highlight came when Houston stripped the ball from Westbrook and Harden dished to Ariza, who finished with another 3. The run wrapped up with an alley-oop dunk from Harden to Clint Capela, but Capela received a technical on the play for hanging on the rim.

Mike D’Antoni received a technical seconds later for arguing that call.

Houston had built a 79-59 lead by halftime thanks in part to nearly perfect 3-point shooting by Trevor Ariza and Williams. Ariza made four of five attempts and had 16 points at the break, and Williams was a perfect 6 for 6 overall, with four 3-pointers to pile up 18 points in the first two quarters.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Victor Oladipo finished with 15 points. … Steven Adams and Alex Abrines scored 11 points apiece.

Rockets: Houston’s 79 points were the most the team has scored in a half this season. … Sunday was the 12th time this season where the Rockets had 100 points before the fourth quarter. … Williams had at least 20 points off the bench for the 29th time this season.

ANDERSON’S HEALTH

Houston’s Ryan Anderson will miss about two weeks after spraining his right ankle on Friday night against the Pelicans. D’Antoni hopes Anderson will recover in time to play the last couple of regular-season games and be at full strength for the start of the playoffs.

UP NEXT

Thunder: Visit Dallas on Monday.

Rockets: Host Golden State on Tuesday.

Watch every one of Jimmy Butler’s career-high 14 assists in win over Bucks (VIDEO)

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Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler seems to be thriving without backcourt teammate Dwyane Wade. On Sunday in a win against the Milwaukee Bucks, Butler dished out a career-high 14 assists to go along with 20 points, six rebounds, and three steals.

Butler, 27, helped Chicago to a 109-94 win over the Bucks. He looked good doing it, dropping dimes off of both the pick-and-roll and while coming off screens.

The NBA put together a handy little video to be able to check out all of Butler’s assists.

Clippers blow 18-point lead, lose in final 2 seconds on putback to Kings (VIDEO)

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The Los Angeles Clippers had a rough go of things against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday. Up by 18 with more than five minutes to go, LA blew their lead and were left to watch as the Kings sealed the game late.

The final possession for Sacramento came on a missed corner 3-pointer by Clippers guard Jamal Crawford. The Kings got the outlet pass out on the rebound, but Ben McLemore took it to the rack and missed. That’s when Willie Cauley-Stein stepped in, cleaned up the board, and put the game-winning shot home with less than two seconds left.

Los Angeles lost in spectacular fashion, and became the only team this season to lose given their game situation.

Here’s a compilation the NBA put together of Sacramento’s epic comeback:

Meanwhile, Chris Paul called it the worst regular season loss of his career.

The Clippers peaked too soon. Like, the first 20 games of the season too soon.