Carmelo Anthony, D.J. Augustin

The Knicks can still trade Carmelo Anthony – if he lets them. Maybe he should.

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Carmelo Anthony is not long for the New York Knicks, it seems.

The Bulls, Rockets, Mavericks and Heat are circling. Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher couldn’t persuade him to play out the final year of his contract, and though their meeting with Melo went well, I bet Melo’s meeting with other suitors will also go well.

The writing is on the wall.

At minimum, Melo wants to become a free agent, and at that point, he could leave New York in the dust. But to do that, he’d have to leave more than $33 million on the table.

Maybe the Knicks and Melo could help each other avoid those undesirable outcomes by working together to trade the star.

Players can’t be traded after a season when they’ll become free agents or might become free agents due to an option that offseason. So, Melo is currently untradable because he holds an early termination option (the functional equivalent of a player option). But he can become tradable by amending his contract to remove the option, guaranteeing his deal extends through next season.

That essentially gives him power to approve any trade.

Like where the Knicks would send him? Waive the option.

Don’t like where the Knicks would send him? Refuse to waive the option.

A trade could allow Melo to make more money and the Knicks to guarantee themselves compensation, maybe even netting them a 2014 draft pick. If they want to pursue this route, the clock is ticking. Melo must decide on his option by Monday.

What’s in it for Melo?

As soon as Melo terminates his contract, he’s committing to a salary reduction for next season. His max starting salary as a free agent is $875,003 less than his option-year salary.

That’s a relative small amount to relinquish in order to secure a long-term contract – a max of more than $129 million re-signing with the Knicks or $95 million elsewhere.

But the $875,003 matters, because if Melo were to opt in, the value of a max deal he signs next summer would be determined by his salary this season. Comparing deals signed after playing out the option year to max deals signed this summer, he’d make $11.7 million more if he re-signs or $8.7 million more if he leaves – and don’t forget about the $ 23,333,405 he’d make this season.

Of course, there’s no guarantee Melo would command a max contract next offseason.

Melo is coming off the two best seasons of his career. He’ll definitely draw max offers now.

But he’s also 30, and most players begin to decline around this age.

If Melo wants to simply terminate his contract and secure a long-term deal while he knows he can get one, I definitely wouldn’t blame him. That’s the safe route and the one he seems set to travel.

However, if he wants to leave New York, agreeing to a trade would net him an extra $68 million – as long as he still gets a max contract in 2015. It’s a risk, but the reward exists.

The best money is in re-signing with your current team, and it’s not too late for Melo to change his current team.

It might be too late for him to get the “Dwight Howard treatment,” but Melo can still cause a stir this weekend.

Melo has never been a free agent. He signed an extension with the Nuggets and another extension when traded to the Knicks.

I think Melo wants teams woo him, to line up at his door and one-by-one make their pitches. No doubt, it would be a fun experience.

The Knicks have already started the process, and they can grant teams permission to negotiate with Melo as part of a trade. Remember, trade partners must sell Melo, because he’s untradable without his consent.

And why would he give consent to a trade rather than just signing with that new team in a month?

Here’s the most Melo could earn by terminating his contract (orange) or agreeing to a trade and then signing a new contract in 2015 (blue). Both scenarios show re-signing with his current team and leaving his current team.

Path 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 Total
Waive ETO for trade, re-sign $23,333,405 $24,500,075 $26,337,581 $28,175,087 $30,012,592 $31,850,098 $164,208,838
Waive ETO for trade, leave $23,333,405 $24,500,075 $25,602,579 $26,705,082 $27,807,585   $127,948,726
Exercise ETO, re-sign $22,458,402 $24,142,782 $25,827,162 $27,511,542 $29,195,922   $129,135,810
Exercise ETO, leave $22,458,402 $23,469,030 $24,479,658 $25,490,286     $95,897,375

The most Melo could make by leaving the Knicks now is $95,897,375

But if he gets traded to a new team and re-sign there in 2015, a new max contract would be worth $140,875,433 over five years – bringing his six-year total, including this year’s option salary, to $164,208,838.

And if Melo chooses poorly on where he’s traded now and wants to leave his next team in 2015, he could still get four years and $104,615,321 on a max contract – a total of $127,948,726 with this year’s option salary.

Again, deferring a new contract for a year carries major risk. That’s offset by a small bump in guaranteed salary next season and the potential for an even larger payday as a free agent next year than he could get this year. But it is a gamble.

What’s in it for the Knicks? 

If the Knicks lose Melo, they’d like something in return.

They’ll obviously have to weigh the odds he walks as a free agent, the possibility of a sign-and-trade and and what they’re offered in a trade before June 23. But that equation is increasingly pointing to trying to trade him now.

The first step would be granting other teams permission to pitch Melo. After all, he must consent to a deal by waiving his early-termination option.

Simultaneously, New York would negotiate with potential trader partners. Unlike a sign-and-trade, which couldn’t happen until July, this type of trade could land the Knicks a first-round pick in next week’s draft. If they’re rebuilding without Melo, it would be extremely helpful to begin that process now rather than wasting a year.

Finding a workable trade will be difficult, because the team trading for Melo gets him for only one year guaranteed. That will limit New York’s return, but something is better than nothing.

Making matters more difficult is the current trade climate. 

It’s still technically the 2013-14 season through June 30, so 2013-14 salaries are used in trades. Though several teams can easily create cap space when the clock turns over to 2014-15 in July, few have space now.

Plus, because teams can’t trade players who will become free agents this summer or might become free agents due to an option, a ton of players are off the table. The Heat, with only Norris Cole and Justin Hamilton available to deal, would be completely out of the picture in these discussions.

And nearly everyone with a player option has veto power. The standard deadline for a player option or early-termination option is June 30, so as Melo must agree to a deal, so must nearly any player who holds one of those options.

Want to go to New York? Remove the option now. Don’t want to go to New York? Wait to opt in until after Melo’s early deadline.

Because of these restrictions, trades can be very difficult to cobble together. Here are a few examples of what could work:

  • Bulls: Melo for Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, Lou Amundson, No. 16 and No. 19 picks in 2014 draft
  • Rockets: Melo for Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, No. 25 pick in 2014 draft, 2016 first-round pick
  • Mavericks: Melo and Raymond Felton for Jose Calderon, Brandan Wright, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington, Shane Larkin, Jae Crowder, 2016 first-round pick, 2018 first-round pick
  • Warriors: Melo for David Lee, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green
  • Celtics: Melo for Jeff Green, Keith Bogans, Joel Anthony, No. 6 pick in 2014 draft

What’s in it for the trade partner?

Well, you get Melo, one of the NBA’s best scorers.

That’s not without risk, though.

If those above offers seem low, it’s because a team acquiring Melo this way would get him for only one year before he becomes a free agent. That should be a concern, but not as large as it might initially appear.

By agreeing to a trade, Melo would be signaling his interest in re-signing with his new team. Plus, his new team can offer him more money in 2015 free agency than anyone else. It would be relationship set up to succeed.

No team should trade for Melo unless it plans to re-sign him next summer, but if everything goes south quickly, his new team could always flip him before the trade deadline and cut its losses.

Will it happen?

Probably not.

There are a lot moving parts. The Knicks, another team and Melo must all satisfy each other to reach a deal – and there isn’t much time left.

But in all the Melo options being discussed, a trade is overlooked. It’s worth examining.

If, after this process, Melo wanted to stay with the Knicks, he could either terminate his contract and re-sign for $129 million or opt in and then re-sign for up to $164 million. He’s previously ruled out the second option, but that was probably at least partially based on the desire to explore his options. With his options explored in this scenario, maybe he takes his chances on staying in Ne York and earning a larger payday next year.

There’s really no risk in Melo and the Knicks pursuing a trade now. If they don’t find a suitable deal, Melo can opt out Monday as originally planned and hit the ground running in free agency come July 1.

But for the potential of an extra $68 million to Melo and a 2014 draft pick for New York, it’s probably worth the effort to try to find a deal.

Watch LeBron James make plays when it matters in fourth quarter

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On paper LeBron James didn’t have a great fourth quarter — 2-of-7 shooting, both his buckets right at the rim, and he’d been passive for long stretches of the game.

But when the Cavaliers made a 17-2 run late in the game that earned them the Game 1 win over Atlanta, LeBron was at the heart of it all. He had assists, a key steal, and a powerful and-1 dunk. You can check out LeBron’s impressive play in the last five minutes above.

Revived in crunch time, LeBron James pushes Cavaliers past Hawks in Game 1

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) reacts against the Atlanta Hawks in the first half in Game 1 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Monday, May 2, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
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LeBron James  hadn’t scored in more than 10 minutes, and it was getting late in the fourth quarter. The Hawks had gone on 11-0 and 10-0 runs since his last points. And Paul Millsap forced LeBron to lose control of the ball as he went up for a left-handed layup.

A moment of truth for the Cavaliers?

LeBron pushed the ball through the hoop with his right hand while being fouled.

If you didn’t get the message, he flexed and slapped his right bicep once he landed.

It wasn’t always smooth, but Cleveland overpowered Atlanta 104-93 in Game 1 of their second-round series Monday. The Cavaliers have won seven straight overall against the Hawks, including a sweep in last year’s Eastern Conference finals, and LeBron is now 9-0 against Atlanta in the playoffs.

“Obviously, you could tell that they went through a longer series than us,” said LeBron, whose Cavs swept the Pistons eight days ago. The Hawks beat the Celtics in six four days later.

Home Game 1 winners have won the series 85% of the time, and Atlanta will have its work cut out to become an exception.

LeBron’s offensive passiveness during Atlanta’s comeback was unwelcome, but when needed, he delivered. His 3-point play highlighted a 17-2 run that would’ve ended the game if not for a garbage-time 3-pointer by the Hawks. LeBron (25 points, nine assists, seven rebounds, five steals and a block) also stole the ball from red-hot Dennis Schröder on consecutive late possessions. This was two-way excellence when it counted, the type of production that has taken LeBron to five straight Finals.

The Cavaliers had such a big lead (18) to blow because they were hot from beyond the arc (15-for-31, 48%). When they missed, Tristan Thompson (seven offensive rebounds) got them extra opportunities.

Kevin Love (17 points and 11 rebounds) threw his body around enough to get a double-double despite shooting 4-for-17. Kyrie Irving (21 points on 8-of-18 shooting and eight assists) forced too many bad shots, but he made some tough ones and kept the ball moving.

At times, it seemed Irving was going one-on-one with Schröder (27 points on 5-of-10 3-point shooting and six assists). As impressive as Schröder was from beyond the arc and attacking the rim, Kent Bazemore (16 points, 12 rebounds and four assists) was his only reliable scoring sidekick.

After allowing 30 points in the first quarter, Atlanta cranked up it defense to the frenetic level showed against Boston. Millsap (17 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, four blocks and two steals), Al Horford (10 points, six rebounds, three blocks and two steals) and Bazemore (two steals) led the effort.

And Cleveland surrendered open 3s when the Hawks moved the ball, which they usually did. If they make more of those open looks, it’s easy to see them winning.

But can they win four of the next six games?

As long as LeBron plays for the Cavs, that’s a monumental challenge.

Larry Bird on Frank Vogel’s future with Pacers: “I don’t know what’s going to happen”

MIAMI, FL - MAY 24:  Team President Larry Bird of the Indiana Pacers looks on against the Miami Heat during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on May 24, 2014 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Larry Bird wanted the Pacers to play smaller and faster this season. The Pacers started the season doing that, but they weren’t defending consistently and not winning enough (dropping 7-of-11 through one stretch in December), so coach Frank Vogel started to play bigger and slower. It worked well enough for the Pacers to make the playoffs and go seven games deep in the first round against the Raptors.

Team president Larry Bird isn’t happy — he doesn’t like that Vogel changed the team’s style. For that reason, it’s unclear if Vogel — whose contract is up — will be back with the Pacers next season. Here is what Bird told Greg Doyle of the Indianapolis Star.

Indiana Pacers President Larry Bird said Monday he hasn’t decided whether to bring back coach Frank Vogel for a seventh season, telling IndyStar: “It’s no secret — I want us to score more points…

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Bird said….

“Frank’s a great guy. He’s going to be fine no matter what happens. If he’s back, he’ll be fine here. If he’s not, he’s not. We’ll see.”

If Vogel were allowed to walk away, a host of other teams would line up to pay him. Houston would be an interesting fit (although that franchise reportedly has its sights set on Jeff Van Gundy).

Here’s the question Bird and team owner Herb Simon need to answer: If not Vogel, who do you have that’s better? Think about the coaches still on the market, who is better than Vogel?

Vogel gets his teams to defend like few other coaches in the league (the Pacers were third in the league in defensive rating this season with a largely overhauled roster), and that is the foundation of any winning team. Force an “offensive coordinator” assistant on Vogel if you want, but to give up one of the better young coaches in the NBA would be a mistake by the Pacers.

And if you want to play smaller and faster, get — and in the case of Solomon Hill try to keep — players who fit that style. Right now the Pacers roster is not constructed to be great that way.

Hornets future unclear with 4 starters becoming free agents

MIAMI, FL - MAY 01: Kemba Walker #15 of the Charlotte Hornets takes the floor during Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on May 1, 2016 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – The Charlotte Hornets have a major decision ahead of them this offseason – keep the core group from a team that tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference or revamp the roster by adding new pieces.

With four starters set to become free agents and only seven players under contract next season, the Hornets have the flexibility to make major changes if they so choose.

Coach Steve Clifford said Monday he’d prefer to coach the same group again, but acknowledged it might be difficult to re-sign everyone given the NBA salary cap.

Much of the Hornets future could be predicated on what happens with unrestricted free agent Nicolas Batum, whom Clifford acknowledged will be the team’s No. 1 priority in free agency. Batum averaged a career-high 14.9 points along with 6.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game for the Hornets during the regular season, although his production was limited in the postseason due to a foot injury. The Hornets lost in seven games to the Miami Heat on Sunday.

Batum could command a max contract this offseason due to the increase in the NBA salary cap. And while it is debatable if he’s worth that much, Clifford knows he’s a valuable cog in the starting lineup.

When asked if he wants to return next year, Batum said, “Why not?,” saying this past season was one of the most enjoyable of his eight-year NBA career. He liked the freedom Clifford gave him and the idea of being one of first two options on offense.

“I want to talk to (the Hornets) first, for sure,” Batum said of free agency. “July 1 will be a crazy day, but will Charlotte be my first call? Yes.”

However, Batum indicated he only wants to return if the Hornets make an effort to bring back the nucleus of this year’s team.

He said the chemistry of this year’s Hornets team was outstanding, on and off the court.

Along with Batum, three others starters – Courtney Lee, Marvin Williams and Al Jefferson – are also unrestricted free agents. Backup Jeremy Lin is almost certainly going to opt out of the final year of his contract given he has outperformed the $2 million salary he’s set to make in 2016-17.

“If you asked me would I be interested in coming back, there’s no question in my mind – it’s a resounding yes,” Lin said. “I would be very interested in coming back.”

Lee, Williams and Jefferson also indicated their desire to return to the Hornets as well, but it remains unclear if general manager Rich Cho can – or even wants to – bring everyone back for another run at the playoffs or if he’ll look in a different direction to upgrade.

Cho is expected to meet with the media later this week.

“I feel like any time, especially in pro sports, when you keep a group of guys together for three or four years, whatever the case may be, you can do some really good things,” Williams said.

A look at what the Hornets face this offseason:

BIGGEST NEED: Rebounding. The Hornets rebounded well in the regular season, but Clifford said the team’s struggles on the glass in Games 6 and 7 against the Heat was a big reason it was ousted from the playoffs.

GOOD NEWS: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who missed all but seven games due to shoulder injuries, is expected back next season. The former No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft is considered the team’s top defensive player.

BAD NEWS: By virtue of making the playoffs, the Hornets don’t have a lottery pick and may not have a chance to find the dominant offensive player that Clifford so desperately covets in the draft.

TOUGH ENDING: Kemba Walker said while losing to Miami in Game 7 was disappointing, the season is “one to be proud of.” Walked add, “At one point we were 17-20 and then we finished the season with 48 wins. I don’t think anybody expected that. Nobody even thought we would make the playoffs, so for us to force a Game 7 against a really good team like Miami.”

ZELLER AT CENTER: The Hornets plan to stick with Cody Zeller at center next season – instead of power forward – but Clifford said he still wants the 7-footer to work on his outside shot.