Until LeBron and Melo sign their contracts, however, Knicks fans can dream about the idea of Phil Jackson uniting the two in Knicks uniforms. But unless Phil’s rings can also produce some miracles, an LBJ-Melo union in New York will likely remain a fantasy because of the Knicks’ cap situation.
But what if nobody else can add those two together? According to Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein, more than 15 teams are projected to have significant salary-cap space this summer. Several teams will aim for James. Only one team will win. That means there will be several other teams that lost in the LeBron sweepstakes and that could immediately turn their attention to Melo.
Let’s take a look at some of the teams that will be major players in free agency and what it means for Melo with LeBron now a free agent:
MIAMI HEAT: We have to wait and see what Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will do with their contract options. Pat Riley says it’s a "pipe dream" to think that the Heat can add Anthony while keeping the Big Three. But James opted out to maximize his options. He will certainly be in touch with Melo in the coming days if he hasn’t been already. Anthony can sign a five-year, $129.1 million deal with the Knicks compared to maybe something in the range of $55-60 million over four years from the Heat if Wade, Bosh and Udonis Haslem opt out of their deals. Anthony can receive up to a max of $95.9 million over four years from other teams outside of New York. Still, you can bet that if there is a scenario in which the Heat can team up Anthony with James, they are doing everything they can to execute that. If Miami is the front-runner for James, that means the Heat have to be considered a potential landing spot for Melo no matter how unlikely it may seem. Playing with James, potentially Wade and Bosh and not having to pay state income taxes is attractive but is it enough to give up tens of millions?
CHICAGO BULLS: Many consider the Bulls the team to watch in the Melo sweepstakes. But with James now free, Chicago should try to see if it can lure James to the Windy City. As Zach Lowe points out, the Bulls could free up about $13 million in cap space by using the amnesty provision on Carlos Boozer. With two first-round picks in Thursday’s draft, the Bulls could free up more money depending on what they do with those picks and possibly trading Mike Dunleavy. But if James doesn’t go to Chicago, the Bulls will try to convince Melo that playing for Tom Thibodeau and teaming up with Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and possibly Taj Gibson will be enough to contend for a title right away in the East and for years to come. There's enough reason to worry here if you are a Knicks fan.
HOUSTON ROCKETS: The Rockets can free up some cap space by unloading Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. If that happens, the Rockets should have enough to make an offer to James or Anthony. With Dwight Howard, James Harden and if the Rockets can keep restricted free agent Chandler Parsons, Houston offers a talented supporting cast. If Houston can’t lure James, the Rockets should turn their attention to Melo. Houston certainly looks much more attractive than the Knicks when it comes to winning now and for the foreseeable future. There’s also no state income tax in Texas.
L.A. LAKERS: According to Ramona Shelburne, the Lakers have been exploring ways to sign both James and Anthony. They’ve also been looking to see if they can package Steve Nash’s $9.7 million expiring contract with the seventh overall pick in the draft to clear enough cap space to offer James and Anthony at least $16 million each. Kobe Bryant and Anthony are very tight friends. It remains to be seen whether the Lakers can retool the rest of their roster to create an appetizing surrounding cast. But like the Heat, the Lakers can never be underestimated when it comes to luring free agents. Even if the Lakers don’t land James, they probably will do what they can to convince Melo to join Kobe.
L.A. CLIPPERS: Like the Rockets, the Clippers have to make moves to create cap space to make an offer for LeBron. The Clippers have a roster built to win a title now, an elite point guard in Chris Paul and a highly-respected coach in Doc Rivers. The Clippers are exploring ways to get James. While they are at it, they might as well see what it might take to get Melo in case James signs elsewhere. They might not want to part with DeAndre Jordan but the Knicks could find a young big man like that and some other pieces appetizing enough to do a sign-and-trade if Melo wants to leave for the Clippers. You'd have to figure the Clips would want to hang onto Blake Griffin.
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: The Cavs have two former No. 1 overall picks including Kyrie Irving and are slated to pick first overall again on Thursday. According to Windhorst and Stein, the Cavs have “numerous non-guaranteed contracts on their books and extra draft picks they could attach to players in trades to free up money. There are scenarios where the team believes it could clear in excess of $30 million in cap space without having to trade [Irving].” Like all these other teams, if you are going to see if you can get James, why not see if Melo would come if James doesn’t want to return home? In New York, Anthony doesn’t have a young talent like Irving to play alongside.
DALLAS MAVERICKS: Dirk Nowitzki calls it a long shot that the Mavs can land Anthony. But ESPNDallas.com reports that the Mavericks, who have plenty of cap space, expect to be granted a meeting with Anthony when free agency begins. Nowitzki will also be a free agent on July 1. Mark Cuban is an owner who has won a title and is willing to spend. And, again, no state income tax in Texas.
ATLANTA HAWKS: According to Stein and Shelburne, the Hawks will have to clear “approximately $10 million to $12 million in salary-cap space to pursue Anthony, but sources indicate that is one of the many options Atlanta is considering, making it a sleeper team to watch.” We’d consider this one a long shot but who knows what James and Melo might concoct.