Melo takes $124 million for the team

Carmelo Anthony has been one of the more polarizing figures in New York sports over the past three years.

At the beginning of his Knicks career, Carmelo was criticized for the way he arrived in the Big Apple (blockbuster, three-team trade instead of signing as a free agent).

Now, he’s being critiqued for the way he chose to return to the Knicks.

Anthony signed a $124 million contract with the Knicks on Sunday, opting for a return to New York instead of opportunities to play in Chicago and Los Angeles.

Anthony took $5 million less than the maximum contract ($129 million) offered to him.

Since Anthony’s contract figures came to light on Tuesday, Anthony’s been ripped on social media and in other corners for the total amount of his contract. But calling Anthony “selfish” for his new Knicks deal is misguided.

Here’s why:

He still took less: Carmelo first said back in February that he’d be open to taking a pay cut to help the team he signed with acquire more assets.

"Without a doubt," Anthony said while in New Orleans for All-Star Weekend. "Any opportunity I have to build that up in New York, I'd do it.”

In the weeks leading up to Anthony’s free agency, Phil Jackson challenged Anthony to take less than the max to help the Knicks.

"I think [there is] a precedent that's been set," Jackson said shortly after the end of the regular season. "... So we hope that Carmelo is true to his word, and we understand what it's going to take and we will present that to him at that time."

Neither Anthony nor Jackson mentioned a specific number when talking about a potential pay cut.

Anthony ended up accepting $5 million less than the maximum of $129 million.

No matter how you rationalize it, Anthony still took a pay cut to help the Knicks.

The pay cut can help next summer: The initial reaction among those who wanted to crush Carmelo for taking $124 million was this: How does this help the Knicks?

Well, Anthony was eligible for a 7.5 percent raise in the second year of his contract. Instead, he took a microscopic raise. According to the ESPN.com's Marc Stein, Anthony has a raise of $400,000 in the second year of his contract rather than the $1.8 million raise he was eligible for.

So that will save the Knicks $1.4 million in the summer of 2015, when they hope to be able to attract another star to play alongside Anthony.

Anthony’s salary combined with the projected salaries of the rest of the roster -- Jose Calderon, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert (qualifying offer), Hardaway Jr. (team option), Shane Larkin (team option) -- the 2015 first-round pick’s salary and five cap holds equals $47.3 million.

The cap this season was set at $63 million, a significant increase from the previous season. So let’s assume the 2015-16 cap will be $65 million, a conservative estimate.

This means that the Knicks would have $17.7 million in cap space to spend on free agents that summer, thanks in part to Anthony’s pay cut.

So Anthony’s pay cut in 2015 could be critical for the Knicks because a player like Memphis’ Marc Gasol will be eligible for a max salary of at least $16.4 million in the summer of 2015.

Phil was fine with it: If you still see Anthony’s pay cut as meaningless, read what Knicks president Phil Jackson had to say about it on Sunday:

"He did exactly what we kind of asked him to do. Give us a break in the early part of his contract so that when we have some wiggle room next year, which is hopefully big enough wiggle room we can exploit it, provide a more competitive team for our group," Jackson said.

Now, if you think this is just Jackson’s way of spinning a bad contract for the Knicks, that’s OK. But there are two sides to every contract negotiation.

Melo accepted what the Knicks offered him. Faulting Anthony alone for accepting a contract worth $124 million is faulty logic.

Remember, the Knicks made the contract offer. So if you are mad at Melo for making $124 million, you should direct some of your ire at Jackson and the Knicks’ front office as well. The Knicks could have offered Anthony a $115 million contract and told him to take it or leave for Chicago.

That didn’t happen. Instead, they offered Anthony the max contract they seemed dead set against offering him. And some people are mad that he signed up for $124 million. Doesn’t make much sense.

All of the above, by the way, doesn’t even address the idea that most people critiquing Melo’s pay cut probably wouldn’t accept a lower wage from their employer to benefit the company. But that’s another argument for another time.

Question: Do you think Carmelo was selfish for accepting a $124 million contract to come back to the Knicks?

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