Carmelo Anthony: "Screwed"

There's some huge insight in today's First Cup. The more I think about it, the more I think it matters.

The question in the case of Carmelo Anthony has long been which he wanted more: His big contract extension in advance of the lockout, or to play for the team of his choosing, by almost all reports the Knicks.

The Nets' Mikhail Prokhorov made his statement, and forced Anthony to think long and hard about that. With their unwillingness to give up everything it might take to bring him in with a huge guaranteed deal, the Knicks have played along, further forcing Anthony to consider getting less than his dream scenario.

Anthony's one real threat is opting out this summer -- a move that could cost him tens of millions, depending on the new collective bargaining agreement. He's due to make more than $80 million over the next four years if he picks up his remaining option year, and signs the extension that's on the table now. But who knows? Under a new deal collective bargaining agreement, a four-year-deal may max out at just $40 or $50 million.

Also, the lockout could be long, and an injury during that time without a contract -- these things happen! -- could be devastating to his lifelong income.

The reality that Anthony may walk is the one and only reason GMs around the league have cared about where Anthony wants to go. Otherwise, he's an asset to the Nuggets who can be traded like any other player.

His quasi-free agency evaporates if he's unwilling to use it.

So, is he willing to use it? A source close to Anthony says yes, but Anthony himself sounds more than a little unsure.

Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post:

Denver could trade Melo to a team he doesn’t want to play for long-term. If that happens, then he might not sign the three-year, $65 million contract extension to play for that team. Instead, he’d opt out of his current contract and be a free agent this summer, likely signing with the Knicks. But -- he would take a significant pay cut, due to the new collective bargaining agreement.

I asked, “If they trade you somewhere, and you don’t sign the extension, you’re screwed …” But then, before he could answer, I justified by saying, “Well, not necessarily screwed…” But, Melo flashed a smile and said: “Screwed.”

He continued: “There are a lot of things that come into play when you look at this situation. The fact that they can send you wherever they want to. The fact that, wherever they send me, would I sign the extension there? It’s a lot of stuff I think about through all of this.”

I wouldn't read too much into that. This is essentially the highest-stakes poker game in the world. There will be moments in the game when everybody sweats. Right now it's Anthony's turn to bid, and it's easy, in that situation, to feel like all your options are dicey. We have not learned he definitely won't go into free agency. But he also, most assuredly, does not sound like a guy who would march into free agency with a grin on his face. That ought to embolden the teams that have the potential to offer guaranteed money now, and the Nuggets and Nets top that list.