With the NBA training camps set to open, the biggest lingering question around the league is this: What's going on with Carmelo Anthony?
The short answer: He's probably going to training camp as a member of the New York Knicks.
As of earlier this week, the New York Knicks were "not close" on any deal involving Anthony, per league sources. They've talked on and off with the Houston Rockets for much of the summer, but there has been no recent momentum toward a deal.
The Knicks have told people around the league recently that Houston simply doesn't have anything that appeals to them.
Could a third team's involvement change New York's thinking? Of course.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported last month that Houston was looking for a third team to make a trade work. The Milwaukee Bucks emerged as a potential third team at one point, per league sources, but there was no traction toward a deal. Milwaukee has been trying to shed salary so, in all likelihood, the idea of taking back the remaining money on Ryan Anderson's contract (three years, $60 million) in a trade wasn't enticing.
One name that came up in those (very) preliminary talks? Bucks forward Jabari Parker, per league sources.
It's unclear which side -- the Knicks or Bucks -- brought up Parker's name. What is clear is that Parker would have been part of an outgoing package that included a larger Bucks contract, such as John Henson's or Greg Monroe's. If that deal had come to fruition, the Knicks would have received the type of return they'd long hoped for in an Anthony trade: a young player on a below-market contract in Parker.
Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry remain set on getting some combination of a young player, draft pick or expiring contract back in any Anthony deal. They have little interest in adding significant salary, which makes sense since New York already has a combined $50 million committed to Tim Hardaway Jr., Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee in 2019-20.
Of course, the package New York seeks in an Anthony trade is hard to find. So the smart money says that Anthony will be a Knick when training camp opens Monday. You can bet that he won't be thrilled about that. The guess here is Anthony would rather run another possession in Phil Jackson's triangle offense than answer questions on media day about his uncertain Knicks future. If he participates in the NBA's traditional media day activities, Anthony also would have to take part in the production of promotional material -- videos, pictures, in-house interviews, etc. -- for the Knicks.
How's that for awkward?
Members of the organization have subtly -- and not so subtly -- made it clear that Anthony isn't part of the future. Last month, the club published season-ticket ads on social media and the team website featuring several players. None of the ads included Anthony.
More recently, Mills wrote a 1,100-word essay about his vision for the team on a company website. He didn't reference Anthony once. And on Thursday, Perry wrote a blog that referenced the team's young core of Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Frank Ntilikina, Willy Hernangomez and Ron Baker. Again: no Anthony.
The underlying message to all of this seems clear: "Carmelo, we don't want you here." And the feeling is mutual.
There has been little contact between Anthony and members of the organization for much of the offseason, per sources. More recently, members of the organization, including Mills and head coach Jeff Hornacek, attended pickup games featuring Anthony at Lifetime Fitness gym in Manhattan, sources told ESPN.
It's unclear if there was any formal discussion between Anthony and Hornacek or Mills at those games but Anthony's preference, as of late last month, remained to be traded. Whether that happens before the start of training camp is up to Mills and Perry.
There is no hard deadline to spur action here but, in a perfect world, both the Knicks and Anthony would prefer to avoid the unnecessary drama that would come with having him in camp. This isn't to say Anthony's teammates want him gone. It's just the opposite; the veteran is respected and well-liked in the locker room, but some teammates have admitted privately that it's best for all parties involved if the club deals Anthony at this point.
The issue, of course, is finding an end result that satisfies both the Knicks and Anthony. The club has no interest, at this point, in negotiating a buyout with Anthony (he has two years and $44 million remaining on his contract).
So how does all of this end?
If the Knicks wait until mid-December, would the offers from Houston improve? Most free agents who signed contracts with new teams over the summer can be traded on Dec. 15. Maybe Houston could find a third team to facilitate a deal at that point.
Or maybe Carmelo expands his list of acceptable trade destinations to get a deal done? Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum of the Portland Trail Blazers openly recruited Carmelo earlier this summer, a recruitment that continued privately long after Lillard's and McCollum's interviews in July.
Unless he's traded before Monday, we'll find out just how Anthony feels about all of this when he takes questions from reporters on media day Monday morning. Last month, Anthony was in his hometown of Baltimore for a charitable event in conjunction with The Basketball Tournament. His hair and his beard were long; he said he'd been growing it out and enjoying time as an "AAU dad." Through physical appearances and his words, Anthony gave off the impression that he was unburdened by all of the drama and uncertainty surrounding his future.
"I'm good, I'm good," he said with a smile. "I've been away from the fray."
Anthony was in the middle of the fray for much of the past season in New York. If the Knicks don't trade him in the next three days, he'll be in the thick of it once again. Buckle up.
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