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‘Melo says he wants to be a free agent but that doesn’t mean he’s leaving New York

Oct 16, 2013, 6:31 PM EDT

Carmelo Anthony AP

The conventional wisdom around the league is Carmelo Anthony isn’t going anywhere.

Sure, anything is possible, and it is extremely likely he opts out of his deal and becomes a free agent this season. However, after how hard Anthony worked to get traded to New York, how he likes being the biggest star of the team in heart of the nation’s biggest city, and when you think about how big five-year max deal will get for him ($29 million at age 35, in what will be a Kobe-like cap crippling deal), you understand why when you talk to people around the league and they think he likely stays where he is with a new five year deal.

That said, he wants a taste of free agency.

He admitted as much to the New York Observer for a story, but then was quick to quell the idea he was looking to bolt New York to win in Los Angeles or anywhere else.

“I want to be a free agent,” Anthony tells me, as our cigars burn close to the nub. “I think everybody in the NBA dreams to be a free agent at least one time in their career. It’s like you have an evaluation period, you know. It’s like if I’m in the gym and I have all the coaches, all the owners, all the GMs come into the gym and just evaluate everything I do. So yes, I want that experience.”

Take a breath, Knicks fans. That doesn’t mean he’s leaving.

“I came to New York for a reason,” Anthony adds. “I’ve been with you all my life, almost to a fault. I wanted to come here and take on the pressures of playing in New York. So one thing I would tell my fans: If you haven’t heard it from me, then it ain’t true.”

Fans might be wise to remember that as a storm of rumors circle around Anthony this season. There are going to be reports about how he is frustrated or how he wants out. The only thing we know for sure is that he will opt out next summer — it is the smart business move — but that is very different from wanting to bolt town.

Even if he stays, the hard truth of it all is it will be difficult for New York to construct a championship team around him — the Knicks are not title contenders this season, they are largely locked into the same roster next season, then in 2015 they will have some cap space (how much remains to be seen and depends on things like Anthony’s new contract). However, luring a star to pair with Anthony will not be simple. It is the reason Steve Mills is in and Glen Grunwald is out of the GM chair in New York — Mills has good contacts and relationships with players and agents.

On top of it all, there are a lot of people around the league who are convinced Anthony’s volume scoring style of play is not something you can build a title contender around.

Anthony has heard it all, and he understands the pressure that comes with being who he is in New York.

“People in New York, they expect higher than they should expect, let’s just be quite frank,” Anthony says. “Which is good. That’s what makes New York New York. But it was like, O.K., maybe I gotta put another layer [of skin] on.”

He’s got that. And it’s highly unlikely he takes it off to go anywhere else next summer.

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