Even a record-setting performance couldn't keep the focus off Carmelo Anthony's future.
Shortly after Anthony erupted for a career-high 62 points—breaking Bernard King's New York Knicks' franchise record (60) and Kobe Bryant's Madison Square Garden scoring record (61)—in New York's 125-96 rout of the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday, Jan. 24, a report put the spotlight back on his potential free agency.
According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, a source close to Anthony said the reigning scoring champ is leaning closer to the Chicago Bulls than the Los Angeles Lakers as a possible destination.
"Chicago is much more in play for him than L.A.," the source said.
Of course, he would first need to choose to leave the Knicks. You know, the same franchise he fought so hard to get to, and the one that can offer him a longer, more lucrative contract than any potential suitor.
Anthony would also be forced to take something less than max-contract money. The Bulls can free up something in the neighborhood of $16-17 million if they amnesty Carlos Boozer, dump Mike Dunleavy's salary and don't take on any significant contracts (i.e., no Nikola Mirotic), via ShamSports.com.
This decision won't come down to dollars alone, but Anthony would already be leaving beaucoup bucks on the table simply by exiting New York.
Back in October, Melo acknowledged his plans to opt out of his current contract at season's end, per Newsday's Al Iannazzone. As for whether he'd simply re-sign with the Knicks or search for greener pastures elsewhere, that remains anyone's guess.
Both the Bulls and Lakers will have significant financial flexibility this offseason. The two perennial powers would also seem to be interested in the quickest fix available.
That perceived short path to the podium could be a driving force for Anthony as well.
"I think he's leaving," a former teammate of Anthony's told Frank Isola of the New York Daily News. "I’ve played with Melo for a long time and he knows he can’t win here. At this stage, all he wants to do is win. That’s why he’ll leave.”
Seeing a winning future with the Knicks won't be easy. The team has limped to a 16-27 record and holds a net rating of minus-3.4 points per 100 possessions, tied for 22nd overall, via NBA.com.
But he wouldn't be able to leave for Chicago or L.A. without a leap of faith, either. No one knows if Derrick Rose's body will allow him to ever recapture his old MVP form, let alone how the 35-year-old Kobe Bryant will hold up going forward.
Anthony might even need to do some convincing of his own. The Lakers may already have their fill of ball-dominant scorers with Bryant, and the offensive-minded Melo doesn't exactly fit the Tom Thibodeau mold:
Whether he'll be selling his own skills or fielding sales pitches from potential employers, Anthony will have a lot to consider if when he hits free agency.
And he'll be making that call under the watchful eyes of the basketball world. When a standard-setting performance can't change the conversation, nothing will until Anthony has officially made up his mind.