Forget LeBron, Where Will Carmelo Anthony Land?

With everyone talking about LeBron's big decision, we can't forget about Carmelo Anthony's. Where will he end up?

Carmelo Anthony is one of the most enigmatic players in the league. Fans praise his ability to score from all over the court. Skeptics question his shot selection and hustle. Knicks backers applauded the trade from Denver to New York with dreams of banners in the rafters; then turned their back on their superstar three short years later saying he’d never be the best player on a genuine contender.

“Why Can’t Melo lead a franchise to the Larry O’Brien trophy?”

He has the physical gifts to regularly deliver offensive masterpieces. He’s a five-tool scorer. He can knock down any trey bomb – from the corner to the step-back to the of- the-dribble shoulder shimmy pull-up. He has the strength to back down most small forwards in the league and get buckets from the low post or high block. He battles for offensive rebounds and throws down furious put-back dunks. He can take slower players off the dribble, finish in traffic and he hits the contested mid-range shot.

Melo has carried a monstrous offensive weight every year of his career and has never let his efficiency suffer. Below are some of his key numbers from the last five seasons:

SeasonFG%RPGAPGPPGUsage %O RatingD RatingWS

Usage percentage is an estimate of how often a team runs plays through a specific player. Offensive rating marks the amount of points his team scores on average for every 100 possessions while he’s on the floor. Win Shares are based on a complex algorithm that calculates the amount of wins a player is worth each season.

In that five-year sample, Anthony is basically putting up a 27/7/3 line with a stupid-high usage percentage (led the league in 2012-13.) Yet, unlike other superstars, Melo gets criticized for his high usage rate. He shouldn’t. He dragged that decaying 2012-13 Knicks roster to 54 wins and the number two seed in the Eastern Conference. It was Melo and JR Smith jacking up deep threes, Tyson Chandler picking and rolling, and the rusting zinc bodies of Jason Kidd, Amare Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin. 54 wins!

It’s no surprise the Knicks stumbled out of the gate this season and just missed the playoffs after an ill-fated late-season push. It’s also no surprise he opted out of his deal last week. For fun, let’s assume he’s not going back to New York and look at three of the top contenders in this summer’s "Second only to LeBron James: Melo Sweepstakes."

Los Angeles Lakers

Why is Carmelo being tied to the Lakers? I’m not really sure. Maybe his wife, LaLa, wanted to film a new Bravo show called LaLaLand – about the move, or some other uninteresting aspect of life sitting in a convertible in traffic.

It makes sense for the Lakers though – they need an heir apparent to Kobe Bryant, and they’ve always operated under the “superstars attract superstars” mantra. Too bad the move ties up even more of their ridiculous income on players aged north of 30 (Melo is 30.025). With $56 million of next season’s cap tied up in three players with a combined age of 108, the Lake Show would be just that – a show. They'd be a comedy with a healthy chance of turning into a tragedy.

Speaking of health, Kobe Bryant played less than 10 games last year and averaged almost 6 turnovers per game. Steve Nash played a couple more than the Black Mamba – just enough to stop the Lakers from saving some money because of an injury clause in his contract.

Last season, the Lakers ranked second-to-last in the league in defensive points per 100 possessions, and Melo has shown an affinity to imitate like-minded teammates. However, the Lakers currently only have three players under contract moving forward. They have room to drastically change their roster, they can add defensive oriented players and a coach not named Mike D’Antoni.

But this potential Lakers signing is the biggest win for the league and the media. It could very well divulge into chaos by Christmas. Add in a new coach and the bickering Buss family owning the franchise. Jeez.

Houston Rockets

Although not the most ideal fit, this is a scary thought for the rest of the best conference. Let's start with the best-case scenario for the Rockets. They somehow dump one or both of Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin's absurd contracts, thus creating enough cap space for Melo to join forces with James Harden, Dwight Howard, Chandler Parsons and Terrence Jones.

Melo then embraces a secondary offensive role – much like he does so well every four years in the Olympics. He buys into Daryl Morey’s “no long twos” system, takes half a step back, and starts exclusively shooting transition threes and driving hard to the rim. He doesn’t wince when his per game stats drop in exchange for improved efficiency numbers and he learns from Dwight Howard en route to becoming a plus wing defender.

If all the pieces fell perfectly into place, the Rockets would challenge the Spurs and mid-ought Suns for the most beautiful offensive basketball ever played, but that’s a lot to ask for.

It could also go the other way. Anthony has become such a ball-dominant player over the last several years, sometimes dribbling in place seemingly to lull his defender into a daze. Who else does that? James Harden. His usage percentage with the Rockets averaged 28.4 in two seasons. Combine that with the league’s most notorious whiner Dwight Howard, and Houston, we will have a problem.

If Harden and Anthony are willing to adjust, the Rockets will scare the top of the west, but they would be adding another minus defender to a front unit that hardly (sans Howard) plays any defense. It would be interesting to see how much influence GM Darryl Morey has on Melo – if he can eliminate the long two from his game and if Melo can coexist with the baby and the beard.

Chicago Bulls

This works only if the Bulls amnesty Carlos Boozer to clear cap space for the former Syracuse standout. The opening day starting lineup would then likely be Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Anthony, Taj Gibson, and Joakim Noah; bar none the best-case scenario for Melo on the court. He would carry a strong offensive burden, but would have Derrick Rose to take a lot of the load off him (provided Rose remains healthy and isn’t a shell of his former self.)

He’d join the best (or second best) defensive roster in the league. Chicago trailed only Indiana in defensive points per 100 possessions last season, but was poised to pass the Pacers were the season a month longer. He’d have reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah behind him to cover his flaws. His wing mate, Jimmy Butler, would take the top offensive perimeter player, and Derrick Rose is a plus defender against point guards.

Melo’s offensive numbers would likely drop, but that Bulls roster would win a ton of games in the depleted Eastern Conference. Like 60-plus games. Add in the potential departure of LeBron from the Heat team that has dominated the conference since the alignment of the Big Three, and Chicago has a serious championship contender.

The 2003 rookie class debate once started with LeBron and Melo. But while Melo sputtered in New York, LeBron reigned in Miami. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have also passed Melo in historical relevance. Carmelo Anthony can't waste time if he wants to return to the forefront of the conversation. He has to make the right decision this summer, he has to buckle down and lock in defensively. If he does both of those things, the league better watch out.