(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

It looks like we can take Carmelo Anthony at his word, as the Knicks star will indeed opt out of the final year of his contract, which would have paid him $23 million, and become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2014.

But that doesn’t mean he is leaving the Big Apple for good.

“That not whatsoever means that I’m not coming back to New York or I don’t want to be here in New York,” Carmelo said in October. “So I don’t want nobody to get that impression.”

The Knicks can offer Anthony the longest contract and most money — five years, $129 million — compared with a max deal worth $96 million over four years with another club. Teams can began talking to Carmelo on July 1 and agree to terms but a deal cannot be officially signed until July 10. But the writing could be on the wall.

“If he makes the choice to opt out, I think he’s gone,” a source told the Wall Street Journal.

There are three teams rumored to be the front-runners for Anthony: Houston, Miami and Chicago. And in Anthony, they would be getting a solid offensive performer with underrated defensive skills.

Anthony averaged 25.5 points per 36 minutes last season and racked up 10.7 win shares, an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player, which was good for 13th best in the NBA in 2013-14. He was also the only player to shoot better than 40 percent form three-point range and score 25 or more points per 36 minutes. In addition, Anthony set the second best effective field goal percentage – which adjusts for the fact that a three-point field goal is worth one more point than a two-point field goal — of his career at 50.3 percent.

Carmelo was at his most effective posting up his opponents. According to Synergy Sports, ‘Melo averaged one point per possession with a 49.4 percent field-goal percentage, good for 18th best in the league. On his spot-up jumper attempts from beyond the arc he was 73 for 165 (44.2 percent).

Carmelo Anthony shot chart 2013-14 regular season

With Anthony on the floor, the Knicks’ scored 109.4 points per 100 possessions in 2013-14, when he was on the bench that fell to 103.4, the largest decline of any player on the Knicks with the exception of Earl Clark, who suited up in just nine games for New York.

And who could forget his 62-point night on 65.7 percent shooting against the Charlotte Hornets, the most points scored at the current Madison Square Garden since Kobe Bryant’s 61-point game nearly five years earlier.

“It was jaw-dropping,” teammate Iman Shumpert said after the game. “Between me and Carmelo we had 66 points.”

With such a prolific offensive season it is easy to lose sight of Carmelo’s defensive contributions, but he set a career high in rebounds per game (8.1). Over six of those rebounds came on the defensive side of the court and, per Synergy Sports, he scored 1.2 points per play on offensive rebounds (38th best in league). When he guarded opposing players posting up he held them to just 0.59 points per play and 36.4 percent shooting, 11th best in NBA.

Below is his adjusted defensive impact graph during the regular season. Warm colors (red and orange) indicate that offensive players shoot better when Carmelo is on the court. Blue colors indicate the opposite and as you can see, there aren’t many spots on the floor where the opposition had the advantage with Anthony on the court.

Source: austinclemens.com

At 30 years old, Anthony is on the tail end of his prime, but some team is going to get a well-rounded player who can be the missing piece of the championship puzzle.