NBA free agents weigh building bank account or a team 

NEW YORK — Phil Jackson sought to clear something up: Suggesting Carmelo Anthony take less than a maximum salary wasn’t his idea. It was Anthony, Jackson noted, who first brought up leaving money on the table to help build a winning team.

Now it’s about time to see if the All-Star forward will — and if it would be in New York.

Free agency opens today at 9 p.m., and it’s no longer just a means for players to make their situations better. That might be Anthony’s goal, but for players such as LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki, improving their teams might be the biggest benefit.

The maximum contract was long one of the true validations of players. But even the very best realize now that if a teammate also makes the max, a team risks having half the salary cap tied up in two players.

“I think it puts limitations on a team,” said Jackson, the Knicks president. “What happens is then you end up having two or three players that have big contracts and everybody else is either your veteran minimums or young players that are coming in, or you just don’t have that middle ground of a player that’s a veteran, comfortable, leadership-quality people. I think that Miami explored it and I think they got the most out of it. I’m wondering what direction it’s going to go now.”

James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh accepted a little less than max salaries in 2010, allowing Miami to sign all three and afford help around them. Doing so again now could allow the Heat to replenish their roster, which would have been nearly impossible if they had decided to keep playing under their existing contracts. Bosh on Sunday joined James and Wade in opting out of his contract.

Nowitzki seems committed to staying in Dallas and giving the Mavericks a discount to afford complementary pieces. The best example of seeking depth over dollars may be Tim Duncan on the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs. He could be paid less than half what Anthony will make next season.

“This whole thing of him opting in for $10 million and we’re talking about other players having to settle for mid-20s, it’s sort of laughable that Duncan is not getting what he should be getting, for all that he means to that franchise,” ESPN analyst and former NBA general manager Tom Penn said. “But he’s given back. The others have followed his lead.”

Some players only get one chance to cash the big check, so it may be hard for Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Indiana’s Lance Stephenson or Brooklyn’s Shaun Livingston to think of team over self coming off their best NBA seasons.

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