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

Free agency opens at 9:01 p.m. PDT Monday, and it is no longer merely a means for players to make their situations better. That might be Anthony’s goal, but for players such as Miami’s LeBron James and Dallas’ 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 best realize if a teammate also makes the max, a team risks having half the salary cap tied up in two players.

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“I think it puts limitations on a team,” said Jackson, the first-year 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 some help around them. The Heat has been in the NBA Finals in each of the last four years, winning twice.

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 might be Tim Duncan on the 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,” said Tom Penn, ESPN analyst and a former NBA general manager. “But he’s given back. The others have followed his lead.”

Some players only get one chance to cash the big check, so it might 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 pro seasons.

Anthony isn’t the best player available but might be the best one attainable. While many expect James to remain in Miami, Anthony might be persuaded to leave New York.


• Bosh told Miami officials Sunday he, like James and Wade earlier, will be exercising the early termination option in his contract and forgoing the final two years on the deal.

Bosh’s decision was the last domino the Heat needed to fall in order to free the biggest amount of money possible heading into free agency.

Jason Kidd will be Milwaukee’s next coach if the Brooklyn Nets agree to the Bucks’ offer of a 2015 second-round draft pick in exchange for signing him, a source told ESPN. The Nets reportedly want a first-round draft choice in exchange for the rights to their coach.

• The Toronto Raptors have agreed to trade forward John Salmons to the Atlanta Hawks for guard Lou Williams and Brazilian center Lucas Nogueira, a source with knowledge of the deal said.

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