Now that we know for sure that Carmelo Anthony will be opting out of the last year of his deal with the Knicks to test free agency, it's time to start thinking about how all this will play and what it means for the future of the Knicks.

A few things are certain (or close): Anthony is opting out, leaving $23.3 million on the table in favor of a deal that will likely be $129 million for five seasons if he stays in New York or $95 million for four years if he signs elsewhere. Although almost any team in the league would take Anthony, it's been reported that the Bulls, Rockets, Lakers and Heat are all interested, with varying amounts of salary cap space, assets to use in a potential sign-and-trade deal with the Knicks and their potential to contend next season impacting their ability to sign Melo.

The idea of losing a player of Anthony's ability is a very scary prospect for a franchise. Players of his quality don't switch teams very often and when they leave without the team they are departing receiving anything in return, the results are typically disastrous. Shaquille O'Neal's signing with the Lakers in free agency in 1996 provides a particularly haunting example: after the Big Aristotle left for nothing it was twelve years before the Magic won a playoff series.

Anthony leaving town would leave the Knicks without the kind of superstar pretty much every championship team other than the 2004 Pistons has had at least one of. That's bad. It would also be another strike against the notion that Phil Jackson has the ability to undo the stain of over a decade of franchise incompetence and convince anyone he sets his sights on that that being a Knick is a virtue in and of itself (the first strike was Steve Kerr spurning Jackson to become coach of the Warriors).

So there's no doubt that the worst-case scenario for the Knicks will be a very difficult thing, necessitating a full scale rebuild and likely a 2014-15 season full of tanking, trading Tyson Chandler and a ton of JR Smith thirty shot nights, which is always entertaining but also very similar to watching someone black out at a wedding (fun for a while but ultimately very damaging for everyone involved). While rebuilding isn't a bad idea and is something the Knicks should be sure to do from time to time going forward, that kind of season would be hard to stomach and could have a bad effect on developing players like Tim Hardaway Jr.

But the other two scenarios aren't so bad. The first is that Anthony stays, the Knicks slog through an average season, learn the Triangle offense, perhaps win a playoff series, and then use the boatloads of cap space they'll have in the summer of 2015 to sign an impact player or two and turn themselves into contenders (potentially available players that summer include Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge and Marc Gasol). Thanks to league rules prohibiting them from trading it they even have their 2015 first round draft pick, the Knicks would be able to add a young piece through the draft that summer as well.

The second scenario is that they enter into a sign-and-trade contract with Anthony, where they give him the four-year $95 million deal another team could sign him to and then trade him. The deal would allow Anthony to go to a team that would otherwise be capped out while getting something for the Knicks in return. Lacking cap room, this is the easiest way for the Bulls or Rockets to acquire Anthony (although either has the means to create room by making moves with other teams it wouldn't be easy for them to do so.

Skip to the Chicago Bulls portion of this Zach Lowe column for an explanation of what would have to happen in that scenario). Ending up with the Rockets or Bulls for $95 million is a far more likely scenario than Melo taking a whopping $70 million less than he could get from the Knicks to form the NBA's Four Horsemen in Miami. And while the Lakers have the cap room to sign Anthony outright and he and Kobe Bryant are known to hold each other in high regard, the Lakers aren't very good and Kobe's at the end of his career, making LA seem unlikely as well.

The Bulls are a very good team with one of the league's top coaches in Tom Thibodeau. Their roster—with or without Derrick Rose—would be good enough to contend for a championship with Anthony on board. Not only that but they've somehow managed to collect just the type of assets and contracts needed to get a sign-and-trade done with the Knicks. Combined, those factors make them the likeliest non-Knicks team for Melo to end up with. They have the sixteenth and nineteenth picks in this year's draft, widely considered the deepest in years. Trading for those picks is complicated somewhat because the draft is Thursday, prior to the start of free agency, so the picks can't be traded outright.

They can, however, be used to add young and cheap players the Knicks might be interested in. The Bulls also have the Kings' 2015 pick, acquired via Cleveland in the Luol Deng trade, and the rights to big man Nikola Mirotic, considered by many to be the best player in Europe. On top of all that they have Jimmy Butler and Tony Snell on their roster, both of whom are inexpensive and have shown potential. And last and certainly least, they've got Carlos Boozer and his $16.8 million contract with only one year remaining, which can be used to make the salary cap figures match as required under the CBA without adding any long-term obligations to the Knicks' balance sheet.

An added bonus of a sign-and-trade involving Boozer is that the 2014-15 Knicks will be able to answer the question everyone has always wondered about: how bad will a defense be if Amar'e Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer are playing on the same team (you don't need a quant to figure that one out).

Although the Rockets have the expiring contracts of Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin (yes, that Jeremy Lin) to send the Knicks to make the salary cap figures match up, they have little else to offer other than their own draft picks. It's also very hard to imagine James Dolan agreeing to the PR nightmare that would be "Linsanity 2: This Time Even Linsaner." Because of that it's widely speculated that they'd need to move those pieces elsewhere and sign Anthony outright, which might be difficult considering no GM will be motivated to help Houston team Anthony with Dwight Howard and James Harden.

If Anthony leaves he will be persona non grata in New York. He's already a controversial player because of his shoot-first game, questionable body language and the lack of sustained winning since he got to town. His "I'm actually from New York, please ignore this West Baltimore tattoo on my chest" act will ring even more false than it did when he arrived four years ago.

The fallout from a decision to leave will be magnified because fans will recall that he pushed his way to the team via trade so that he could lock in the biggest contract possible before the NBA's collective bargaining agreement was renegotiated and then left town when he decided that the team—bereft of the assets he forced them to trade for him—was not good enough. We'll all have to start agreeing with what crazed sports talk radio callers have been saying all along. No one wants to do that.

Once that kind of thinking starts, though, it seems obvious that Anthony's likely to stay in New York. He forced his way here the way he did for the money, after all, and the Knicks are the ones who can still offer him the most of that. And despite all Melo's imperfections, that's not a bad outcome.

You can follow Jonathan Fishner on Twitter @therealkingfish, and check out his blog The Real King Fish.

Many thanks to Tommy Beer and Dan Litvin for their help with some of the information in this piece.