BY MATT CRAIG | CONTRIBUTOR FOR UP THE THUNDER | BALL STATE SPORTS LINK
This piece was originally published on UpTheThunder.com
The future as it pertains to Carmelo Anthony is hazy, but a recent trade rumor has Twitter buzzing. Carmelo to OKC? Can it be done? If so — how? Is it even a good idea to begin with?
Pierce: For me, the question is: Is Melo a viable trade target for the Thunder? For the majority of the season, I was under the assumption he would be traded to the Clippers. Or maybe he would finish his contract with New York because Phil Jackson would be in the Caribbean not paying any attention to the Knicks. Either way.
However, with recent reports surfacing, I took a deep dive into Carmelo’s game and I really think he would be a great companion alongside Russell Westbrook.
Matt: Well if there’s one thing we can agree, on it’s that the Knicks/Melo partnership appears to be coming to an end. And what a partnership it was, right? Seven years, four coaches, 239 wins, 286 losses, and one playoff series win.
But allow me to answer your first question: No. Carmelo would be a poor fit for the Thunder, and OKC would be a poor fit for Carmelo. You’re going to have to go full Johnny Cochran up in here to convince me, or any rational reader, otherwise. But sure, let’s start with Russell Westbrook. What makes you think a ball-stopper like Melo would make sense next to him?
P: Looking at film of Carmelo last year was interesting. He had a career-high assist percentage (AST%) of 21.9. Compare that to the AST% of the two main playmakers off the bench for the Thunder: Enes Kanter (8.9) and Cameron Payne (15.8.) While Melo does has ball-stopping tendencies, too many people have forgotten how engaged he is on offense.
My theory of why he plays in isolation so often is (1.) He’s really frickin’ good at it. (2.) He’s never played with an elite point guard — Ty Lawson was never elite and both Chauncey Billups and Allen Iverson were in the twilights of their respective careers. Pair Melo with a player of Westbrook’s caliber, and watch as Olympic catch-and-shoot Carmelo rises from the ashes of Phil Jackson’s poisonous touch.
(P.S. Melo is shooting 43% on corner threes this year, 75% of which are assisted on — sound like a shot that is constantly missed in the OKC offense?)
M: You’re right, video tape of Roberson shooting corner threes could be used as torture in Guantanamo Bay. But my theory has always been that Olympic Melo worked because he wasn’t just “not the best player,” he was like what…the sixth or seventh best player? He didn’t really decide that role so much as it was forced on him. In OKC he’s 1–2 with Westbrook and I can already foresee games where Melo is hot and suddenly thinks he should be taking the clutch shots down the stretch. (Melo is shooting 34% FG and 29% from three in fourth quarters).
Serious question: Do you think Melo believes he’s better than Westbrook?
P: Do I believe Melo thinks he’s better than Russ? No I don’t. Melo knows where he’s at. It’s the first time in New York he will not be an All-Star. While he certainly believes he’s still an elite-level offensive player, he knows his limits.
The 4th quarter stuff will always be a question mark for the Thunder, but if you ask me, “Would you rather have Melo or Jerami Grant/Andre Roberson playing the final 6 minutes of a game,” I’m going with Melo every time.
Now, to convince you Sam Presti should trade for Melo, I’ve made three hypothetical trades with the NBA Trade Machine. Here’s the first one:
M: I just don’t understand what Presti would be trying to accomplish here. Kanter is 24, Roberson 25. You’ve mortgaged your future for a team whose best bench player would be Jerami Grant? This move clearly doesn’t move us ahead of Golden State or San Antonio, and I’m not sure it gives us a great chance against Houston or LAC either.
P: Kanter is 24 with one year remaining on his max contract, and his efficiency will likely garner him close to another max deal. Andre Roberson is one of the ten best defenders in the league, and he will make at least $13 million a year on his next contract, which is — wait for it… Due at the end of this season!
Kanter comes off the books for the Knicks next year if he doesn’t pan out with Porzingis — a pairing I think would be perfect for both of them. And Dre is a Restricted Free Agent. Not only does this clear up cap space for the Thunder, it also gives them a solid second option whose game isn’t built on athleticism. Does this put us above San Antonio or Golden State? No, but there is nothing Presti can do to push us there just yet. Does it put us on par with the Clippers and Rockets? I think so.
M: Let’s pause for a second. Would Carmelo even waive his no-trade clause to come to OKC? At 32, he has to be thinking that next team could be his last. If his motivation is a championship, it’s hard to see how the Thunder get there in the immediate future. If he just wants a change of scenery, I’m not sure trading in the bright lights and business opportunities of New York for the lights of Oklahoma (which turn off at 9 p.m. sharp) would excite him or his oft-mentioned wife, La La.
P: I think Melo will waive his no-trade for anything that gets him out of New York and onto a competitive team. With LeBron creating an empire from Cleveland and the rise of internet culture, the idea that business can’t be run outside of NYC is false. I think Melo will play until he’s around 38 and I think he will still be good at that age.
For a guy that has spent his life in the eyes of the press, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he wanted to get out of that and into a relatively quiet city like OKC. Melo is a big family guy, and one thing Thunder fans know about Russ is he is all about family. Seeing these two players share similar values makes me think Melo would not only waive his no-trade clause to come to OKC, but also embrace the city with open arms.
M: I was thinking less about optics and more about the lifestyle. It would be a huge change. But for the sake of argument, we’ll assume he’d be willing to come. You really think Carmelo could be the second best player on a serious contender from age 32 season until age 38? He’s obviously in decline. Here’s his Player Efficiency Rating since his best season in 2012–13:
P: First thing, Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis should all be better than Melo by the time he reaches 36. My point is that his specific skill set allows him to keep playing at a high level until he’s around that 38 mark. Keep in mind, the decline comes as his team also declined in talent. With a young roster — and Russell freakin Westbrook — the talent of this OKC roster would go up, acting as a counter weight to the deficiencies of Melo.
I also think it’s important to look at what he does on the court and his tendencies. Melo relies heavily on his post up game, and from watching all but two Thunder games this season, I can safely say that Billy Donovan relies heavily on the post up. Not only to activate the offense, but he also puts play makers in that role, allowing them to hit open men as the double team comes. Passing out of a post up is a skill that relies on basketball IQ — and Carmelo is not a player who lacks basketball IQ.
M: No doubt about that. Alright you got another trade for me? Seems like we’re coming to a consensus that the assets that can’t be involved are Westbrook, Adams, Oladipo, and Sabonis. I’d like to throw in that he’s not worth giving up any first round picks. You got something for that?
P: Why yes I do.
So this trade is a three-teamer, where I think all three teams win. This trade gets New York much-needed cap room, a future 1st round pick from Boston, a 2nd rounder from OKC, depth, and a young Point Guard. Meanwhile, OKC receives Melo AND Terry Rozier because Boston has to clear room for Markelle Fultz — glory, glory, hallelujah!
Here is another deal that gives Boston room for the draft picks and gives them Kanter come playoff time. It also gives Boston a rebounding big they have so desperately needed, while putting Al Horford at his natural Power Forward spot. I think you could also throw Kyle O’Quinn in to Boston, as well. Thoughts?
M: Oh I like this one! I think the Celtics would do it, because they really do need to shrink their rotation, but it certainly doesn’t look great in the headlines. The Knicks would obviously be going for a total tear down, probably in conjunction with a Rose buyout, but their purpose in doing so would be to get Porzingis more minutes and I’m not sure this is great in that regard. Thankfully, we’re not a Celtics/Knicks fan site so we don’t have to worry about those things!
For the Thunder it really comes down to what you think of Payne versus Rozier. Don’t forget Payne is one of five players OKC has ever taken in the lottery. The other four are Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Adams. There is an innate value that comes with that. And can you imagine the rock fights the second unit would have playing Rozier, Grant and Roberson together? Yikes.
P: I’m not sure how much time you’ve spent watching the Celtics this season, but Rozier is a very different player than he was in college. Although he doesn’t get many minutes because Boston has a ridiculously great backcourt rotation, I would say he’s better than Cameron Payne. I mean just look at this shot:
I think a Melo trade and a subsequent Rose trade or buyout would signify a tank-job in hopes of landing a piece in the loaded lottery. I think it also puts Porzingis in a situation where he no longer plays second fiddle to Melo, but takes over and plays on what would be a fun young team.
M: I see the potential in Rosier, but I also see 30.9% from three on the season! They need a stat that is, “field goal percentage when Brad Stevens draws up a catch-and-shoot side out of bounds play for you,” because I guarantee even Kyle Singler could shoot 50% on those. It’s Butler Magic.
But back to the Thunder. If we’re going all in for an older “star,” why would we choose Melo? I’d rather have Paul Millsap at that price. Are Boogie Cousins or Jimmy Butler available? Maybe for an even cheaper price tag *gasp* Serge Ibaka?
I have to add that I don’t think Cousins, Butler or Paul George are going to be traded before the deadline. But it makes for great headlines on ESPN, doesn’t it?
P: While it makes headlines, I agree Boogie and PG13 won’t be traded — which means I am on-board the Jimmy Butler is outta Chicago train. I would rather have Melo over Millsap for a couple reasons.
First, Millsap still relies heavily on his athleticism, which as we know, doesn’t bode well for your mid-to-late 30’s. Secondly, I think we don’t have the pieces to trade for Millsap anyway. Our assets lineup with New York, not really with Atlanta. And finally, Millsap is a free agent after this season. Melo is under contract for this season and next, giving us two seasons to see how he would fit, and to convince him to stay. I don’t think Melo will demand a max contract either, and seeing as Millsap is an All-Star, I think it’s safe to say that he’s getting the max.
M: So far you’ve said that Melo (1) Would “embrace” moving to OKC “with open arms” because of family atmosphere, (2) Would score and pass exclusively out of the post, and (3) Won’t demand a max contract.
I’m confused. Are we talking about Carmelo Anthony or Tim Duncan?
P: I know it’s foreign but I think it’s important to realize — this Carmelo Anthony is very different from the Carmelo of pre-Porzingis days. Overall, I know the trades need tweaking, but they are a good rough draft for a possible deal.
I’m pretty confident on the idea that he won’t get a max contract — but I want to clarify. When I say demand, I mean what the market values him at, not what he wants. As an attached caveat to this discussion, I am sold on bringing Dakari Johnson up to the Thunder after an Enes Kanter departure and allowing him to fill in as the backup center — I think Joffrey is much better as a power forward personally.
M: I love watching summer league, and Dakari was a pleasant surprise. He’s no Kanter on the boards, but he could develop into something. But that’s sort of my point. The Thunder have a lot of young, promising players who need time and opportunity to develop. Yet up until now, no one from that group of players — Adams, Oladipo, Sabonis, Payne, Kanter — have shown superstar potential or even the ability to be a second banana on a championship team.
The best option for returning to championship status is to wait and hope one of these guys becomes something special, while keeping an attractive pile of assets available to go get a guy that can take you there like a Jimmy Butler or Paul George. Depleting the treasure chest for an aging star, a harsher spotlight, and an appearance in the second round of the playoffs just isn’t worth it.
P: This is a trend around the league — and really around sports — that you have a failed season if you lose in the playoffs, and I don’t think that’s the way Presti or the organization as a whole views it. The Thunder has had unprecedented success in the short time they’ve been in existence, and that success has made them a part of Oklahoma that can’t be changed. Getting to the 2nd round and losing shouldn’t be viewed as a lost season.
M: I can understand that point of view, and by that logic a Carmelo trade makes sense. And maybe it’s the best idea to keep Westbrook happy with another possible contract negotiation coming this summer. But for me personally, I can’t give up on always chasing a championship. And in that respect, Melo’s timeline doesn’t match up with players who are so much younger and less developed.
Here’s a list of (relevant) players that are at least eight years younger than him: Oladpio, Adams, Kanter, Grant, Sabonis, Abrines. He’s 12 years older than Sabonis! So he’s not the best fit for us. And for him, I imagine he’s looking for a spot where he can take a load off and be a small part of a championship-ready team. I’m not sure OKC is what he’s looking for.
P: You bring up fair points, and I do concede that a Melo trade is not the most orthodox move — or a very Presti-like move at all. But the on-court product, combined with the cap relief, makes too much sense for me. My final thought — and if this doesn’t sell you, I don’t know what will — take Carmelo’s deteriorating stats with a grain of salt, because of something called The Kurt Rambis Effect. I don’t think I need to elaborate any further, NBA junkies understand.
Anyway — thank you Matt, this was a ton of fun and I hope something happens. Whether it be a Paul Millsap trade, a Dakari Johnson signing, or even one of my Melo deals, the NBA is more fun when both drama and trades are in the air!
M: Clearly Lebron James agrees with you.