The NBA awaits as Carmelo Anthony has all but signed with the Houston Rockets after being traded by the Thunder to Atlanta where he was subsequently waived. He is expected a sign a one year with the Rockets for the veteran’ minimum for $2.4 million. While he may know where Carmelo will call home for at least the next year; there are still many unanswered questions as to how he will fit with this new team and whether they can build from the progress of last season. Does this make sense for both parties? Do the Rockets pose a bigger threat to the Warriors than they did last season? After a many pints and a few whiskey neat’s, I started to ask myself the big questions and more.
Who does this make sense for?
This absolutely makes sense for Carmelo Anthony. He was owed a shade under $28 million for the 2018-19 season and will be collecting every last dime. The Hawks will bear most of the brunt by paying him $25.6 million (he took a $2.4 million haircut from Atlanta in order to get bought out) with the remaining coming from his imminent deal with the Rockets. That’s excellent money considering that nobody would pay him anywhere near this value had he chosen to become a free agent this season (by not opting into the last year of his contract). Also, he simply did not fit with the Thunder. He was brought in to be the third wheel behind Russel Westbrook and Paul George after spending his entire career as the top dog. While he has played with then as part of Team USA, he is not best buddies with them like he is with Chris Paul. Oklahoma City is beautiful place to stay but it is incomparable to the Big Apple. He’s going from a team and system where he could not find his place to the 65 win team that was a Chris Paul injury away from making the finals. Olympic Melo is part of mythical lore that the lit the international stage. Carmelo tried to replicate his Team USA performances with OKC.
He genuinely tried to play behind Westbrook and George by playing out of position as a power forward. He averages 19.2 shots per game for his career and took a career low with the Thunder at 15 shots per game. Carmelo molded his game to become a standstill, knockdown shooter. He averaged 6.1 attempts from beyond the arc with his career average being 3.7. Chris Paul and James Harden are more willing passers than Westbrook. They are better floor spacers than the former MVP. By all accounts this is much better fit for Carmelo Anthony than OKC. There were strong rumors that Carmelo was also considering the Miami Heat. While this would have meant that he would return to being the number one option of a team; Miami are in shape to compete for a championship. Also, Carmelo would have to get in basketball shape as Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra and the training staff of the Miami Heat would prefer that he were not a basketball shape. A move to Houston would be absolute win for Carmelo.
Whether this is a win for the Rockets is a trickier question. The re-signing Paul (a four-year deal with $160 million) and Clint Capela (on a five-year deal for $90 million) was key for the Rockets to remain their contender status as their Big-Three are now signed on long-term deals. On the other hand, this has limited their flexibility. Daryl Morey lost Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute to free agency. Both players signed one year deals with the Suns and Clippers respectively. This might not seem like a big loss on the surface though both players were crucial to guiding the Rockets to the number one seed in the West and a Conference Finals appearance. They have both shown that they are capable shooter. Trevor Ariza averaged just under 37% from beyond the arc during the regular season and though he was poor during the playoffs at 28.6%. Mbah a Moute shot 36.4% from beyond the three-point line. Nevertheless, the Cameroonian native was virtually unplayable during the playoffs after he sustained a shoulder injury. Overall, the Rockets the NBA in three-point efficiency by making 41% of their three point attempts. Let’s not forget, both Mbah a Moute and Ariza were crucial to the defensive turnaround in Houston and will sorely by missed. Carmelo is a capable shooter though it is hard to recollect back-to-back plays when he genuinely tried on the defensive end. But the Rockets are not acquiring him for his defense. With Carmelo, they have one of the best scorers of his generation who can play out of the post or from the perimeter. A repeat of the 0-27 from three-point range will never happen with Anthony on the floor with the rest of the Rockets players. For a veteran’s minimum, why not have him on your roster.
How much can Carmelo give to the Rockets and can they get the best out of him?
It is obvious that Carmelo Anthony is in the latter stages of his career though he will be the last person to realize this. He should take a page or two out of Dwyane Wade’s or Vince Carter’s book and learn from their abilities to gracefully transition from superstars in their primes to veteran role-players. Even if he did realize that his game is not trending in the right direction; his ego will not allow him to admit it, maybe even to himself. The 10-time All-Star had the worst season of his career so far. Posting career lows in almost all facets the game, namely in points per game. Not to mention an all-time low in field goal percentage, and both free throws attempted and made per game. Part of this was the role given to Carmelo with the Thunder. He tried to adjust to being third on the pecking order and it backfired on him. He had 23.2 usage rate – the lowest of his career. Playing with ball his whole life and then having him adjust to being a spot up shooter in a season is a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, it was a move that Sam Presti was forced to make. At the time he was traded for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and 2018 Second Round draft pick; Russel Westbrook was yet to sign a contract extension. Presti acquired Carmelo on the 25th. Westbrook signed a 5-year super max contract on the 29th. Whether there is casualty or correlation between the two events, we will only know the answer when Sam Presti’s book comes out. But still, nobody is surprised that Carmelo flopped alongside Westbrook. Anthony turned 34 years old a couple of months ago. That’s young for the real world but for today’s basketball, it is ancient. His career is now in its last chapter so nobody should expect the Carmelo Anthony for 2012. Harden and Paul will definitely get more out of what’s left in his tank.
Daryl Morey loves three pointers. The fact that Carmelo attempted a career higher from behind the three-point line must be great news for him. Though league the league in three-point efficiency was only one half of their success last season. Houston was an excellent defensive team. Never could I imagine a world where Harden and Mike D’Antoni committing to actually giving shit about defense. They weren’t just a pack of the middle NBA defense. The Rockets were ranked 6th in the league in terms of defensive rating. Carmelo certainly does not help them on the less glamorous end of basketball. The iso-ball side of things is Anthony’s bread and butter. That is when he is on the ball. He has shown when he is not Olympic Melo, he struggles to find a place in the game.
The Rockets are at their best when the isolation side of things is being run by Paul and Harden with shooters lining the perimeter or with Capela rolling hard to the rim. How Carmelo will not get many opportunities to have the ball for more than three seconds. He never had the ability to consistently beat defenders off a hard first dribble, and I cannot think of a reason why he can suddenly do that in his mid-
30s. He can definitely work with Paul and Harden as a shooter, and an isolation scorer when they are off the floor or when things seem to dry up. Though finding the balance between the two is something that D’Antoni and Carmelo need to figure out, along with some other things.
We’ve seen Carmelo Anthony and Mike D’Antoni struggle to work alongside one another. Why should they seamlessly fit now? Will he convince Anthony to take a lesser role?
Friction just about begins to describe the tenuous relationship between Anthony and D’Antoni. The two were paired for two forgettable seasons. After their two years, together, D’Antoni nearly damaged his reputation as a head coach. Trying to mold Melo into a stretch-four backfired. The Italian-American coach reveled that Carmelo more or less handed an ultimatum to the Knicks front office. When D’Antoni said he found out that Anthony was to make the franchise choose between the franchise player and head coach, he “went in and quit.” Had he stayed, it was going to be an uphill battle that D’Antoni had no chance of winning. Removing himself from the equation was the best and only option he had. He has been asked on multiple occasions about a possible second with the future Hall-of-Famer. While it has been reported that D’Antoni is fine with reuniting with Carmelo, convincing him to come off the bench (if needs be) is going to be one hell of a challenge.
Is Carmelo Anthony capable of playing off the bench? Sure, we’ve seen it for Team USA and he was more than willing to take a backseat to the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The one word answer is whether Anthony is willing to be a sixth man for the roster is…. No. He has played 1054 regular season games in his 15 seasons and he is yet to have come off the bench in any of those games. In the past years, he has repeatedly stated that he would even consider coming off the bench. Despite an abysmal playoff series against the Jazz where he scored a total of four total points in the fourth quarter for the Thunder in their 6 game series. I am not even going to look this up but I know for a fact that Rodney Hood scored more fourth quarter points in the playoffs than Anthony. And guess what, Melo is still adamant that he won’t come off the bench.
Forget a bench role, Anthony waiving his no trade clause in order to get traded to the Thunder is more than enough proof to show that he’s willing to be the third wheel to two other superstars. And he’s even more likely to work alongside with Chris Paul, one of his closest friends in the league. Nobody is suggesting that Westbrook and Anthony butted heads, but the two simply could not find a way to coalesce together. Paul is more selfless than he sometimes gets credit for and the two have gelled well together for Team USA.
So maybe Chris Paul is the key to getting the best out of Melo.
Are the Rockets better or Worse with Carmelo in the mix?
They lost two of their most versatile perimeter defenders. So it is hard to imagine that the Rockets got better as they have (so far) failed to replace Ariza’s and Mbah a Moute’s defensive dexterities. They held the league’s best record last season with 65 wins. They are among the NBA’s best in offense and defense. The eye test and metrics both prove this. And most importantly, they were a Chris Paul hamstring injury away from making the Finals and possibly winning a title that has so far eluded Paul, Harden, D’Antoni, and Morey. Adding Carmelo is a risk. He is a great locker-room guy but has a much more tumultuous history with coaches and executives. All things said and done, adding Melo with an aging Chris Paul will mean that they will not win 65 or more games. They may even struggle to win 60. The worst they will be is great. They are still the best option to dethrone the Warriors in the West.
Do I think that Carmelo Anthony will help them win a championship?
No. Their defense gets worse while their offense does not get significantly better.