With ‘Melo on his way out of OKC, where might he end up?

In case you didn’t get to watch too many Oklahoma City Thunder games this past NBA season, you didn’t miss much from former All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony. The soon-to-be 16-year veteran posted career-lows in points (16.2), field goal percentage (40.4%) and assists (1.3) per game in his one (and apparently only) season with the Thunder. It was evident throughout the year that Anthony was not the hand-in-glove fit many imagined he’d be playing as the third option to Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Despite many fans and media personalities suggesting Anthony should come off the bench during the season, he shot that idea down before the season even started:

After he opted into a $27.9 million price tag for the upcoming 2018-19 season, reports were published stating the Thunder planned to move on from the 34-year-old Anthony at some point this summer. Whether that comes in the form of a stretch provision (explained here), a trade to a non-contender and a subsequent release of Anthony or a straight up buyout, no one is sure yet. One thing seems to be certain though: Carmelo Anthony will not be suiting up for the Oklahoma City Thunder come opening night. With Anthony in the fold, OKC’s combined payroll and luxury tax bill projects to be a bit over $300 million (an NBA record). Moving on from Anthony would not only allow Billy Donovan and his two stars (Westbrook & George) to play their fast-paced style of basketball, but it would also shave some money off one of the worst cap situations the league has ever seen. With that said, which teams would make the most sense for Anthony moving forward?

Houston Rockets

This one has been talked about for over a year. The Houston Rockets were one of the primary teams lining up for Anthony’s services a summer ago. James Harden endorsed that potential acquisition then, but it remains to be seen if he still feels the same way after watching Anthony’s mediocre season with OKC. With much (if not all) of its remaining cap space tied up with restricted free agent Clint Capela, Houston cannot offer Anthony much more than the veteran minimum of ~$2.4 million. The midlevel taxpayer exception of $5.3 million is also an option if Houston elected to take that route. Salary may not be a huge deal to Anthony at this point, especially if Oklahoma City stretches out or buys out his current contract. What makes Houston the most attractive option on this list is the chance to win immediately and the potential for consistent, plentiful playing time.

With forward Trevor Ariza departing Houston in free agency and signing a one-year contract with the Phoenix Suns, the Rockets are in need of a SF. Despite Anthony spending more of his time at PF lately, the relatively interchangeable nature of the positions in today’s NBA shouldn’t make that too big of an issue. Starting job? Check. Playing alongside James Harden and Chris Paul (who is one of Anthony’s best friends) would present a situation similar to what he was in last year with Westbrook and George. The plus is that if Paul was healthy for the end of the 2018 Western Conference Finals, Houston very well could have found itself in the NBA Finals. Play for a winner? Check. Because Houston would offer Anthony the most playing time and the best opportunity to win, it stands firmly atop this list.

Los Angeles Lakers

Los Angeles is currently a popular destination for players from the 2003 draft class who want to not only set themselves up for future on-court success but also off-the-court business opportunities (just ask LeBron James). Joining one of his closest friends in LA and helping shape the young Lakers may be an attractive idea to Anthony. With about $5 million in remaining cap room, Los Angeles can offer him the same amount of money as the Rockets. The opportunity to win is always there in some capacity with James on your team, but it doesn’t come with anywhere near the confidence Anthony would feel if he joined Paul and Harden. Another thing that could deter Anthony from taking his talents to LA is… well… playing time.

With James, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram (last two are interchangeable) slotted to be the first three options at forward this year, Anthony would undoubtedly find himself a few rungs down on the playing time ladder. When factoring in Lance Stephenson and Luol Deng (for now), it complicates the equation that much more. A logjam at both forward positions forces Anthony to see the bigger picture and take a backseat in order to contribute to the team’s success. Although LA could put Anthony in a position to win both on and off the court, it simply isn’t as much of a sure thing as Houston.

Miami Heat

Pat Riley always seems to get the Heat’s foot in the door with almost every big-name free agent (see Durant, Kevin and Hayward, Gordon). Miami is notorious for taking veterans in, showing them the Heat way of training and nutrition, then seeing a small resurgence or sustained level of play on the court. Also, who wouldn’t love to live in Miami for a season? While all of this sounds nice, Miami has no cap room and, similar to Los Angeles, has a complete and utter logjam at both forward spots.

Josh Richardson, Justice Winslow, James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk currently occupy four of the team’s slots at either SF or PF. That’s without Wayne Ellington returning or Dwyane Wade deciding to play one more season, potentially making Dion Waiters spend some of his time as an undersized small forward. Oh yeah, Derrick Jones Jr. might warrant some minutes in 2018 as well. There are just lots of bodies and a finite amount of playing time to go around. In addition to that, the Heat are far from a Finals contender and would likely be selling Anthony on lifestyle over a first-round exit in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Miami is fun, as is potentially playing with Dwyane Wade, but Miami would struggle to put Anthony where he wants to be the most: the court.

Wrap-Up

These aren’t the only teams who have (or will) show interest in Anthony this summer. There are plenty of under-the-radar squads that will attempt to court the veteran. He can still be a positive contributor to a team at this point in his career, but it will require him to do some serious staring in the mirror. Carmelo Anthony is no longer the offensive juggernaut he once was. He’s lost athleticism and is a defensive liability. Joining a contender and playing in a reserve role for the veteran minimum pay might be what we see Anthony do in the next couple months. Perhaps he’ll slide into a starting lineup somewhere and revive his career to some degree. We’ve seen stranger things happen. Here’s to hoping this situation is resolved sooner rather than later.


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