Ask around among NBA executives, and the consensus is that Knicks team president Phil Jackson didn’t say anything particularly surprising on Friday when he told the media that Carmelo Anthony, “would be better off somewhere else.” But ask them if they’re prepared to take Anthony on their own rosters, and the answers almost universally come back, “Well, no …”
A contract that has two years and $53 million remaining, for a guy who will be 33 next month, will do that.
“If he were willing to keep altering his style of play, you might say yes,” one general manager said. “At his best, when he was four or five years younger, you could win if you built the team to fit what he does. They had some good teams, people forget. But at this point, at his age, it is not possible unless he becomes more of a role player — a stretch-4, a second or third option. But then you’re paying $25 million per year for a role player, and how does that help you?”
To be fair to Anthony, he has made adjustments to his game in an attempt to keep up with the times. He has had some very good seasons as a 3-point shooter (37.9 percent in 2012-13, 40.2 percent the following year), but some bum years, too (34.1 percent two years ago, 33.9 percent last year). He attempted 5.7 3-pointers per game this year, second-most in his career, and made just about the league average, 36.0 percent.
He has also been a willing power forward, playing about a third of his possessions at the 4, according to Basketball-Reference.com. Anthony was effective in that role for Team USA in the Olympics, and he has been more effective as a power forward in the NBA. According to 82games.com, Anthony had a PER of 22.6 as a power forward this season, compared with 16.4 as a small forward.
The size of his payout is imposing, but the contract is down to two years, and maybe less on the (very) slim chance that Anthony exercises his option next summer.
“I like Carmelo, I think he takes a bad rap,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “He doesn’t get in trouble, he has put up with a lot from that organization and I think a lot of guys would have lashed out by now. Give him credit for that. But anyone who brings him in has to ask, does he make your team better, looking at everything including his (salary) number? In most cases, that’s going to be no.”
ackson, remember, foresaw this. He was reluctant when he first signed Anthony to a five-year, $124 million contract in 2015. Jackson would have preferred that Anthony opt in for the final year of his contract, giving Jackson the ability to assess the team before making that level of commitment to Anthony.
Part of that commitment was a no-trade clause, which remains the big obstacle to trading Anthony. But one Western Conference executive said that the no-trade clause could, essentially, make it easier for the team acquiring Anthony.
“Well, for one thing, if he waives the no-trade, you know he is going to be OK with coming (to his new team),” a Western conference executive said. “He is not going against his will. And look at it, everyone has the Knicks over a barrel. They’re just desperate to move the guy. You are not going to have to give up much of anything to get him, just make the salaries match.”
There is no shortage of general managers around the league who are not much interested in Anthony. So, who might be?
The Clippers remain the logical destination, according to other executives, though, it should be stressed, they’re merely speculating. We’re a long way from Anthony winding up in LA. But should the team fizzle out in the postseason for the fourth straight year of Doc Rivers’ tenure, changes are sure to be made. Four Clippers starters are heading into free agency, and three of them are looking at major payouts: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick.
“That might be the best bet,” the West exec said. “I think you’d need both sides to be a little desperate, and if things don’t work out for the Clippers, they might be as desperate for changes as the Knicks.”
Another possibility: the Bulls. It’s been a disappointing season in Chicago, and some of the young assets the Bulls hoped to developed have not blossomed. But the Bulls would be in position to make the Knicks an offer, and when he was a free agent in 2014, Anthony not only visited Chicago to take their pitch, he nearly decided to sign with Bulls. Should good friend Dwyane Wade decide against opting out this summer, there could be incentive on both sides to make a Bulls move happen.
The Cavaliers? “Longshot,” one exec said. Unless LeBron James pushes for such a move, Anthony landing in Cleveland is unlikely.
In all, it is not an enviable hand that Jackson is holding, trying to deal an expensive and aging star who has the right to veto any deal and is not much wanted by the rest of the league. Jackson was not wrong to say that Anthony might be better off elsewhere. The trick, though, is to pin down where that elsewhere is.