When he was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder last summer, Carmelo Anthony’s career suddenly was granted a reprieve. Sure, playing in New York afforded Melo visibility and a certain kind of status, but it had been four years since Melo’s Knicks had even sniffed the playoffs.
No longer would he be playing for a clueless franchise whose team president went out of his way to denigrate his game and blame him for the team’s failures. As a veteran with a no-trade clause, the deal required his sign-off. Melo not only agreed, he also waived his $8 million trade kicker.
He would finally be with a stable franchise, and surrounded by veteran All-Stars like Russell Westbrook and Paul George. This was a chance to refresh his career and finally play some meaningful postseason basketball. Like a lot of things, it looked pretty good on paper.
OKC Melo was supposed to provide everything Olympic Melo offered: a smallball stretch four who would provide spacing for Westbrook and George to attack the basket. His defensive deficiencies would be masked thanks to rugged Steven Adams along with PG and Andre Roberson on the wing. All he had to do was make shots and rebound.
Instead, it was a difficult transition for Melo, who has always seen himself as a superstar, even if it’s not at all clear that he ever truly was one. Throughout the season, Anthony batted away suggestions that he should come off the bench or sublimate his game to accommodate Westbrook and George. He never really took to his role as third option and Roberson’s season-ending injury gutted what had been a promising defense.
Melo missed the All-Star Game for the first time in a decade and was never a serious contender for a spot. In the playoffs, he was even worse and was unplayable at times in a first-round loss to Utah. His most memorable playoff moment with the Thunder was arguing with assistant coach Mo Cheeks on the bench. It was a disappointing end to a frustrating season, and Melo sounded off in his exit interview.
“I think the player that they wanted me to be and needed me to be was for the sake of this season,” Anthony told reporters. “Should I say, because it was just so — like I said, everything was just thrown together, and it wasn’t anything that was planned out. It wasn’t no strategy to me being here, me being a part of the actual system and what type of player and things like that.”
The whole point of adding Melo and George was to convince Westbrook to sign an extension and on that count, last season was still a success. Westbrook agreed to a new deal before the season started, and George re-upped early in free agency. With those two on board, Melo became a sunk cost.
The trouble was that cost was considerable and pushed the Thunder deep into the luxury tax. With an additional year left on his deal, and a massive tax bill looming, it’s not surprising that OKC has decided to move on from the Melo experiment. He still has a no-trade clause, although there’s absolutely nothing tying him to Brick City.
It remains to be seen if the Thunder can actually get anything for Melo, who is owed almost $28 million next season. OKC general manager Sam Presti could try to get him off the books in a salary dump to a team that would presumably waive him, or Presti could simply do it himself using the stretch provision and absorb the cost.
No doubt somebody will come calling. Perhaps Houston, who has been linked to Melo pursuits in the past. The Rockets have a hole on the wing thanks to Trevor Ariza’s departure. The Lakers would seem to be a natural fit, although their cap space is already accounted for and like Houston, they’d have to wait for a buyout.
Portland: Sure, why not? Melo has never seemed too interested in the Pacific Northwest, but perhaps he’d be swayed by Portlandia’s weird vibe if he gave it a chance. The Heat would offer a chance to team up with Dwyane Wade in pursuit of … something.
So, Melo is once again at a career crossroads. If he can accept the kind of player that he is at this stage of his career, his considerable skill could still be an asset for a team with championship hopes.
That was the hope last season too. It’s really up to Anthony now. His reprieve is over.