As expected, Carmelo Anthony opted in to the last year of his deal and will make just a little shy of $30 million dollars in the 2018-19 season, the 16th of his career. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that this is the last of the Melo grand paydays. From here on out, it is the mid-level exception or minimum deals because he is a player who has lost his impact. He is a star who has met the end of his career. He is average and often, as was witnessed in OKC last season, he was irrelevant. He wasn’t the difference maker in winning and losing except a few throw back Melo games.
A long time ago when Carmelo was with Denver, his best friends LeBron James and Dwyane Wade wanted to clue Melo in to their plan. Accept a three year extension and not the five year. Be a free agent in 2010 and together go to the same team, the three amigos. Though it hadn’t been done before as a strategy executed from the brains of players, it was going to change the economics and power. While helping in the short term the careers of James, Wade and Anthony, it would have an effect on the league itself and how players negotiate and how much they ask for, and why. But Anthony said no. Anthony wanted the money in that fourth and fifth year. He has always wanted the money.
When he was a free agent in the summer of 2014 and Houston was pursuing him and Los Angeles was pursuing him, Phil Jackson had Melo figured out. He knew two things mattered more than winning. Stability and money. He gave Melo a no-trade clause to appease him on the former. And he gift wrapped the max deal to make Melo feel appreciated.
Four years later, it is the same place but a totally different city. Stability for one more year and money to make Melo feel appreciated.
If Melo wins a title- it won’t be with OKC- it will be because in the last year(s) of his career he is making minimum money and coming off the bench for 17 minutes. When that day comes he will have to reconcile the Melo ego with the Melo game deteriorating the way that it has.
If he doesn’t win a title and hunts for paydays like Dwight Howard, history will remember him as an offensive specialist who lacked leadership intangibles and defensive interest. He was a scorer who just wanted to score. He was not compulsive about winning, as his friends Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are.
But OKC fans don’t care about the Melo psyche. They see their team’s cap being destroyed by a player who last season gave them 16 points and not much else. More importantly, the $27 million is taking away from bench help the Thunder desperately need.
You can’t build a championship contender with the 1% and the working poor. There must be a middle class. The money has to be balanced. Someone has to take less. When LeBron, Wade and Bosh got together, only Bosh took the max deal. LeBron and Wade took less to get more. For OKC, the pressure is now on Paul George to take less so the Thunder can acquire better talent. But if the Thunder offer George less, they have erased the leverage they have over the Lakers.
As for the Carmelo career. There is no arguing the math. Career low numbers across the board: shots made, shots taken, assists, points, 40% field goals. He barely went to the line, not even two times a game when he averages 5.6 for his career. His PER was 12.7, eight points less than the 20.3 it was two seasons earlier, which is the problem with this version of Carmelo Anthony.
It’s not that he had a bad year. Players have bad years when they come to a new team and are still trying to figure out how to fit in. It’s that his numbers are cratering every year. His field goal percentage in 2013-14 was 45%. The next season it was 44%. Then 43% in 2015-16. He duplicated that the next season and last season’s 40% for one of the league’s premiere scorers tells you everything you need to know about Carmelo. His saving grace is his three ball is still functional. If he didn’t have that, he wouldn’t have anything. Like Joe Johnson, he’d be buried on the bench.
Naturally, he has been the target of OKC rage. But it’s the lazy analysis to lay it all on the money. It’s not the money per se. Fans don’t care how much money players make. They care about if they earn their money and if they can deliver on the promise. What fans care more about than the money is if the highly compensated player puts team ahead of money.
Carmelo’s insistence that he won’t go to the bench reminds everyone about the Melo bio. He’s selfish. He’s selfish. Dude is selfish.
If he really cared about team and if he was desperate to win, he would take less so the Thunder could acquire players that are critical for a championship contender.
Lamar Odom. Manu Ginobli. Pau Gasol. Zach Randolph. Andre Iguodala. They are impact players who came off the bench to make their team better.
Had Melo gone to Sam Presti and said I will opt-out to help the Thunder with flexibility but I want a two year deal guaranteed for $16 million, Presti might have said no but the Thunder fans would see Carmelo in a different light. Team first. City first. Willing to compromise.
As it is, it feels a lot like Melo, Denver and Melo, New York. Eat first. Think about team later. Repeat. Eat first. Think about team later. Repeat. Eat first. Think about team later.