Carmelo Anthony, the polarizing free agent-to-be who has never been to an NBA Finals, is set to hit the market. He is likely going to either return to the Knicks, who can offer the most money, or bolt to the Bulls, Rockets or Lakers. And by that I mean he’s probably either going to end up a New York Knick or a Chicago Bull.
What will Carmelo’s legacy be?
The guy who saved basketball in New York? The one who was Phil’s failed puppet? The man who brought Chicago its first title since the Jordan era? Or the player who literally dropped dead on the court due to Tom Thibodeau’s rigorous defensive system?
Everyone loves to dramatize the situation, when in reality it’s very simple.
The smartest decision Carmelo Anthony can make is to sign with the Chicago Bulls. And it really isn’t close.
The obvious is, well, obvious. Derrick Rose could be the next Penny Hardaway or the next Gary Payton; no one really knows at this point. But even if he doesn’t return to MVP status, he should still be good enough to be the second option on a championship team. Joakim Noah continues to progress each year, winning his first defensive player of the year award this year while finishing fourth in MVP voting.
Carlos Boozer will either be traded or amnestied—more likely amnestied—which would give Taj Gibson an opportunity to start alongside Noah on the frontline. That duo was lethal in 2014—Gibson and Noah-led units routinely trounced the league in fourth quarters this year, and the two allowed less than a point per possession while on the floor at the same time. That number trailed only the Indiana Pacers.
And Jimmy Butler, who would be 'Melo’s wing mate, bless his exhausted heart, is one of the top young defenders in basketball. Butler posted a defensive rating (an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions) of 100 this year, which is pretty remarkable and likely skewed negatively with all things considered. Butler guards the opponent’s best scorer each night and is really only taken out in the event of a blowout, a serious injury or when the city of Chicago witnesses a hurricane.
Anthony’s best fellow wing defender in New York? That would be Iman Shumpert, who posted a defensive rating of 108 in 2014. J.R. Smith was J.R. Smith and notched an uninspiring mark of 111, and Tim Hardaway Jr. clocked in with a rating of 114 in his rookie season. Now, all of those numbers were worse than James Harden’s this year. But to be fair, Harden has always been known as quite the defensive stalwart.
The arguments against the Bulls? They’re all out there, ranging from but not limited to the apparent fact Tom Thibodeau runs his players into the ground for mere pleasure, Anthony can make $30 million more by staying in New York and how Knicks president Phil Jackson has too many championship rings to fit exclusively on his hands.
Besides the latter, all of these points can be convincingly refuted in Chicago’s favor.
Yes, Thibodeau has been known to play his starters an unhealthy amount of minutes in the regular season. But Thibodeau is not stupid and usually ends up doing this simply by necessity. Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng have been critics’ Exhibit 1 and 1A for this argument, as they have suffered the brunt of excessive minute load under Thibs’ tutelage.
However, Butler played the exact same amount of minutes per game, 38.7, that Anthony did in 2014. But how hard he worked in those minutes is a more telling reflection of the wear and tear a Thibodeau player typically endures on a nightly basis, so it is important to look at the actual distance a player travels in each game.
Butler traveled 2.7 miles per game according to data provided to NBA.com by SportVU, tied with Chandler Parsons for the most in the NBA. This number makes sense, as Butler chases around the best scorer on the opposition all game long and plays a heavy minute load. So in this case it makes more sense to compare Anthony to Mike Dunleavy, since Anthony would hypothetically be playing the same position and be given the same defensive assignments Dunleavy was.
Dunleavy traveled 3.6 miles per 48 minutes (using per 48 minutes because Dunleavy plays less minutes than Anthony and Butler) this year, good for 61st in the NBA. This load is much more tolerable for Anthony, and could wind up being even less than Dunleavy’s, seeing as how much the former Duke Blue Devil moves without the ball on offense. Anthony will have the ball in his hands or will be posting up the majority of the time on that end anyway, which is likely to reduce an already reasonable workload.
Next is the aura of Phil Jackson. Jackson is reported to have his mind set on Steve Kerr becoming the Knicks’ next head coach. Whether the feeling is mutual is to be determined, but for the sake of argument, let’s say it is. Even so, the Knicks are coming off a 37-win season in which their roster will likely be in tact for 2014-15. Eight players from the 2013-14 squad are under contract for 2014-15, and the Knicks are nowhere near being under the salary cap and do not own this year’s lottery pick in the best draft since, you guessed it, 2003. But hey, at least Andrea Bargnani was worth it. *Insert Knicks fan face palm emoji*
Within reason, what can Jackson do? For this year, the answer is nothing. He can make a coaching change and pray for the best, but that’s about it.
Kerr might work out, he might not. His general managing stint with the Suns was so-so and he has no head coaching experience. It would be foolish to suggest Kerr will automatically fail because of those two notions, but it also would be foolish to say he is going to fix the misguided, talented Knicks roster on a whim.
Anthony is not getting any younger. So to those who use that meaningless cliche on a regular basis, Anthony is, in fact, getting older. Just like every mortal being is.
The Eastern Conference, however, might not ever be as inept in the future as it is right now. Outside of the Heat, who have their fair share of flaws themselves, the argument could be made that every Western Conference playoff team is superior to the other seven Eastern Conference playoff teams next year.
All of Brooklyn’s starters have seen better days. Indiana is reeling, might lose unrestricted free agent Lance Stephenson in the offseason and could hardly survive the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, as Roy Hibbert’s talent seems to lie on Moron Mountain with the Monstars. Washington and Toronto are on the rise, but would either of them be able to contend with a of a core consisting of Anthony, Rose, Noah and Gibson (the latter three of which are younger than 30) on a nightly basis?
Spoiler alert: not a chance.
Now, that’s not to say the East is going to be terrible forever. If the 2014 draft class is as good as advertised, four of the five and seven of the top 10 Eastern Conference teams picking in those slots should all benefit from the talented crop in the future. Washington and Toronto are a year or two and a marquee player away from being championship contenders. Coincidentally, these things will probably transpire around the same time the Knicks would be able to start fresh and clear some cap space, and the playing fields will likely be far more level between the East and West than they will be in 2014-15.
Lastly, money talks. After amnestying Boozer, the Bulls would still be able to offer around $15 million to Anthony in his first year if they keep Gibson, and it would behoove them to do so. Anthony could make $30 million more in New York than with any new team he signs with, though reports indicate Jackson would like 'Melo to take a pay cut.
What folks fail to realize is the NBA is the sport in which actual basketball salary for star players is the most trivial.
The real money is in shoes. In some cases, anyway. Derrick Rose signed a $260 million contract with Adidas over 14 years, earning him roughly the same yearly salary as his contract with the Bulls nets him. The same goes for LeBron James with Nike and Dwyane Wade with Li-Ning. Anthony’s shoe deal isn’t quite as gaudy as those three—he makes roughly nine million per year in his deal with the Jordan brand. The difference between $15 million and $20 million is one thing. But the difference between $25 million and $30 million? Really?
Tell you what, Mr. Anthony. Chi Town’s finest pizza joints will be sure to pick up the rest of that tab in endorsements if you bring a few championship rings to the Windy City.
Let the games after the actual games begin.