It's easy to assume that adding Carmelo Anthony without sacrificing any pieces of the Big Three would make the Miami Heat the most dangerous team in the recent history of the NBA. Or something like that.
However, that would be a faulty assumption.
In fact, Miami—who is rumored to be chasing Melo this offseason, per ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein—would actually be making a mistake if it went after the superstar who spent the 2013-14 season trying to keep the New York Knicks afloat.
Big names don't win championships. They help, of course, but teams earn titles, as the San Antonio Spurs are currently teaching the Heat during the NBA Finals.
Melo, despite his status as a top-10 player in the Association, might make the Heat a better team. But signing him would also financially cripple the organization, even looking past the fact that the current stars of South Beach would have to take major pay cuts.
There are other methods of roster improvement that would have far better results, and that's why Miami must avoid the Anthony temptation, even as so many teams are expected to chase him this summer.
Too Many Players, Too Few Touches
Sharing the ball is difficult when there are multiple stars playing for the same team, and it would become extremely complicated if Melo were just added to the Big Three rather than replacing one of the pieces already in place.
There are multiple ways to look at this, depending on whether you want to analyze possession-finishing touches or just touches in general.
Let's begin with the former, looking at usage rate and assist percentage, per Basketball-Reference.com:
|Usage Rate||Assist Percentage|
Usage rate shows those possession-finishing plays, but it doesn't incorporate passes that lead to baskets. That's what the latter stat does, as it reveals the percentage of made shots by teammates who were assisted by the player in question when he's on the court.
During the 2013-14 season, there were 61 players in the NBA who had a usage rate above 22 percent while scoring more than 15 points per game (to account for time on the court). Only a handful of teams had three qualified players on the list.
Fewer still had three without extenuating circumstances.
The Atlanta Hawks had Al Horford (24.7), Jeff Teague (25.7) and Paul Millsap (25.7), though the torn pectoral suffered by Horford basically disqualifies them. After all, that allowed the other usage rates to skyrocket later in the season.
Klay Thompson (22.6), David Lee (24.3) and Stephen Curry (28.3) all qualified for the Golden State Warriors, and the Los Angeles Clippers boasted the services of Jamal Crawford (27.2), Chris Paul (23.7) and Blake Griffin (29.0). Then again, Crawford often came off the bench, so we're not talking about a trio in the starting lineup.
The Minnesota Timberwolves—Kevin Martin (25.0), Nikola Pekovic (22.9) and Kevin Love (28.8)—qualify legitimately, but that's about it.
Technically, the New Orleans Pelicans are one of the squads, but Eric Gordon (23.2), Ryan Anderson (22.9) and Anthony Davis (25.2) were all injured at various points and barely ever played together. Such is the case for the Phoenix Suns as well, as Eric Bledsoe (24.9) missed much of the season and didn't play alongside Goran Dragic (24.5) and Gerald Green (23.6).
So essentially, the Heat, Dubs and 'Wolves are the only three squads that had three high-usage starters remain healthy for most of the year. And of those nine starters, LeBron James had by far the highest usage rate while Wade was right up near the top of the eligible players.
That seems shaky.
But let's also look at touches themselves, per NBA.com's SportVU databases:
|Touches per Game||Rank||Time of Possession per Game||Rank|
|Carmelo Anthony||69.2||No. 45||3.6 minutes||No. 62|
|Chris Bosh||50.1||No. 115||1.1 minutes||No. 253|
|LeBron James||75.6||No. 28||4.9 minutes||No. 37|
|Dwyane Wade||58.5||No. 74||3.3 minutes||No. 74|
Those numbers may not seem exorbitantly high, but they are. Especially seeing as not one of the aforementioned players suits up at point guard, which automatically depresses the number of touches.
The four stars combine for 253.4 touches per game. To put that in perspective, Miami used 404.5 touches per game during the 2013-14 season, so that's more than half the touches coming from just four players.
That doesn't happen. It shouldn't happen.
It can't happen.
The result would be unnecessary sacrifices from everyone involved. And keep in mind that Miami already struggles to feed the rock to everyone on a consistent basis, as evidenced by these NBA Finals.
Chris Bosh offensive touches Game 1: 39 Game 2: 40 Game 3: 12— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 11, 2014
I’m not gonna make this about me; this is about the team. When we move the ball side to side, everybody touches the ball. We all have to be a part of it, and I’m a major part of it. If the ball’s not moving side to side, we’re all gonna suffer. I’m gonna suffer, too.
I had my opportunities and I was in the right places, but it wasn’t going from side to side. Against a good defensive team like that, you’re helping them if you don’t move it.
What happens when Melo is thrown into the mix?
You're looking at even more irritation, even more sacrifices and even more struggles to develop any sort of offensive flow. Miami's offense might devolve back into what it was when the Big Three initially formed, as Wade and James were grappling for control of the ball and often alternating possessions.
It wasn't until Miami learned to play together that it made the 2010-11 season—the one in which it fell to the Dallas Mavericks—nothing more than a distant memory, even if the temporal gap wasn't that large.
And the adjustment after acquiring Anthony would be even tougher than that one.
Need for Depth, Not Another Star
Signing Anthony and adding more depth are mutually exclusive strategies.
There's not enough cap space for both courses of action, which means the Heat must prioritize. Given the fact that the Big Three have proved more than capable of carrying the squad throughout the season, it's the latter that should be much higher on the totem pole.
And that's saying nothing of addressing the primary roster needs in a more specific sense. Tom Ziller of SBNation.com elaborates on that:
Miami is weak in two areas: point guard dependability and interior defense. Mario Chalmers will be a free agent, and chances are Miami would need to renounce its Bird rights on him to free up space for Anthony. Norris Cole has $2 million due next season. Cole is a nice piece and Chalmers is overly maligned, but that position, not the combo forward slot, is the shallow one on the Heat. At center, Bosh holds it down almost full-time now, but he struggles against certain opponents with girth or excellent post skills (he's really struggled with Tim Duncan in the pivot). Chris Andersen is the team's only shot blocker, and he's the team's second-oldest player and a potential free agent. Greg Oden lurks in the background, and Miami could always take a spin with Andrew Bynum. But again, Melo doesn't really help in this category.
Not only would adding Melo be avoiding addressing a weakness to shore up a strength, but it would also ignore the team's dire need for higher-quality depth, depth that can be relied upon during the most crucial parts of the season while helping LeBron and the other stars avoid undue fatigue.
One of the major reasons Miami advanced to four consecutive NBA Finals—winning two of them, barring a historic turnaround against the Spurs—was the quality of the bench that Pat Riley assembled for James and Co.
Ray Allen was able to do this:
The guard rotation was competent, thanks to Norris Cole's flat-top energetic defense and occasional offensive bursts. Practically everyone coming off the pine could shoot triples, with the exception of the energetic Chris Andersen, and that helped space the court for Miami's drive-and-kick offensive desires.
These benches have been constructed brilliantly for the most part, but the current one has disappointed.
Michael Beasley and Greg Oden proved to be offseason misfires, failing to add anything to the cause. Toney Douglas has only received time in the Finals out of sheer desperation, as Erik Spoelstra was searching for a spark once Game 4 was already out of hand. His other minutes came in garbage time.
And with Shane Battier declining rapidly and the rest of the bench struggling, it's been too much for LeBron to overcome, especially with Wade failing to look like, well, Wade.
This has to be the priority, and it's actually a relatively easy priority for the Heat.
If Miami still wants to upgrade the starting lineup, it can do so by having the Big Three opt out and re-sign for less money and then signing a quality starter for less money than Anthony would demand. Trevor Ariza and Luol Deng could be potential options here, for example.
But even if the bench is the sole focus, the options are nearly unlimited. What veteran isn't going to take his talents to South Beach on a minimum contract? So long as James, Wade and Bosh are in place, that vet would be playing with a core that has advanced to the Finals four times in a row.
Should the Heat pursue Carmelo Anthony?
Only Cole is guaranteed to be under contract heading into the offseason, so Riley can completely re-tool this bench. No longer do the veterans have to be washed-up versions of their old selves; they can now be added because they can still contribute, thereby easing the wear and tear on the superstars.
LeBron in particular has looked exhausted against San Antonio. Wade appears to be only a shell of his former self. Helping those two carry some of the immense burden would be highly beneficial.
Far more beneficial than inserting Anthony into the mix, in fact.