Carmelo Anthony's future is no more certain today than it was before the Dallas Mavericks made a trade in the 48 hours leading up to the 2014 NBA draft, but Mark Cuban's organization is already starting to loom as an even better—and more likely—destination for the high-scoring forward.
As ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman reported, the Mavs completed a trade with the New York Knicks, one that brought Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Big D in exchange for Jose Calderon and a few other semi-valuable assets:
On the surface level, this is a hard deal to explain.
The Knicks may well be getting the best player involved (Calderon), but they're doing so at the expense of financial flexibility in the future. At least they're getting below the apron, potentially in an attempt to set themselves up for some sort of return in a sign-and-trade deal if Melo does decide to leave New York.
And that departure has to be the hope in Dallas.
By acquiring Chandler, the Mavericks are moving firmly into "win now" mode, setting themselves up to have quite the potent lineup if Anthony decides to take his talents to the Western Conference and suit up for a certain squad that now features a few of his former teammates.
"While Dallas was given long-shot odds before the trade to land Anthony, it stands to be an even tougher sell now because to fit him into available cap space once Nowitzki signs his new deal will require Anthony to accept a significant pay cut," reports NBA.com's Jeff Caplan.
However, when has Anthony given any indication that he was dead set on taking a max deal?
As Jim Boeheim, Melo's former coach at Syracuse, told ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell, he might be more than willing to take that pay cut that Caplan references:
In my opinion he wants to win. I think that's the bottom line. He realizes that this is his peak, three or four years ahead, where's the best place to go and win? I think he'll take a little less money. I don't think that's that big of an issue. Obviously money is important to all of us. There's not many people in the media or any place else that take a better job if they're an extra 20 percent or 30 percent -- and it's still a good situation. Not many people turn those things down. But I think Carmelo wants to win, I think he wants to get into a place where he feels they have a legitimate chance to win. And I think that will be the driving [force], the thing that drives his decision. But obviously he's enjoyed New York, he likes his time there. But I think he wants to win.
Dallas is now one of those places where he could win.
The Mavericks already pushed the San Antonio Spurs to the brink during this past offseason, becoming the only squad that really gave the eventual champions too much trouble before they systematically destroyed the two-time defending champs. Now they're leaving no doubt about entering into that aforementioned "win now" mode.
"Melo has agreed to at least sit down with Dallas," writes Caplan, "which now has the 31-year-old Chandler to help woo his former teammate to his former team."
The appeal now starts with Anthony's former teammate. But it doesn't end there.
Playing Alongside Chandler
As ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley explained in the immediate aftermath of the offseason's first trade, Anthony has to be thinking about the impact of the man who anchored the Knicks defense—when healthy—over the past few seasons:
It’s worth noting, though, that Anthony and Chandler were close. Still, Anthony had to look at Chandler’s situation and realize that he wasn’t a part of the team’s long-term future. So the notion of Chandler not being around next season shouldn’t sway Anthony greatly -- in terms of his views on re-signing with the Knicks -- one way or another.
For Dallas, it's good news that the two were close, though the past tense verb is rather interesting there. Why wouldn't they still be close?
However, the rest of that excerpt is troubling...if it's true.
With the Knicks, Chandler wasn't a long-term difference-maker. It's important to realize that Begley is writing about New York's hopes of retaining Melo in the wake of this swap, so his perspective is far different than the one I'm using.
And, counterintuitive as it may seem, Chandler can simultaneously not aid New York's pursuit while doing wonders for Dallas'. This is because he makes the team immediately competitive while still having a contract that expires soon, and he gives the Mavericks a chance to pursue marquee free agents next summer.
Having a dominant defensive big man acting as the second line is highly beneficial, as Anthony has learned throughout his time with the Knicks. And that's exactly the role that Chandler fills when he's healthy, swatting away the shots of smaller players who find their way into the paint and serving as a roll threat on the offensive end.
Back maladies, leg injuries and overall health problems prevented the now 31-year-old big man from playing up to his full capabilities throughout the 2013-14 season, but he still made both Melo and the Knicks, as a whole, better when he was on the court.
According to NBA.com's statistical databases, Anthony's scoring declined by 0.8 points per 36 minutes when he was accompanied by the big man, but he still managed to post better overall numbers:
|Melo Affected by Chandler|
That slight decline in field-goal percentage is more than canceled out by the marksmanship from beyond the arc, which comes on an additional 1.3 attempts per contest. When Chandler is on the court, he's such a dangerous finisher that he sucks in defenses, leaving them unable to close out on Anthony quite as often.
But is this new? Flukes can be maintained over the course of a single season, especially when there's as much turmoil and turnover as there was in Madison Square Garden.
Thing is, the 2012-13 campaign showed a similar story unfolding, except there was an even bigger disparity:
|Melo Affected by Chandler, One Year Earlier|
Once more, the shooting percentage from beyond the arc comes while letting fly more often—one time more often per game, in fact.
At this point, there shouldn't be any doubt that Anthony is statistically better when he's playing alongside Chandler, and the numbers don't show how much his presence aids Melo's defense out on the perimeter and in one-on-one situations from the blocks.
Plus, the Knicks are much better as a whole.
In 2012-13, the team outscored its opponents by an additional 2.7 points when Melo and Chandler were both on the court, as opposed to when only the former was there. In 2013-14, that number checked in at an additional 2.5.
This isn't just about Chandler, though.
Anthony would likely see a similar effect no matter which defensively oriented center was joining him on a roster.
But the Chandler trade shifted the landscape. No longer do the Knicks have that defensive presence at the 5-spot, and the Mavericks now have one. Samuel Dalembert simply doesn't qualify at this stage of his career, and the Knicks don't have the financial means to remedy that at any point during the current offseason.
Of the seven teams presumably in the lead for Anthony's services—the Bulls, Rockets, Mavericks, Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks—only the first three can now boast such a stellar second line of defense.
Ridiculous Offensive Capabilities
With Chandler anchoring the Dallas defense, the Mavericks no longer have to be quite as worried about their porosity on the less glamorous end of the floor. That was ultimately the downfall of the 2013-14 bunch, as it allowed 108.7 points per 100 possessions, the No. 22 mark in the league according to Basketball-Reference.com.
No playoff team was worse at preventing buckets.
Instead, it was offense that carried this team.
That doesn't change with Chandler on the floor. Well, it doesn't change negatively, as the Mavericks now have an even more dangerous roll threat, one who should also help create easier opportunities for Dirk Nowitzki, just as he did for Anthony over the last few years.
But can you imagine the scoring capabilities of a Dallas lineup that added Melo without sacrificing any more pieces to the promising puzzle?
"He can score with the best of them," Nowitzki told Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears about the forward who averaged 27.4 points per game in 2013-14. "If that's really a possibility, than we'd love to have him."
It really is a possibility.
The Mavericks could very well enter the next campaign starting Raymond Felton, Monta Ellis, Anthony, Nowitzki and Chandler. It's a five-man unit that isn't missing anything other than a dominant point guard, though Ellis' ball-handling skills will likely relegate the former New York floor general to more of an off-guard role.
Anthony is the versatile scorer who can drop the ball through the net from anywhere on the court. Whether he's firing away from downtown, working with his ridiculously difficult mid-range jumpers or thriving in the post, he's going to put up points.
Nowitzki is one of the best shooters of all time, and it's a skill he hasn't seen decline with age. Father Time himself couldn't keep the German 7-footer from averaging 21.7 points per game while falling just shy of the 50/40/90 club.
As for Ellis, he's the slashing threat who makes everything come together. When he's aggressively attacking the basket and keeping his head up to look for kick-out opportunities, defensive systems are completely compromised. Despite his ball-hog reputation, Ellis has always posted pretty solid assist numbers, just as he did last year by averaging 5.7 per game for Dallas.
Losing Calderon hurts, but the downgrade to Felton is more than remedied by adding Chandler and Anthony, assuming Melo actually takes a pay cut and joins the Mavs. By scoring 111.2 points per 100 possessions in 2013-14, per Basketball-Reference.com, Dallas finished the season trailing only the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers in offensive rating.
It would be even better if the offseason plan comes together.
One source said the Mavericks improved their bargaining position with James or Anthony.
The thinking is that a front line of Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler and either James or Anthony would be as formidable as any in the NBA. That also would make it more likely that veterans, who are looking to position themselves with a team that has legitimate championship aspirations, would choose the Mavericks.
At the very least, it’s a far better sales pitch to free agents than saying your front line begins and ends with Nowitzki.
The offensive capabilities were always going to be there, but now defense is being added into the equation.
As a result, the Mavericks have to move up in the rankings of teams pursuing Anthony.
That said, there's still quite a bit of time left before the forward has to make his free-agency decision, and there are plenty of stellar options.
New York is home. The Lakers offer him a shot at individual glory, as he'd take over the "face of the franchise" role Kobe Bryant has occupied for over a decade once the Mamba laced up his sneakers for the final time. The Rockets and Bulls are both fantastic options from a system and teammate perspective.
Atlanta and Miami are long-shots, but Dallas no longer belongs in that group.
It's time to start viewing the Mavericks as serious contenders for Anthony's services.