Signing Carmelo Anthony to a Max Deal Will Be a Large Risk for Any Organization

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistJune 23, 2014

New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony (7) looks on as he sits on the bench in the second quarter during an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz Monday, March 31, 2014, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

Carmelo Anthony will inform the New York Knicks of his decision to opt out of the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent Monday, according to Marc Stein of ESPN New York.

Anthony would have earned $23.33 million with the Knicks during the 2014-15 season, but under the NBA’s maximum contract rules he is now eligible to sign a deal with the Knicks worth $129 million over the next five years, or a $95.89 million four-year deal with another team.

While Anthony has immediately become one of the hottest commodities on the NBA free-agent market this offseason, here are three reasons why teams should be wary of signing Anthony to a four-year maximum contract.

1)      Maximum Contract Risks

Anthony is coming off the best two seasons of his career in terms of offensive production.

So, any team interested in signing Anthony on the free-agent market will likely be required to offer the seven-time All-Star the maximum contract available, which would be a four-year deal worth $95.89 million.

As we have seen time and time again in the NBA, signing a player to a max contract is a substantial risk to any organization because it locks that organization into paying a player an amount of money that could completely handcuff it for several years should that player fail to produce in a manner they had expected.  

Amar’e Stoudemire is a perfect example of this. The Knicks signed him to a five-year $99.7 million contract back in 2010, and Stoudemire was never able to perform as the Knicks had planned due in large part to a series of unfortunate injuries.

Stoudemire’s contract handcuffed the Knicks for the past four years, and the organization was never able to bring in another big-time free agent to replace the offensive production they had lost with Stoudemire.

In the end, Stoudemire’s contract was the single largest reason why the Knicks had been unable to contend for an NBA title during the past four seasons despite Anthony putting up big-time offensive numbers.

A max contract is a substantial risk for an organization when signing any player, but that risk becomes exponentially more pronounced when offering a max contract to a 30-year-old athlete such as Anthony, as will be covered in more detail later in this article.

2)      Poor Defense

Anthony has always been a below-average defender at best.

He has had a defensive rating of 108 during each of the past two seasons while his career defensive rating is 107.

That is significantly higher than many of the league’s top defenders, who typically have ratings around 95 and 96.

Anthony’s defensive troubles can be partially attributed to a lack of skill and poor fundamentals. But what should be most concerning to teams looking to sign Anthony is that his poor defense can also be largely attributed to a lack of effort, as seen in portions of this five-minute video clip from the 2012-13 season.

BETH A. KEISER/Associated Press

It is, of course, possible for a team to win an NBA title with at least one poor defender on the floor, especially when that defender is averaging 27 points per game on the offensive side.

However, Anthony will turn 31 years old during the 2014-15 NBA season. This means that not only will Anthony’s defensive skills deteriorate in the coming years as he ages, but his offensive production, which used to be enough to make up for his poor defensive, will almost certainly decline as well.

3)      A Decline in Offensive Production

Although the past two seasons have been Anthony’s best in terms of offensive production, at the age of 30 he is well beyond the point where most NBA players begin to decline.

David Berri, who has done extensive research on this topic for books such as Stumbling on Wins and Wages of Wins, concluded that most NBA players will peak before the age of 27, with the majority of players peaking at the age of 24 and then beginning to decline after the age of 25.  

According to Berri, an NBA player’s performance will on average decrease by 17 percent between the ages of 30 and 31, 22 percent between the ages of 31 and 32, 35 percent between the ages of 32 and 33, and 57 percent between the ages of 33 and 34.

A 2009 study by Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus also found that while at least 50 percent of NBA players show improvement each year between the ages of 20 and 26, less than four out of every 10 players show improvement between the ages of 30 and 34.

According to Nate Sliver of fivethirtyeight.com, first-round NBA drafts picks improve significantly during their first and second years in the league in terms of the number of wins they produce. The number of wins produced by these top drafts picks then remains relatively stagnant from year three to eight before declining dramatically after their eighth year in the league.

This type of decline after the age of 30 can also be seen in virtually every NBA scoring leader since 1985.

Dominique Wilkins, who won the NBA scoring title during the 1985-86 season, saw a six percent decrease in his points-per-game production after the age of 30 when compared to his level of offensive productivity between the ages of 26 and 30.

David Robinson saw his points-per-game average decrease by nearly 32 percent between the ages of 31 and 34.

Shaquille O'Neal’s scoring production decreased by 24.50 percent after the age of 30 when compared to his points-per-game production between the ages of 20 and 30.

Allen Iverson’s scoring production decreased by 19 percent between the ages of 31 and 34 when compared to his average number of points per game prior to that point.

Tracy McGrady’s scoring production decreased at an even earlier age due to injuries that prohibited him from playing very long past the age of 30. But, between the ages of 21 and 25, McGrady averaged 27.62 points per game, but this number then dropped by 19.54 percent to 22.22 points per game between the ages of 26 and 29.

Dwyane Wade’s drop in scoring productivity has also been well-documented during the past two years. Between the ages of 22 and 29, Wade averaged 25.43 points per game, but this number has dropped 15.17 percent to 21.57 points per game during the past two seasons.  

Even the great Michael Jordan saw a nine percent decline in his scoring production between the ages of 31 and 34.

The one player who can be viewed as somewhat of an exception to this rule is Kobe Bryant, Bryant’s scoring production decreased by just three percent after the age of 30 when compared to his points-per-game average between the ages of 20 and 30.

That being said, when comparing Bryant’s points per game between the ages of 27 and 30 to his performance between the ages of 31 and 34, we see a 12.11 percent decrease in the average number of points per game Bryant was able to produce.  

So, despite the 2013-13 and 2013-14 seasons being the most productive in Anthony’s career, it is almost a certainty that Anthony’s offensive production will decline during the next four seasons.

Based on the decline after the age of 30 seen in league’s leading scorers since 1985, as well as studies done by Berri and Pelton, let’s conservatively estimate that Anthony’s offensive production will decrease by around 12 percent during the next two seasons, and then by another 20 percent during years three and four of what will likely be a four-year max contract.

This means that whoever signs Anthony will in reality be signing a 24-point-per-game player during the first two years of his contract and a 19-point-per-game player during years three and four.

These numbers are more than likely underestimating Anthony’s offensive decline over the next four seasons because we must also consider that as the Knicks' sole scoring threat during the 2013-14 season, Anthony attempted 1,643 shots, which was second only to Kevin Durant.

If Anthony signs with a team that possesses at least one other big-time scoring threat, Anthony’s field-goal attempts will decrease, and as a result, he will experience an even larger decrease in his points-per-game production than was previously estimated.

Based on Anthony’s probable decline during the next four seasons, teams will need to evaluate whether or not a 24-point, six-rebound-per-game player (at best), who is also a liability on the defensive side of the ball, is worth $45.93 million over the next two seasons.

And in addition to that question, teams must also ask themselves whether a 19-point, five-rebound-per-game player, who will likely become even worse on the defensive end, will be worth the nearly $50 million they will be forced to pay him during years three and four of his max contract.

If Anthony were 24 years old coming off of his last two NBA seasons where he has averaged more than 27 points per game, the risk of signing him to a four-year max contract would be significantly lower than the risk any team would assume if they signed him to a four-year $95.89 million contract at the age of 30.

For teams that are extremely confident in their ability to contend for an NBA title during at least one of the next two seasons with the addition of Anthony, the potential loss the team would incur with Anthony’s $50 million contract during years four and five when his production is likely to dramatically decline could potentially be worth it.

Anything less than that would simply not be worth the risk for a player of Anthony’s age.

Essentially whichever team decides to go ahead and offer Anthony that kind of money over the next four years better hope that their investment pays off during the first two years of that contract; otherwise they may find their organization completely handcuffed by Anthony’s deal for several years to come.


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