Best Landing Spots for Carmelo Anthony After OKC Thunder Buyout

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 6, 2018

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the Oklahoma City Thunder looks on during the game against the Washington Wizards on January 30, 2018 at Capital One Arena in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Ned Dishman/Getty Images

Carmelo Anthony's time with the Oklahoma City Thunder will end with nothing more than a first-round exit from the 2018 NBA playoffs to show for it.      

According to ESPN.com's Royce Young and Adrian Wojnarowski, the Thunder, grappling with a historic cap sheet that would have them paying over $300 million in salary and luxury-tax costs, are looking to cut ties with the veteran small forward in order to save more than $100 million. Anthony opted into his $27.9 million player option earlier this offseason, but that doesn't mean he's staying in the same spot.

The most pressing question surrounding this split involves methodology. Various avenues would allow for the interested parties to facilitate their divorce in the coming days, and the combined reporting of Young and Wojnarowski leaves all options on the table:

"Anthony's agent, Leon Rose of CAA Sports, has a strong relationship and history with Thunder general manager Sam Presti, and they'll work together on Anthony's exit through trade, the NBA's stretch provision, or a combined buyout and stretch, league sources said.

[...]

"Oklahoma City can use the stretch provision on Anthony's $27.9 million contract to eliminate a staggering $107 million off the team's 2018-19 payroll and tax bill, but the Thunder first plan to pursue trade possibilities with teams looking to acquire a massive expiring deal to salary-cap space in July 2019 free agency.

"Anthony still holds trade veto power, but it's likely that any proposed deal would be with a team wanting simply to waive Anthony and allow him into free agency.

"The stretch provision would slash $90 million in tax, dropping the Thunder's bill from $150 million to $60 million. The stretch provision spreads Anthony's salary annually onto the Thunder's cap for $9.3 million over three years."

Unless further rumors develop, we're going to eliminate the possibility of a trade, instead focusing on landing spots through a buyout that leaves him able to pursue a deal with the team of his choice. Money is so scarce around the NBA this offseason that it's unlikely OKC is able to trade him into cap space.

In the interest of full disclosure, we're assuming Anthony reshuffles his priorities and seeks a spot where he can either A) win games at the highest level, B) fit in from a pure basketball standpoint, C) play alongside men with whom he shares close personal relationships or D) get plenty of minutes. Ideally, some locations will offer a combination of those four traits. 

         

Denver Nuggets

SACRAMENTO, CA - DECEMBER 28: Carmelo Anthony #15 of the Denver Nuggets flashes his smile before taking on the Sacramento Kings on December 28, 2009 at ARCO Arena in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dow
Steve Yeater/Getty Images

Sure, let's get sentimental! 

Carmelo Anthony hasn't played for the Denver Nuggets since demanding a trade and facilitating an escape to the New York Knicks back in 2010, but let's not forget about the love affair between the Mile High City and the up-and-coming scoring sensation during the early stages of his career. A twilight reunion might be understandable and not just for reconciliation purposes. 

The Nuggets are one of the few competitive teams with a glaring hole at small forward, though they couldn't pay Anthony anything more than a minimum salary without pushing their luxury-tax bill back through the roof—the situation they were trying to avoid by dealing Wilson Chandler and a second-round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers earlier this offseason. 

Still, they make some sense as a potential destination. 

Not only do they have a massive chasm at the 3, filling it with Will Barton (playing up a position) and Juancho Hernangomez (playing down a position) while 2018 first-rounder Michael Porter Jr. works to get his back in better shape, but they're also an offense-first team that would covet the spot-up shooting he can provide.

If he received good looks from Russell Westbrook and Paul George in OKC, just imagine what he might be able to do catching feeds from Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic. 

Sure, defense would continue to be problematic. But the Nuggets could use Anthony's enduring talents, both in the starting five and as a potential leader for the second unit. This isn't only about sentimentality. 

          

Golden State Warriors

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - NOVEMBER 22: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the Oklahoma City Thunder keeps the  ball away from Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors during the first half of a NBA  game at the Chesapeake Energy Arena on November 22, 2017 in Oklahoma C
J Pat Carter/Getty Images

Yes, you're reading this correctly. 

The Golden State Warriors are already overflowing with riches, but the dirty little secret of the 2018 postseason was that they sometimes struggled to provide enough spacing when Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant were all taking breathers. The roster might be filled with intriguing pieces (never more so than after the shocking acquisition of DeMarcus Cousins, per Wojnarowski), but head coach Steve Kerr might still be looking to supplement the non-starters with even more sharpshooting talent. 

This is by no means a perfect fit. 

Anthony would be vulnerable in some of the switch-heavy defensive schemes. He'd have to accept a more minimal role than he might in other locations, since the incumbent pieces definitely aren't sacrificing touches so he can commandeer possessions with incessant jab steps. They have no cap space remaining and already squeezed in Cousins with the mid-level exception, so this Syracuse product would have to join on a true minimum salary. 

But what better way to change his reputation? 

Anthony has struggled to shelve his ego—a justifiable one earned over the course of a professional career filled with high-scoring exploits—and accept a smaller role with the Thunder. He hasn't advanced to the playoffs' penultimate stage since a 2009 run with Denver, much less started his jewelry collection with a shiny ring.

And that could all change in one fell swoop if he decided to prioritize winning in the Bay Area over everything else.           

We don't yet know if the Warriors would even want him, since his minutes would prohibit further development from intriguing commodities such as Jordan Bell and Jacob Evans. But he should be interested in them. 

                 

Houston Rockets

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 10:  Chris Paul #3 and Carmelo Anthony #7 of the USA National Team sign jerseys and basketballs at the Wynn Las Vegas on August 10, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading
Adam Pantozzi/Getty Images

Anthony's longtime friendship with Chris Paulbanana boat, anyone?—could help pave the way toward him joining a different contender and one far more suited to his enduring talents. The New York Times' Marc Stein is already reporting that the Houston Rockets are among the teams interested in his services: 

The forward isn't a particularly accomplished defender. He never has been, betrayed by a lack of lateral quickness and an unshakable desire to keep conserving energy for his offensive hijinks. He's not known for his passing either. Scoring is his bread and butter, and Father Time has worn away at enough of his physical abilities that he's now best served operating in a catch-and-shoot setting. 

Other than the Brooklyn Nets, no one fired away more catch-and-shoot threes than the Rockets in 2017-18. Taking distance out of the equation, the squad helmed by Mike D'Antoni also engaged in a free-wheeling offensive scheme that allowed it to run plenty of shooters off screens when leading figures weren't going to work in isolation—likely music to Anthony's ears. 

Struggling to accept his limited role in OKC, the veteran could only muster 1.02 points per spot-up possession to finish in the 60th percentile. But that feels like an aberration after slotting into the 94th percentile during his final New York go-round.    

He's a gifted shooter capable of creating looks in many situations, and that could play well in a run-and-gun system now operating without Trevor Ariza (gone to the Phoenix Suns) or Luc Mbah a Moute (still a free agent) to fill the hole at small forward. 

Maybe he'd start over P.J. Tucker. Perhaps he'd grudgingly come off the bench. Either way, he'd get some looks. 

            

Los Angeles Lakers

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - FEBRUARY 13: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Carmelo Anthony #7 of the Oklahoma City Thunder hug after the game on February 13, 2018 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ac
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Lest we forget, LeBron James was also on the banana boat. 

Adding Anthony would be antithetical to the chosen route thus far, as the Los Angeles Lakers brain trust has intentionally fixated on defense-first players who come at the expense of floor-spacing acumen. Per ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst:

"Here is the answer: exactly what James and Lakers president Magic Johnson planned when they met for more than three hours on the first night of free agency. According to multiple sources within the Lakers and close to James, this is the rollout of a plan Johnson outlined for James the night of June 30 at James' home. The subsequent deals, which sources say James has consulted on but have been executed at Johnson and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka's direction, follow this vision.

"It may seem like an unconventional plan, considering current trends. It may be a plan that takes time to come together, especially early in the season, when new habits will be tested. It may, in fact, be a plan that ultimately fails.

"But the Lakers are indeed attempting to chart a new course for James' Lakers future, one that is vastly different from the style of basketball he played with the Cleveland Cavaliers."

However, that was before Anthony was available, perhaps ready to join his bosom buddy in purple-and-gold threads. Money shouldn't be an object if he's still cashing in checks from the Thunder and ready to bank some Hollywood marketing opportunities, and he could reasonably expect for his offensive abilities to become highly valued by a roster that will inevitably struggle to create points without James. 

Playing time isn't available at first blush. Not with James himself likely to absorb the majority of the possible run at small forward and Kyle Kuzma locked into big minutes at the 4. But perhaps Anthony would be sold on a high-usage, fewer-minutes role rather than one in which he spent more time on the court but received fewer touches. 

Sacrifices will be necessary in almost any competitive location, after all. 

                   

New Orleans Pelicans

Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

This might be wishful thinking because the New Orleans Pelicans are a far less glamorous destination than other reasonable options, particularly following the offseason departures of Cousins and Rajon Rondo.

They're also hard-capped after acquiring Julius Randle, per Wojnarowski, and don't have any massive exceptions they could use to hand him a higher salary. Anthony himself even told the Knicks he wouldn't waive his no-trade clause for the Pelicans last summer, per Marc Berman of the New York Post

Now, times have changed.

Among the expected playoff contenders in the Western Conference, few teams have such a dire need for help on the perimeter. Just take a gander at New Orleans' projected depth chart at this stage of the offseason:

  • Point guard: Elfrid Payton (h/t Wojnarowski), Frank Jackson
  • Shooting guard: Jrue Holiday, E'Twaun Moore
  • Small forward: Darius Miller (non-guaranteed), Solomon Hill, DeAndre Liggins (non-guaranteed)
  • Power forward: Julius Randle, Nikola Mirotic, Cheick Diallo (non-guaranteed)
  • Center: Anthony Davis, Alexis Ajinca, Emeka Okafor (non-guaranteed)

Hill played in just 12 games last year and failed to find any semblance of a rhythm, slashing only 26.8/19.0/50.0 in his 15.6 minutes per contest. Miller functioned as one of the more underrated presences throughout the Association by knocking down 41.1 percent of his triples, but his defensive woes and inability to create his own looks curtailed his upside. 

They can both be useful pieces, but they're not the only small forwards upon which New Orleans should want to rely as it moves forward into 2018-19. Anthony could immediately slide into the starting lineup while surrounded by quality defenders at other positions, and his ability to handle a substantial scoring load would alleviate plenty of pressure felt by, in particular, Davis and Holiday.

This is the unlikeliest of the landing spots—unless we dive into the next tier of contenders for his services, which would include the Washington Wizards and Miami Heat—but it's perhaps the best option from a pure basketball standpoint. 

                                     

Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

Unless otherwise indicated, all stats courtesy of Basketball Reference, NBA.com, NBA Math or ESPN.com. 

Related

    OKC Thunder: What Devon Hall's promise could mean for the team's road to a rebuild

    Oklahoma City Thunder logo
    Oklahoma City Thunder

    OKC Thunder: What Devon Hall's promise could mean for the team's road to a rebuild

    Oklahoman.com
    via Oklahoman.com

    Lakers Rule Out Kyle Kuzma (Foot) for Opener

    Kuzma will miss Lakers' season opener vs. Clippers

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Lakers Rule Out Kyle Kuzma (Foot) for Opener

    Kyle Newport
    via Bleacher Report

    Heat Suspending Dion Waiters for 'Conduct Detrimental to Team'

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Heat Suspending Dion Waiters for 'Conduct Detrimental to Team'

    Kyle Newport
    via Bleacher Report

    Report: Jazz Extend Quin Snyder

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Report: Jazz Extend Quin Snyder

    Mike Chiari
    via Bleacher Report