Potential Landing Spots for 10-Time NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony and the Houston Rockets are apparently blowing past the honeymoon period and racing directly to divorce court.
First, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski brought word the two parties were "discussing his role and how they might still be able to proceed together for the rest of the season." Then the floodgates opened.
Marc Stein of the New York Times reported "Anthony has been informed that his brief time with the team will soon be ending." Multiple Rockets players and coaches believe Anthony has played his last game as a Rocket, per ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon. The Athletic's Kelly Iko reported Anthony will be waived "in the near future."
If Anthony's exit is imminent, where could he possibly go?
On one hand, he's 34 years old, playing the worst ball of his career and about to leave a team for the third time since September 2017. But he's also a future Hall of Famer who has hinted more than once he has something left in the tank.
Has he already played his last NBA game? Or are there teams that might still covet what he offers? We'll explore both possibilities while identifying five potential landing spots.
Golden State Warriors
This would feel like a Golden State Warriors move, doesn't it? They've never shied away from a roster challenge—JaVale McGee, Nick Young, DeMarcus Cousins, etc.—and they might have a bigger need for Anthony's game than you'd think.
Before Boogie fell in their laps this summer, the Dubs "were thinking wings," as general manager Bob Myers said on 95.7 The Game in August (via NBC Sports Bay Area). Their only offseason perimeter pickups were rookie Jacob Evans, Jonas Jerebko (really a small-ball big), Alfonzo McKinnie (a 26-year-old who entered the season with 14 NBA appearances), and two-way contract recipients Damion Lee and Marcus Derrickson (another stretch 4).
Suffice it to say, wing depth isn't exactly a strength at the moment.
For that matter, neither is second-team scoring. Despite having the NBA's highest-scoring offense and not having anyone average 35 minutes per game—Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the only ones clearing 30—Golden State sits just 28th in bench points per game (30.8). Quinn Cook paces the reserves with 8.9 points per game, a figure boosted by the 27 points he tallied during his lone start.
If Anthony would be receptive to a bench role—admittedly a significant if—he could help fortify one of the franchise's only weaknesses. Since the start of last season, the Warriors have received 20 points from a bench player only once. Anthony orchestrated two such performances during his first seven outings of 2018-19. His career-low 16.4 points per 36 minutes would rank sixth on the Warriors.
Of all possible landing spots, Golden State might have the fewest minutes to offer. But if Anthony puts winning at the center of his decision, he won't find a more favorable situation. Plus, if he provides a playoff spark on a quiet night by the Warriors stars, his legacy might get a welcome lift.
Los Angeles Lakers
Still, this would be the basketball bucket list move for Anthony. The Lakers were high on his wish list this summer in no small part because he could finally play with his close friend LeBron James, per ESPN.com's Jordan Schultz. Classmates in the 2003 draft, James and Anthony have long discussed the possibility of joining forces.
"That was the first conversation: How are we going to play together?" Anthony told B/R Mag's Howard Beck. "He was like: 'Man, I want to play with you. How are we going to play together?'"
Only the Lakers know if they feel they should make that happen, but they certainly could.
There's flotsam at the back end of the roster that could easily be jettisoned. There's also a fairly significant need for bench buckets. After Kyle Kuzma's promotion to the first five, the highest-scoring reserve left is Josh Hart (11.8 points per game this season after 7.9 as a rookie last year). Anthony is pumping in 13.4 per night—amid a poor enough fit that the cord could be cut less than a month into the campaign.
While Anthony's arrival could jolt some locker rooms, he may not even be noticed in L.A. The Lakers added Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley in the same offseason. If there are any chemistry concerns, they won't be big enough to scare off this front office.
The Philadelphia 76ers just made their all-in push by acquiring disgruntled four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler from the Minnesota Timberwolves. But Philly also sacrificed some of its depth to get the deal done.
While the Sixers didn't trade anyone the caliber of Butler, they did lose starting forwards Robert Covington and Dario Saric in the exchange. With rookie Zhaire Smith (foot) sidelined for the foreseeable future and Mike Muscala providing inconsistent production (42.5 percent shooting), Philadelphia needs frontcourt reinforcements.
According to Get More Sports' Chris Sheridan, the Sixers are "kicking the tires on the idea of claiming [Anthony] off waivers." At least one NBA analyst likes the potential fit.
"How about going to Philly?" ESPN's Jalen Rose said on Get Up! "Why not try to ride their wave? They just lost two players in theory that can give them offense and give them shooting. Maybe you go to the East Coast where you're more familiar and try to see if you can link up with a young basketball team that's still trying to figure their way."
The Sixers need more shooting (33.0 three-point percentage, 22nd), and while Anthony wouldn't be an automatic fix to that problem (career 34.7 percent), he's had flashes of perimeter proficiency. From 2012-13 to 2013-14, Anthony averaged 2.3 long-range makes per game with a 39.1 percent conversion rate. Getting him back near those numbers could provide a big lift to Philly's 21st-ranked attack.
With Butler hounding wings and Joel Embiid protecting the paint, the Sixers might have enough defenders to carve out a sizable role for Anthony without disrupting their top-10 defense.
San Antonio Spurs
The 2018-19 San Antonio Spurs roster feels a bit like a challenge of Gregg Popovich's coaching acumen. Had you made a list of the Association's least Spursy players a few years back, chances are you'd have put LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay all near the top—perhaps just beneath Anthony.
But Popovich has found ways to make it work with the first three, each of whom has played a substantial role in the squad's 7-4 start. The most successful strategy—which should interest Anthony—is embracing those players' skills, their anti-Spursy traits if you will. It was a lesson Popovich learned on the heels of Aldridge's trade request.
"As discussions went on, it became apparent to me that it really was me," Popovich said, per ESPN.com's Michael C. Wright. "He'd played in the league for nine years. I'm not going to turn him into some other player. ... That was just silly on my part—total overcoaching. So we took care of it, and he's been fantastic."
Perhaps Popovich's greatest strength is his ability to mold his approach to his players. The good news with Anthony is he'd already be comfortable with a lot of the changes. The Spurs lead the league in pull-up shots (29.9 per game) and post touches (20.7), so some of the sharpest weapons in Anthony's arsenal would not only be allowed but also featured.
Adding intrigue to this destination is the fact Popovich has already proved capable of teaching old hoopers new tricks. Both DeRozan and Aldridge are averaging career highs in assists per game, while Gay just missed posting his best defensive rating during his first season with the Spurs. A ticket to the Alamo City, then, could be Anthony's best hope for rounding out his game.
No matter where you try to plug in Anthony—the Miami Heat, Portland Trail Blazers and Brooklyn Nets are among the other possibilities—he lands as a support player, likely in a second-team role. It's possible he'll decide that's not the way he wants to end his career.
After his exit interview with the Oklahoma City Thunder in April, Anthony sounded like he was at least contemplating retirement.
"It's something I really have to think about, if I really want to be this type of player, finish out my career as this type of player, knowing that I have so much left in the tank and I bring so much to the game of basketball," Anthony said, per ESPN.com's Royce Young.
Granted, a player saying he has "so much left in the tank" doesn't exactly sound like someone planning to hang 'em up. But if he's resistant to the idea of being a reserve and only has reserve roles open to him, then maybe it makes the most sense to just walk away.
He has nothing left to prove in the NBA, despite what his naysayers might lead you to believe. He ranks 19th all-time with 25,551 points and 18th with a career scoring average of 24.0 points per game. He's made 10 All-Star teams and six All-NBA rosters. Basketball Reference gives him a 98.2 percent chance of making the Hall of Fame, which is ninth-highest among active players.
And even if his critics will point to a lack of playoff success (only two trips beyond the first round), Anthony is content with his career—and the three Olympic gold medals in his collection.
"Most athletes don't have an opportunity to say that they won a gold medal, better yet three gold medals," Anthony said in 2016, per Marc Stein, then with ESPN.com. "... I can look back on it when my career is over—if I don't have an NBA championship ring—and say I had a great career."
While the prospect of retirement might seem jarring—Anthony was a full-time starter on a playoff team just last season—maybe it will offer him a sense of peace he won't find elsewhere.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.