Trail Blazers' Carmelo Anthony Gamble Makes More Sense Than You Think

Sean Highkin@highkinFeatured ColumnistNovember 15, 2019

Houston Rockets' Carmelo Anthony watches during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers, Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Darron Cummings/Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Trail Blazers have nothing to lose. Neither, at this point, does Carmelo Anthony.

In that way, a future Hall of Famer without a home and a reeling Western Conference would-be contender are a perfect match. The Blazers and Anthony made their last-ditch partnership official Thursday evening, with ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reporting that Portland will sign the 10-time All-Star to a non-guaranteed deal for the rest of the season.

The Blazers had to do something as they take a 4-8 record into a tough 10-day, six-game road trip.

Damian Lillard's MVP-caliber play by itself hasn't been enough to cover for an ill-fitting roster full of holes at important spots. With starter Zach Collins out for at least the next four months as he recovers from left shoulder surgery, Portland's power forward situation, in particular, is among the most dire position groups in the NBA. That role is one Anthony has been famously reluctant to play over the course of his 17-year career. 

But it's been over a year since Anthony last appeared in an NBA game during a short-lived stint with the Houston Rockets. He opened up to ESPN's Stephen A. Smith over the summer about how he just wanted another chance, how he was still in shape and how he didn't want his flame-outs in Oklahoma City and Houston to be how his Hall of Fame career would be remembered.

After an offseason and training camp with no real interest from teams, this is his chance to end things on his terms, for a team that needs him.

That the 2019 version of Anthony is a legitimate upgrade for Portland says less about him and more about the bleak state of their roster. Since Collins suffered his shoulder injury in the third game of the season, the Blazers haven't found anything close to a viable long-term solution at power forward.

Mario Hezonja, one of Blazers president Neil Olshey's patented reclamation projects, is shooting 31.9 percent from the field, hurting the offense more than he helps on defense. Thirty-four-year-old Anthony Tolliver, on his ninth team in 12 seasons, can no longer stay on the floor in a fast-paced league. 

Kent Bazemore, among Olshey's most highly touted offseason pickups, has been solid defensively but has struggled to rediscover his shooting rhythm.

Head coach Terry Stotts got so desperate to shake things up and give his team a shot in the arm on Wednesday that he started rookie Nassir Little in a loss to the Toronto Raptors.

Little, the No. 25 overall pick in June's draft, was intended to be a long-term developmental project whose impact will come down the line as opposed to right away. He brought plenty of energy in his first career start, but the organization knows he isn't close to ready to assume that role on a full-time basis.

If these are the Blazers' in-house options, they can do a lot worse than a non-guaranteed flier on Anthony, who at the very least can score and will be highly motivated to prove to the entire NBA it was wrong to give up on him after his unceremonious exit from the Rockets.

The Los Angeles Lakers took a similar gamble on Dwight Howard, who, like Anthony, is a polarizing future Hall of Famer well past his prime. Howard left his last six teams on bad terms, including a disastrous previous stint with the Lakers and four teams in the past four seasons. His deal with Los Angeles was the same as the one Anthony is signing with the Blazers: a fully non-guaranteed final chance to prove he still has a place in the NBA.

Thus far, the gamble has paid off fabulously. Howard is backing up his offseason talk about being willing to play whatever role is asked of him, providing a defensive spark off the bench for a surging Lakers team.

That's the upside for Portland's roll of the dice with the 35-year-old Anthony.

If he can give them some short-term help in a spot where that's sorely needed, he can repair a reputation that's taken some huge hits in recent years. Maybe he has enough left to help the Blazers tread water and stay within shouting distance of the playoff race in the West until Olshey is ready to make major upgrades before the trade deadline.

Most around the Blazers believe a bigger move is coming at some point. Olshey has two big expiring contracts (Hassan Whiteside's $27.1 million and Bazemore's $19.3 million) to dangle on the market and plenty of holes to fill.

The Blazers have coveted Portland-area native Kevin Love for years, though he's likely out of reach with what they'd have to offer. Oklahoma City's Danilo Gallinari, also a free agent at the end of the season, is probably a more realistic trade target at power forward.

Throwing in the towel isn't an option for this team. With the ink barely dry on long-term extensions for Lillard and CJ McCollum, as well as Stotts, the Blazers have no intention of doing anything other than competing for the playoffs.

At some point, they're still expecting to get starting center Jusuf Nurkic back from the leg injury he suffered in March. Coming off the franchise's first Western Conference Finals appearance in 19 years, Lillard has put the team's championship aspirations on record.

But as it stands, simply getting to the playoffs would be a success.

As the losses have piled up, Lillard has preached patience—with the 19th-ranked defense, with the rocky start to Whiteside's tenure and with the development of what looks to be the thinnest roster he's played with since his rookie season in 2012-13.

But they couldn't stand pat, not with the inconsistent production they've seen from everyone outside of their franchise cornerstone. Anthony won't be the answer to all their problems, but he is an answer, for now.

The Blazers needed to do something to get Lillard some help, and Anthony needed someone to get him back into the NBA. They might as well see if they can be each other's solutions.

 

Sean Highkin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. He is currently based in Portland. Follow him on Twitter at @highkin.

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