Carmelo Anthony just finished up his 18th season in the NBA. In his second season with the Portland Trail Blazers, he played in 69 of 72 games, starting in just three games. His 13.4 points per game tied his career low from his 10-game stint as a Houston Rocket.
But, in Portland, he found his post-superstar role: instant offense off the bench. And he’s become good at it. He’s a good bet to score in double figures most nights and is still capable of giving his team 20 or more occasionally.
Contending teams starve for players like Anthony…and he is still starving for an NBA title. Getting a championship would put Anthony in rare company, becoming just the ninth player to win an NCAA championship, NBA championship and an Olympic gold medal. He would join the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell and, most recently, Anthony Davis.
So, once again a free agent, where can Anthony’s wants match up with a team’s needs for Year 19?
Well, the things that would meet Anthony’s criteria would be:
- Contender – At this point in his career, Anthony isn’t playing for anything but the chance to win a championship.
- Needs to Have a Role – We’ve seen Anthony become disinterested when his role is diminished too severely.
- Needs Other Alpha Dogs – More for his sake than the team’s, Anthony needs to have other (see also: better) scoring options than him on the team. When he does, he does not seem to have a problem accepting his role. But, when there are lesser options that are getting more opportunities than Anthony, that’s when he begins to sour.
Perhaps the best thing Anthony has going for him is that he’s cheap. Earning just $1.6 million last year, Anthony can fit into virtually ever team’s budget sheet. So, which teams fit the bill? The following possible candidates are listed from least likely to most likely:
#6 – Boston. The Celtics are an interesting fit. They have stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown set to lead the way and, after trading away Kemba Walker already this offseason, are looking to add a little more star power around the two young leaders. I would expect Brad Stevens to make a bigger splash than Anthony. But, to bulk up on some of the veteran depth, signing Anthony to come off the bench might suit the Celtics well as they try to regain clout in the Eastern Conference.
#5 – Atlanta. The Hawks are coming off an impressive, if improbable, run to the Eastern Conference Finals this season. Trae Young has gone from “star” to “superstar” after his first postseason experience. Devoid of any other stars, but full of plenty of good players, Atlanta is one of the few teams equipped to dangle two or three players in front of a rebuilding team to acquire another star.
Would some combination of Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Onyeka Okongwu plus a first round pick be enough to entice, say, the Washington Wizards to hit the reset button and finally trade Bradley Beal?
If so, a starting lineup of Young, Beal, Bogdan Bogdanovic, John Collins (if re-signed) and Clint Capela could put the Hawks in position to get right where they were this season…or even beyond. Adding Anthony to come off the bench, along with whoever would still be around after a possible deal, would form a strong bench.
Even if there is no blockbuster deal, Anthony could be a solid mentor for some of Nate McMillan’s younger guys, as well as a solid scorer off the bench.
#4 – Denver. Could it go back to where it all began? The Nuggets took a step back in this year’s playoffs, exiting in the second round after reaching last season’s conference finals. Jamal Murray’s torn ACL had a lot to do with that and that same injury will keep Murray sidelined for a good chunk of next season, if not the entire season.
Without Murray, the Nuggets lacked some scoring punch beyond league MVP Nikola Jokic and rising star Michael Porter Jr. Anthony could provide some extra punch, especially if Will Barton leaves via free agency.
#3 – Portland. As murky as things look in Portland right now with Damian Lillard’s future as a Trail Blazer and new coach Chauncey Billups coming in, if Lillard stays and president of basketball operations Neil Olshey re-tools the roster around him, maybe staying put isn’t a bad option for Anthony. He’s comfortable and has a role, or at least he had a role when Terry Stotts was coach.
#2 – Brooklyn. Nobody went star hunting at bargain prices better last season than the Nets. Finding cheap additions like Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge (before he was forced to retire) and Jeff Green to fit around the likes of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving almost propelled them to a deeper run, had it not been for injuries and the length of Durant’s foot.
While Anthony has already gone “home” to play with the Knicks, the Nets could give Anthony the “true” homecoming (he was born in Brooklyn) and put him on the team most expect will begin the year as favorites to win it all.
#1 – Los Angeles Lakers. It’s been rumored for years that Anthony might join his good friend, LeBron James, in Hollywood. But, after an unexpected early exit from the playoffs, the Lakers may try and pull out all the stops to get back to the NBA Finals, knowing that time is of the essence as James enters his fourth season as a Laker and his (like Anthony’s) 19th season in the league. Getting a chance to finally win a title AND play with one of his best friends seems too good to pass up as the years go on.