NBA trade rumors: Carmelo Anthony has potential to thrive alongside LeBron James
By Scott Rafferty, Sporting News
If Carmelo Anthony is going to join LeBron James in Cleveland, it seems unlikely that it will be in the form of a trade. According to ESPN’s Marc Stein and Chris Haynes, the Cavaliers will instead be “leading candidates” to acquire Anthony if he reaches a buyout agreement with the Knicks in the offseason.
The Knicks have tried to part ways with Anthony several times in the last couple of seasons, but they’ve reportedly struggled to find a reasonable return for him given the two years and $54.2 million remaining on his contract. It doesn’t help that Anthony is one of two players currently in the NBA who have a no-trade clause, meaning he would have to sign off on any potential trade.
If Anthony does reach a buyout agreement with the Knicks, the expectations for him would be lower with the Cavaliers. The only way the Cavaliers could realistically acquire Anthony in a trade is by including one of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love due to his salary, which is a big ask for a 33-year-old coming off an uninspiring season in New York. If he reaches a buyout with the Knicks, however, the Cavaliers would be able to keep their core together and sign Anthony to a much smaller contract.
While the Knicks have resisted the idea of a buyout which would clear the path for Anthony to join the Cavaliers, the news of Phil Jackson's firing early Wednesday morning could quickly change the Knicks' plans and how they choose to handle Anthony's situation moving forward. Whether it would come via trade or buyout, it's worth taking away the off-court drama and examining what Anthony could bring to Cleveland should he team up with his longtime friend.
Anthony would become the fourth piece of their puzzle, and in a buyout situation, the Cavaliers would maintain the flexibility to flip Love or Irving for someone like Paul George to give them a better opportunity of competing with the Warriors.
Anthony has the potential to thrive in that sort of complementary role as well. He isn’t capable of carrying an offense all by himself anymore — not one that can compete with the Warriors and Cavaliers, at least — but he’s elite at two incredibly important things in today’s NBA, the first being the ability to space the floor. Anthony scored 4.3 points per game from spot-ups last season and ranked in the 93.8 percentile with 1.23 points per possession. His volume and efficiency in those situations was comparable to some of the best shooters in the league such as Ryan Anderson (1.16 PPP), Klay Thompson (1.17 PPP), Khris Middleton (1.18 PPP) and Isaiah Thomas (1.22 PPP).
Anthony fared just as well on catch-and-shoot attempts by making 42.6 percent of such opportunities from the perimeter last season. Once again, some of the players who matched him on volume and efficiency in that regard were C.J. Miles (42.6 percent), Kevin Durant (42.5 percent), Bradley Beal (42.5 percent) and Channing Frye (41.8 percent).
Almost a fifth of Anthony’s made baskets were catch-and-shoot 3-pointers last season. That number would probably increase playing alongside James and Irving — Love, for example, generated 37.4 percent of his offense from catch-and-shoot 3-pointers in 2016-17 — but Anthony has proven he can thrive in that role both in the NBA and as a member of Team USA. The threat of his shooting only becomes greater considering he doesn’t need much room to get off his shot.
According to NBA.com, he made 44.8 percent of his wide open 3-point attempts, 33.3 percent of his open attempts and 33.3 percent of his tightly contested attempts last season on a decent sample size. Throw in the fact that Anthony can play both forward positions at this stage of his career, and he’ll continue to be a tough cover as long as he’s in the right situation.
The second area where Anthony is elite is creating his own shot. Only Irving, Russell Westbrook and James Harden averaged more points per game than him in isolation last season, and he ranked in the 78.3 percent with 0.99 points per possession. Anthony also scored more points than any other backcourt player in the post, where he ranked in the 62.6 percentile with 0.92 points per possession. Together, they made up 39.8 percent of his offense on the season.
Anthony would ideally spot-up more and rely less on isolations as he ages, but there’s still tremendous value in his ability to create shots for himself. The Cavaliers are an isolation-heavy team, and Anthony would give them another player who can attack mismatches in a variety of ways.
Similar to George, he has the ability to pop in pick-and-rolls when defenders try to contain the ball handler, and he can score over most defenders in the post. The difference is Anthony is more comfortable doing both of those things in volume than George, which gives him the tools to replace Love’s contributions on offense almost entirely as a small-ball four.
The other parts of Anthony’s game that have drawn criticism throughout his career wouldn’t be nearly as problematic in Cleveland. Namely, he’d no longer be expected to create for others as much with Irving and James being the primary ball handlers, so he’d be able to focus on doing what he does best. He’d basically be a glorified specialist for the Cavaliers, one who could give them upwards of 30 points on any given night within the flow of the offense.
He’d be a slightly scarier version of Love as their third or fourth option on offense, although it remains to be seen if he’d be comfortable taking on that role over the course of an entire season.
Whether the addition of Anthony gives the Cavaliers the advantage they need against the Warriors likely hinges on the other moves they make in the offseason. A core of Irving, James, Anthony and Love would be unstoppable on offense, but it wouldn’t solve their issues defensively. If they were to trade Love for George, though, the Cavaliers would be in a slightly better position to match up with the Warriors defensively while adding more versatility on offense.
George alone would give the Cavaliers the type of athletic two-way player they desperately need to keep up with the Warriors and take some of the pressure off James, whereas Anthony would give them a multi-positional shooter who can make the Warriors pay for switching. It might also be slightly easier for the Cavaliers to hide Anthony on defense than it has been with Love.
If the Cavaliers were to go down that route, it would certainly give them an unconventional roster. James, Anthony and George are all small forwards by nature, but they can each play power forward when needed. Plus, James logged some minutes at center last season, giving them the option of running a super small lineup of Irving, J.R. Smith, George, Anthony and James with James playing point-center. While they would have to sacrifice rebounding with that lineup — a reality they may have to accept if they replace Love with a small forward like George or Anthony — it might just be out of the box enough for them to make the 2018 NBA Finals more competitive than the 2017 NBA Finals.
This is all operating under the assumption that Anthony would be willing to take on a complementary role at this stage of his career. It makes sense on paper seeing as the Cavaliers would give him an opportunity to compete for a championship alongside one of his best friends in James following a buyout with the Knicks. Playing in such of an environment could prolong his career and turn him into one of the most feared role players in the league.
The reality, however, might be slightly different. Other than his time with Team USA, Anthony has spent most of his professional career as a go-to option. It’s no guarantee he’d be content as a third or fourth option, even on a title contender like the Cavaliers.
If that’s the case, the parts of Anthony’s game that have held him back at times throughout his career would arrive in full force. If it’s not, he would help take an already dominant Cavaliers offense to new heights. As long as he’s not the only difference between last season’s team and next season’s team, there’s no reason why Anthony couldn’t help the Cavaliers close the gap on the Warriors.