At some point in the near future, the short-lived pairing of Carmelo Anthony and the Houston Rockets will be over. Should the Brooklyn Nets take a chance on the aging star?
The Houston Rockets ended the speculation on Thursday, announcing the team will no longer play forward Carmelo Anthony and will look to excise him from their roster at some point in the near future. Given his scoring pedigree, the Brooklyn Nets will likely do their due diligence and see if he’s a potential fit.
The Rockets signed the 10-time All-Star in August to a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum of $2.4 million after Anthony was traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Atlanta Hawks, who bought out the remaining one year and $25.5 million remaining on the five-year deal Anthony had signed with the New York Knicks in 2014.
Anthony played in 10 games with Houston, starting two of them, and averaged 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds in 29.4 minutes per game while shooting .405/.328/.682.
He is far from the Carmelo Anthony who averaged 24.7 points per game over parts of seven seasons with the Knicks, at least not in terms of production. In terms of playing style, he’s still prone to being a place where the ball sticks, even if the results are no longer optimal.
The shooting numbers Anthony had in Houston are similar to what he put up last season in his lone campaign with the Thunder — .404/.357/.767 — while he averaged 16.2 points per game in 78 starts.
That was the one concession Anthony made with the Rockets. Anthony scoffed at the idea of a bench role with Oklahoma City last spring, after the Thunder were bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Utah Jazz in five games.
Khadrice Rollins of SI’s The Crossover speculated on Friday on some potential landing spots for Anthony, who will remain on Houston’s roster until Anthony’s people can arrange a trade — which can’t happen until Dec. 15 because he signed with the club as a free agent earlier this year.
Barring that outcome — unlikely because teams are not likely to surrender any sort of asset in a trade for a player who doesn’t have any substantive value — the Rockets will waive Anthony and he will become a free agent for the second time this year.
One of four teams Rollins looked at as a potential fit for Anthony was the Nets.
The rationale was simple: With Caris LeVert out for at least a couple of months, Brooklyn needs scoring. There are few NBA players over the last 15 years that have embodied pure scoring more than Anthony.
The thought that Anthony is some sort of locker-room problem doesn’t hold up, considering none of his teammates in either Oklahoma City or Houston have indicated the veteran was anything but a professional in his comportment. So that takes one obvious, but overstated, factor off the table.
So it comes down to what Melo could do on the court. Rollins’ theory:
"Flipping Melo for Jared Dudley at the 4 in the starting rotation could be an option. It would allow D’Angelo Russell to continue to focus on getting others involved and it would add a veteran leader who could help the young players as they attempt to get back in the playoffs for the first time since 2015."
Ultimately, Rollins sees Anthony as a low-risk, high-reward potential addition.
"The team is deep enough that Anthony could be placed in lineups that suited his scoring approach. Kenny Atkinson could also stagger rotations to keep his offense from getting too bogged down by Anthony isolations.You wouldn’t need him for long in that role and if he hits, he could be the type of player to at least provide a mental edge in March and April as he mentors players without meaningful late-season experience."
Those are valid points, but Brooklyn’s biggest enemy offensively this season has been allowing the ball to stick and become iso-heavy. Anthony is still an effective isolation player according to nba.com/stats, ranking in the 80th percentile at 1.14 points per possession in those sets.
The best Nets in isolation are Shabazz Napier (1.46 PPP, 98th percentile) and LeVert (1.11 PPP, 74th percentile).
The attraction to Anthony is understandable. He was born in Red Hook before being raised in Baltimore and he was the marquee attraction in Manhattan for the Knicks for the better part of a decade.
But while the Nets will no doubt miss LeVert’s offensive contributions, what Brooklyn still needs to focus on is players that could be stars for the next decade rather than one who was one for the decade past.
His best performance during his brief stint as a Rocket came at Barclays Center on Nov. 2, when he scored 28 points on 9-of-12 shooting and went 6-for-9 from 3-point range. Fans who saw that performance alone this season might be clamoring to bring Anthony in.
But the ball sticking to Anthony is a real issue that has to be considered. Over the last four seasons, Anthony’s assists per 36 minutes have declined from 4.3 in 2015-16 to 3.0 in 2016-17 to 1.5 last season to 0.6 in 10 games with Houston.
That’s not “the ball occasionally sticks.” That’s “the ball disappears into the event horizon of a black hole never to be seen again.”
Aging stars who have made a career out of thriving in isolation are often the ones who find the transition to role player the most difficult. We saw it with Allen Iverson and we’re seeing it with Carmelo Anthony.
It’s not worth putting your team on board to be part of that plummet.