By: Taylor Summers
In the movie “AntZ”, a single ant named Z longed for a bigger role outside of his New York colony. He was loyal to the place that he had called home, but he was growing tired of his job, continuing to beat his head against a wall, never making any progress on where he really wanted to go, constricted to orders from an incompetent, overbearing regime. After participating in a battle that his team was never supposed to win, he decide to take matters into his own hands (or limbs, in this case) and escape once and for all, fleeing for a more rewarding place. Insectopia is what he always longed for, a place that he knew was his destiny but only existed in his dreams.
Oklahoma City may not seem like a utopia to some, but it is for the Thunder. And now, they welcome a new member to their colony: Carmelo Anthony.
And just like that, his Gotham City saga has finally come to a close.
Today, he was dealt to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and a 2018 2nd-round draft pick (via the Chicago Bulls). It wasn’t quite the haul that New York had sent to Denver when they acquired Anthony back in February of 2011, but for the sake of the Knicks young core and dysfunction the past few years, their front office needed to make this trade before training camp started next week.
For the Thunder, this caps off a wild offseason. With Russell Westbrook’s pending decision to sign a 5-year, $207 million extension (which he has until October 16th to make), the 10-time All-Star in Anthony joins the reigning MVP of Westbrook and fellow All-Star new addition of Paul George to make a formidable force to compete against the Warriors and the rest of the league this season.
However, there is some drawback to all of this. First, it is highly improbable that these three players all suit up for the Thunder a year from now. With Carmelo’s two years and $54 million remaining on his current contract, Oklahoma City’s payroll now rises to $134 million for the upcoming 2017-2018 season, while incurring a $27.8 million luxury tax penalty. If the entire roster were to stay in tact for next season, the payroll would increase to $157 million due to the whopping $143 million repeat luxury tax offense on top of that, which would make OKC the first team with a $300 million payroll.
In addition, this new trio were all in the top ten last season in isolation points (Westbrook 2nd, Anthony 4th, George 9th), so spacing the floor and team chemistry will definitely be an adjustment for these three at the beginning. None of them are great three point shooters either (George topped the highest average of the three last season at 39%), and with their roster gutted and overhauled, their depth could be a concern, too.
Nonetheless, you have to admire owner Clay Bennett for opening up the wallet and allowing GM Sam Presti and Assistant GM Troy Weaver (who helped recruit Carmelo to Syracuse) to turn Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a 2nd-round pick into Paul George and Carmelo Anthony this offseason. In the 14 months since Kevin Durant left to join Golden State and trading away Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic, the Thunder have given Westbrook two All-Star teammates that he needed to alleviate the burden of having to put up triple-double numbers up every night. Even though he and George can become free agents next summer, the Thunder are all-in on this new big three gelling together and making some of their own magic this season.
As for the Knicks, the reset button on the rebuild has officially begun. Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott, both only 25 years old, fit the youth timeline that they are trying to instill around their unicorn, Kristaps Porzingis, much better than Anthony did. Kanter put up solid averages (14.3 PPG and 6.7 RPG) despite only playing 21.3 minutes off the bench last year, and could also start right away depending on the health and system fit of Joakim Noah. And McDermott, who was the NCAA’s leading scorer in 2013-2014 (averaging 26.7 points per game as a senior at Creighton), averaged 6.6 points and 19.5 minutes in 22 games for the Thunder after being traded from the Chicago Bulls in February. They are also both on favorable contracts, giving the Knicks some much needed financial flexibility moving into the future.
And what does this trade mean for the other teams in the league? The Houston Rockets, Anthony’s desired new destination that he had already “mentally moved on to” after Chris Paul was acquired earlier in the summer, didn’t have the assets the Knicks were looking for. (They also were against taking on Ryan Anderson’s over inflated contract.) The Cleveland Cavaliers, another team on Anthony’s list that he would have been willing to waive his no-trade clause for, were in the same boat, along with limited financial flexibility. Even the Portland Trailblazers, with an intriguing young nucleus of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum recruiting hard to acquire Anthony, couldn’t execute a deal either.
After six-plus seasons in New York, this is what Carmelo’s messy, complicated and underwhelming Knick legacy looks like:
- Compiled a 207-269 record in games he played in.
- Recorded only one playoff series win in 2013 (and only 1-3 overall, missing the postseason entirely the last four seasons).
- A public war-of-words with President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson (now dismissed), claiming that his talents would be “best suited elsewhere”.
- Five different head coaches and 72 different teammates (the sixth-highest total in the NBA in that span and 10 more players than the NBA average).
Sure, he had flashes of brilliance: he set the Madison Square Garden scoring record of 62 points along with a 13 rebound, 0 turnover effort against the Charlotte Bobcats in January of 2014, was the NBA scoring champion in 2013, made All-NBA 3rd Team in 2012 and 2nd Team in 2013, and was an All-Star every season for the Knicks. However, his ball-dominant, sticky fingers created stagnant offenses, and his defense had always been near the bottom of the league. (Last season, Anthony finished 66 out of 70 qualified small forwards in defensive real plus-minus statistics.)
However, he has finally received his wish for a fresh start on a contender in OKC, relinquishing his loyalty for his home town team for two elite players that he never really had as a Knick (Amare Stoudemire was the closest, but was never the same health-wise after he left Phoenix). They hope to bring out the only 3-time gold medal Olympian, the all-time Team USA leading scorer and rebounder, the ‘Melo whom everyone has grown accustomed to the type of player he can be when surrounded by other good players. The loyal Ant(hony) has finally left the colony he had always called home, in search for a more fulfilling destiny outside of the burrows of New York. And perhaps that utopia now resides under the regime of a new army in Oklahoma City.
The Thunder should compete with the Rockets and Spurs in the 2-4 seed range out west (barring any injuries), while the Knicks hope to battle for a playoff spot in the watered down Eastern Conference. And ironically, just like the Cavaliers and Celtics after their blockbuster trade last month, the new-look Thunder will also host Carmelo’s former Knicks in both their first regular season games on October 19th.
Carmelo Anthony can always go back home, but now Oklahoma City is his new place. And I’m sure he’s looking forward to showing everyone he’s got something to prove.
So buckle up; the wait is almost over. We’re now less than a month out until the real games begin!