Anthony might not be the answer -- but it's worth it to Blazers to ask the question
It's unlikely Carmelo Anthony will be a godsend for the Trail Blazers, but everything considered, it's a gamble worth taking.
Portland is 4-8 as it begins a six-game, 10-day road trip Saturday night in San Antonio. The early-season schedule — 13 of the first 18 games on the road — is brutal. For a team that made it clear the NBA championship is its goal this season, however, the record and quality of play has been unacceptable.
With starting power forward Zach Collins out until at least March, the Blazers have been hurting at the 4 spot. Coach Terry Stotts has tried Anthony Tolliver, Mario Hezonja, Rodney Hood, Skal Labissiere and rookie Nassir Little at the position, to no great degree of success.
So team president Neil Olshey pulled the trigger on Anthony, who has been sitting in purgatory for a year at his home in Brooklyn, waiting for his next — and likely final — opportunity to wear an NBA uniform.
Anthony's greatness cannot be questioned. He ranks 19th on the league's career scoring list with 25,551 points — second among active players, behind only LeBron James, and ahead of such icons as Jerry West, Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler. As he enters his 17th NBA season, Anthony carries averages of 24 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists a game, with shooting percentages of .449 from the field, .347 from 3-point range and .811 from the foul line.
The acquisition of Anthony, incidentally, gives Portland three future Hall-of-Famers on its roster — Anthony, Pau Gasol and Damian Lillard. Anthony and the 39-year-old Gasol, unfortunately, are nowhere near their prime.
At 35, Anthony will not be the same player as he was in his heyday, such as 2012-13, when he led the NBA in scoring at 28.7 points for New York, or even in 2015-16, when he averaged 21.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists for the Knicks.
Anthony will be playing with his fourth team since 2017, when he was traded by New York to Oklahoma City. After the 2017-18 season, he signed a one-year veteran's minimum contract with Houston. His stint with the Rockets lasted 10 games, over which he averaged 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds while shooting .408 from the field and .328 from 3-point range, mostly off the bench. In January, he was traded to Chicago, and then released on Feb. 1.
Word was then that Anthony would sign with a team of his choice — perhaps the Los Angeles Lakers. It never happened. No team chose to sign a 10-time All-Star, one of the game's most prolific scorers.
In what would seem an act of desperation, the Blazers — who had one of their 15 roster spots open — finally came calling this week, giving Anthony a pro-rated veteran's minimum contract. It amounts to about $2.12 million if Anthony stays with the team for the remainder of the season.
There are luxury tax implications, too. With Anthony's signing, the Blazers will be at nearly $148 million in payroll, tops in the NBA and well over the tax threshold of $132 million. The total cost in salary and tax is about $32,000 per day, same as it would be for any non-rookie added to Portland's roster. That works out to about $5.6 million for the season. The contract becomes fully guaranteed if Anthony remains on the roster through Jan. 7.
Finances aside, how does Anthony fit as a player with the Blazers?
He'll likely come off the bench, at least at first. Anthony had never been a reserve — not even for a game — before arriving in Houston last season.
"He was no behavior problem," said Jonathan Feigen, longtime beat writer for the Houston Chronicle. "(The Rockets) were happy with his acceptance of his role off the bench. But he played badly. He shot badly. He wasn't terrible, but he wasn't good."
Anthony had one big game when James Harden was hurt, going for 28 points on 9-for-12 shooting — including 6 for 9 on 3's — in a 119-111 win. Other than that, he didn't do much for a Houston team that started the season 4-6.
"He wasn't a very good fit, and they were terrible," Feigen said. "A lot of that wasn't his fault — they were bad when he was not in the game, too."
Ten games in, the Rockets decided the Melo experiment wasn't working, and that was the end of his run.
"They needed the ball in James' hands, and Carmelo was a ball-stopper," Feigen said. "They were bad defensively, but they really took off offensively when they got rid of this very good offensive player."
In Houston, Anthony shared the ball with Harden and Chris Paul. In Portland, he'll be teamed with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
"Carmelo will still be able to score," Feigen said. "He'll put the ball in the basket five years after he retires, but he'll have the same issue in Portland. You have to have the ball in the hands of 'Dame' and CJ. (Anthony) was more of a catch-and-shoot guy here, and he wasn't bad at it. But he's at his best when you let him go to work.
"The Blazers set up the same way as the Rockets were. (The Blazers) need the help, but he's not exactly a Zach Collins fit."
Fair point. Anthony is 6-8 and 240 pounds, so he'll probably spend some time at the 4for Portland, but he's a natural 3. The Blazers need most a power forward who can defend, rebound and score on the block as did Collins.
The forward spot in general has been a problem. Hood has played well but missed two games with back spasms. Kent Bazemore has been a strong defender but has shot poorly — .398 from the field and .340 from 3-point range. Hezonja (.319, .320) and Tolliver (.244, .242) haven't been the answer, at least so far.
Lillard and McCollum are glad Anthony is coming on board. Two years ago, they courted him when he was looking to get out of New York and eventually was traded Oklahoma City. Last season, they again beckoned him to play in Portland before he chose Houston.
It's uncertain how Anthony will fit, and he'll certainly not be a help at the defensive end, where the Blazers — now 19th in defensive rating — could use the help.
But Anthony is smart enough — and probably humbled enough after what's happened over the past year — to defer to Lillard and McCollum. People forget that Anthony is a four-time Olympian and was arguably the Most Valuable Player on the 2012 team that won gold in London, a squad that included Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Anthony knows how to play with good players, and he'll likely accept his role in good stead, though it's fair to wonder how comfortable he'll be coming off the bench after his short stint in Houston.
"I can't say enough good things about 'Melo,'" said Mark Warkentien, an executive in Denver for four seasons when Anthony was playing for the Nuggets. "He's a wonderful fellow, and not a good teammate — a great teammate."
At the price the Blazers paid, Warkentien — now working as a special assignment evaluator with Oklahoma City — considers it a bargain.
"I haven't seen him play (in) forever," Warkentien said. "I don't know whether he'll fit or not, but I'd be stunned if he's not better than whoever they'd get from the G-League. At that cost, how could you lose?"
Anthony hasn't played a game for more than a year — Nov. 8, 2018. He has played only six games in the playoffs over the last six years — with OKC in 2017-18, a first-round series loss in which he averaged 11.8 points and shot .375 from the field and .214 from 3-point range. For the Blazers at this point, though, it's about just getting to the postseason.
Maybe Anthony will help them get there. Maybe he won't.
Olshey convinced owner Jody Allen it was worth the luxury tax hit to assume the risk.
As it progresses, the basketball world will be tuned in. However it turns out, it's bound to be a fascinating story.
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