What a week this has been in the Melo saga. I guess, being the resident Thunder fan and spending my last year getting a PhD in Washed Melo, I’ll run through the ordeal whilst trying not to be too–wait for it–Melodramatic.
After getting bounced by Utah in the first round of the playoffs, the OKC brass did a rather immaculate job projecting that Melo would no longer be a part of their 2018-2019 plans. They seemed to exclude him from every narrative in their post-season press conferences in what seemed like a rather earnest and poorly veiled attempt at getting him to opt out of his $27.9 million player option. This did not work as, days before free agency began, Carmelo decided to opt in to his deal, complicating the future of the franchise. With Paul George and Jerami Grant re-signing in Oklahoma City within the first 7 hours of free agency, the first thing that many people noticed was how OKC was due to pay the biggest luxury tax bill in history. Something had to change, and there was only one realistic option: Melo.
The front office sat down with him and explained that he would not be coming back to run year 2 with PG and Russell Westbrook. To give Melo credit–of which he certainly deserves it–he did not complain or moan or make a public spectacle of everything. He accepted his fate, and instead of forcing OKC to waive him or stretch him (both incredibly pricy options), he said that he would accept a trade and a buyout, allowing him to choose his next option in UFA. For this, and for how the saga turned out, Oklahoma City owes Melo a debt of gratitude. The question then became, where?
One-by-one, trade destinations fell by the wayside. Brooklyn, Sacramento, Chicago all viable options before making trades or signings of their own that complicated matters for the Thunder. But one team seemed to come out of nowhere in the closing days before the deal was made: Atlanta. They hadn’t been able to find a trade partner themselves for Dennis Schroder, and were desperate to get off his contract and the headache of his current legal issues. It was the perfect match.
Quickly addressing OKC’s haul in this deal before moving onto the Melo portion. The big concern with waiving Melo was going to be how to replace his scoring. Efficient or not (he wasn’t), he was still a big part of their offense. In comes Schroder and his 19 PPG, who will take that 6th man spot that Carmelo was so vehemently against. He will be used in the Reggie Jackson role from years ago, albeit a better scorer and distributer. I’m not totally sure how he helps an already shaky outside shooting team, and I don’t think he can play next to Westbrook (especially because of that), but he’s a big bench presence that will allow Westbrook to actually rest and not worry about the offense going in the tank. My guess is now Billy Donovan will stack PG/RW minutes, with PG playing alongside Schroder for balance and RW getting to run a bench unit at times without PG. The starting lineup figures to be Westbrook/Roberson/George/Patterson/Adams, with Patterson in over Grant (a superior player, but turning him into a corner ball three shooter was totally ineffective and they need space in the lane to make this team click).
Another underrated aspect of this trade is that, along with their unused MLE, OKC created a $10.3 million trade exception, which will have to be used during the season if GM Sam Presti can find a shooter who is slightly over their price range. Also something not very understated has been that this move essentially saves OKC’s owners $100 million in luxury tax payments. For those of you bad at accounting, that is actually a lot of money.
Now, on to Melo. Sources have said that he will be going to Houston in the coming days once the trade and subsequent buyout are complete.
Melo will go to Houston and complete the ball-holding holy triumvirate of James Harden-Chris Paul- Carmelo Anthony. Honestly, I don’t get this move one bit for Houston. On one hand, yes it makes Chris Paul happy and *IN THEORY* gives them another shooter and a man who loves iso-ball, which is essentially all that Houston does outside of the Clint Capela P&R. But on the court I just don’t see it. Melo’s bread and butter is a midrange isolation jump shot. It’s the move that’s forged his Hall-of-Fame career. But no team over the last two years has shot less midrange jumpers than the Morey-D’Antoni era Rockets. Their love of analytics has molded Houston to shoot almost exclusively from deep or within the restricted area, which, in turn has made Houston one of the more efficient offenses in the league and the consensus “biggest threat” to Golden State (whatever that’s really worth). Melo was also worse than Trevor Ariza on both ends of the floor, and certainly can’t replicate anything defensive that Luc Mbah a Moute brought to the Rockets.
Melo posted a 105.6 defensive rating and a 106 offensive rating, while Trevor Ariza had a better defensive rating (104.3) and offensive rating (112.1). Ariza also held a significantly better true shooting percentage (56.7% to 50.3%) and effective field goal percentage (54.2% to 47.6%).
Anyways, the point of this was not to trash Carmelo, who again, is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but to question his fit in this Houston scheme after a season in which he posted career lows in efficiency across the board. And let’s do away with the notion that he didn’t try to change. He did. There was a clear effort to move the ball with an extra pass when it was available and he did try to become a spot up shooter. It just didn’t work out because the truth of it is, he’s just not very good anymore. I applaud his efforts, but at the end of the day, a leopard doesn’t change his spots. He did give at least some effort defensively, but he’s never been much of a defender anyways, so a Melo sapped of all his remaining athleticism often became flat-footed and slow to recover. There became times where the jab stepping would single-handedly kill possessions and it became a chore to watch him and this team on offense. I wish him luck in Houston and hope he succeeds, because it’s tough to see him as a punchline. But, the first time he is asked to come off the bench or hustle back on defense or to stand around while James Harden or Chris Paul dribble the ball through the hardwood for 20 seconds, everybody is going to be looking at him. And I hope that he handles it the right way.
P.S. We’ll always have this, which is probably a top 3 Melo moment ever, next to scoring 62 at The Garden and the time he laid down for an entire possession (against OKC ironically, there’s a metaphor in there somewhere).