When Carmelo Anthony was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder this weekend, Portland Trail Blazers fans became an un-knotted balloon, flying aimlessly around the room, banging into walls while making a collective, “Pfpfpfpftttbbbbttt!” sound. Anthony wasn’t even that desirable; opinions on his utility in Portland were decidedly mixed. But if he had to choose a franchise, what in the world would recommend Oklahoma City over Portland? That’s the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
Here’s your question about the Melo fiasco. Or it seems like a fiasco to me. Some reports said we couldn’t put together a good enough deal. Then the wave came of Melo not wanting to come here, just like nobody else does. Which was it and how might this be prevented in the future?
Why can’t it be both?
If conventional wisdom is correct—and it may not be, but there are few alternatives—packages the Blazers offered involved some combination of Moe Harkless and Meyers Leonard. Together that duo is scheduled to make $64.3 million over the next three years. If he doesn’t opt out of his current contract, Anthony will make $54.2 million over the next two years. Ultimately New York would have ended up paying more money overall for players who would not sell tickets or jerseys, draw eyes on TV, or make headlines like Carmelo does. Neither are they close to Carmelo’s talent level.
Convincing a team to pay more money for less talented players of far lesser profile is a hard deal to close. The Blazers could have thrown in draft picks to even it out, but the parties would have had a hard time agreeing on number and quality. Portland would have balked at mortgaging their future for an older star with an opt-out after one year. New York would have had a hard time avoiding the feeling of getting ripped off without significant picks.
Even comparing two-year contract terms, apples to apples, the story was pretty grim. The Knicks would have saved $6.1 million in the first year of the post-Carmelo era, $6.5 million in the second. What $6 million free agent could tip the balance of the trade in their favor? Harkless plus Leonard plus a mid-level-exception player still doesn’t equal Carmelo, and that’s without the $22.7 million balloon payment to the former Blazers in 2019-20, just when New York would have been free of ‘Melo’s contract and rediscovered potential cap space.
You can see why Portland’s offers might have met with shrugged shoulders.
But that doesn’t mean Anthony was chomping at the bit to come to Portland either. I don’t buy the geography or attractiveness argument wholly because...Oklahoma City. I guess it’s close to Texas, but that’s about all it has going for it. Maybe that was enough to tip the scales. There’s no accounting for taste.
Though it’ll be underplayed, roster construction plays more of a factor. There’s nothing wrong with Portland’s roster per se. They’re young-ish with two stars at guard and a promising center. From a fan perspective, or perhaps from that of a forward in his prime, that’d be attractive. For a 33-year-old scorer, not so much. The Blazers won 41 games last year. They don’t have a track record. They don’t play defense. They aren’t stocked with quality veterans and have no history of luring same. They’ll reach their apex well after Anthony’s prime and probably after his tenure. Contrast that with MVP Russell Westbrook and Paul George who are also young-ish but far more proven. Westbrook’s credentials are clear. George is a four-time All-Star, a three-time All-Defensive player, and a three-time All-NBA player. If the Blazers had Westbrook and George, Anthony may have given them more of a look. Even though they’re not that much older than Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, they feel far more established.
On can argue that Lillard would get George-level recognition for All-Star and All-NBA consideration if he played in a more visible location. That’d be another reason for Anthony to shy away from Portland. It may not be the geographical or cultural backwater that some would make it, but it’s a dead zone for publicity outside of Damian Lillard, who is both luminescent and transcendent in that regard. Any spotlight that falls here follows Dame. That’s far different than New York, or even Oklahoma City where Westbrook will dominate the ball but Anthony will still get plenty of interviews.
Seriously, though, let me ease your mind on this. Getting Carmelo would have been fun for the local publicity aspect, but this was not a great move for the franchise’s future. With Carmelo in the starting lineup the defense would have been abysmal. Distribution of fourth-quarter shots would have left somebody grumpy. If you’re banking on single-year dream acquisitions, George would have been a far superior get
Nor will Oklahoma City be able to revel in their glory long. George is still inclined towards the Los Angeles Lakers next season if he opts out of his contract. If the Houston Rockets can dump P.J. Tucker or Eric Gordon this year, they’ll have enough money to make a serious run at Carmelo next summer...reportedly his dream destination. And guess what? Westbrook has the same option to leave at the exact same time. July, 2018 may see the end of the Thunder as we know them, a total franchise overhaul. In short, the Blazers didn’t miss out on much, nor did the Thunder gain that much.
The only real casualty of this whole experience—I would not call it a fiasco in any way—may be our eardrums as we hear even more repetitions of the, “Nobody wants to come to Portland” excuse. The Blazers need to get better, show they’re worth coming to, and try again. Until they do, “We’re just not attractive” is going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. But hey, Carmelo wouldn’t have made the situation much better even had the Blazers ended up on his “acceptable” list. This is no harm, no foul.
This is also the end of the Carmelo Anthony discussion as far as I can see, unless someone comes up with a completely clever twist on it. I appreciated everyone who asked versions of Jon’s question. If a different subject is burning a hole through your brain, send it along to firstname.lastname@example.org.