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Should the Trail Blazers Keep Carmelo Anthony?

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Dave and Dia go at it again, this time debating the utility of one of Portland’s high-profile players.

NBA: Playoffs-Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Lakers Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Outside of Damian Lillard, no Portland Trail Blazers player made a bigger splash in the 2019-20 season than Carmelo Anthony. Originally signed as an injury replacement after an extended hiatus from the NBA, Anthony became Portland’s regular starter at power forward, averaging 15.4 points and 6.3 rebounds in 32.8 minutes per game. Those numbers are nothing to sneeze at, especially from a player under contract for the veteran’s minimum.

Anthony is an unrestricted free agent this summer, free to sign anyone who will pay him. He’s indicated that he would like to remain with the Blazers. Both parties would need to agree, Anthony fitting in with Portland’s plans and the Blazers matching his salary expectations. Right now, we’re not sure either of those things will happen.

Today Dia Miller and I tackle the issue. Do the Blazers try to keep Carmelo or should they move on?

Dia: (@diandraann) I have been team Melo from day one. The man is a Legend. He’s got myriads of awards and achievements, he Has three Olympic Gold medals. He’s been named an All star countless times. Even at the end of his career, in my opinion, he’s a steal. This may be the hill I die on, but I say keep Carmelo Anthony. Absolutely.

Dave: (@DaveDeckard) Hard to argue with, but what Carmelo do the Blazers have? Obviously this isn’t Prime Anthony, nor would that be expected. The Blazers never could have gotten that guy, period, let alone for a discount. Even so, your comments about his history, experience, and talent still stand. Fair enough.

But what kind of approach do the Blazers need to take in order for this Carmelo to look good in 2020 or 2021? His most useful attribute that I saw this year was his ability to hit catch-and-shoot threes, particularly in critical situations that other players might be intimidated by. That’s great, but he’s hardly the only catch-and-shoot player in the league. If you want the rest—higher scoring and headline-making—you have to give him the ball, let him operate in the mid-range isolation game, and live with his relative lack of defense. The Blazers could do that for a year because they were ravaged by injuries and weren’t going anywhere. When expectations are higher, will they want to play the kind of game, and pay the kind of costs, required to make ‘Melo look like a steal still?

Dia: You make some solid points. He came at a time where we needed someone—anyone really. We were so injured that we needed bodies that could hold on and keep us alive. He seemed to do that well. I also think he is valuable as a mentor. We have several young guys with big potential. Having players like Anthony on the team to help those young guys learn and grow is valuable. That being said, anticipating a healthy team next year, his role will probably need to change. I think he’d be a huge asset coming off the bench. The question I guess is, would he be willing to play that role?

Dave: When it comes to leadership, I’m just going to say it. Carmelo resurrected his own brand last year more than he resurrected the team. This year’s Blazers actually resembled a traditional Anthony squad: lots of offense, not great defense, so-so record, out of the playoffs early. Anthony made them look way better doing it, but I’m not sure he changed the overall story.

Anthony has only made it past the first round twice in 17 years. His Hall-of-Fame induction will come because of individual accomplishments, not team success. Portland already has individual talent. They have first-round exits down pat. If ‘Melo isn’t going to carry them farther with his personal accomplishments, I might prefer a different player who can, or a veteran who has won (or even been near) a title to remind the franchise what they’re missing and what they need to do to get there.

Dia: It’s hard to argue against him in my opinion. His contract is so small in the scheme of things, would we be able to bring in someone of his caliber for that small of a contract? Let’s be honest, the fact that he hasn’t won a ring might be even more motivation to fight for one here. That really just plays into his redemption story with the Trail Blazers. I think for me, he’s been so fun to watch and you know I think with my heart more than my head. This might be one of those situations. The fact that Lillard and McCollum have been trying to bring him to Portland for several years tells me that they feel he’s a valuable asset, and that holds weight.

Dave: Granted, Dame and CJ appeared to lean on Carmelo (and celebrate with him) plenty this season. They think the chemistry works. It’s a strong argument that he stands out among the free agent power forward buffet. I can think of a few PF’s I’d rather have on paper for the MLE, but the list is small. The center list is a lot bigger.

That said, the non-taxpayer mid-level is supposed to approach $10 million this year. The taxpayer version is $6 million and change. Would you invest $10 million in Carmelo if that’s what it took? And for how long? I assume he’ll want a two-year deal if he can get it. Is ‘Melo the best use of the money, especially if it crowds Portland closer to the luxury tax and inhibits their ability to make deals next year?

Bottom Line: ‘Melo says, “Give me the MLE, $10 million per year for two years, and I’ll stay here happily.” Do you do it?

Dia: I don’t know why you do this to me, Dave. My hope has been he would stay for what we are currently paying him. Which is much less than that. That’s a hard call because I like Melo and would like to see him stay. But if I’m looking at this from a purely monetary standpoint, there may be better uses of $10 million. That being said, I never look at anything that way. I don’t think basketball is purely business. If I’m being honest, I don’t even think it’s purely about championships and winning. I say this as someone who is very competitive. But I want to be entertained. I want to like the people on my team. And I like Melo. I’m just really glad no one is paying me to make these decisions.

Dave: You’ve made a brilliant point there, and it’s also where I come to rest. I don’t expect anybody, least of all the team, to like this, but for me, re-signing Anthony is a barometer of the franchise outlook. If they’re here to be talked about, entertain, have a fun team, and see how many they can win in the process, re-signing him is a decent move. But if they’re gunning for a serious championship run towards the end of Damian Lillard’s prime, playing to Carmelo’s strengths and absorbing his weaknesses probably isn’t going to get them there. They’ll need to make some hard decisions about more people on the roster than just him, but his free agency is right in the sweet spot, an easy indicator showing which way the wind is blowing. If they do keep him, I think it’s as much “show” as “go”.

I don’t think ‘Melo comes back for veteran minimum, though. If he does, then it’s a no-brainer: all the assets, none of the cost. I’d take him up on it in a hot second. You won’t find a better player for that money and it doesn’t impact the cap one bit.

Dia: I always want to win. I always hope we are aiming to win. I’m holding out hope that he comes back for a veteran minimum and allows more room to bring someone else in as well. I’d like to think that we can keep Anthony and also win. This current team, with a few adjustments could be a serious contender in my opinion. Winning a championship with the Trail Blazers seems like the perfect ending to his redemption story, and I love a good redemption story.

Where are you in this debate, Blazer’s Edge Readers? Are you Team Dia or Team Dave? Or is it more nuanced than that? Let us know in the comments below!