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Can the Blazers Keep Carmelo and Kanter Together?

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Portland has several expiring-contract players this summer. How many can, or should, they retain?

NBA: Playoffs-Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Questions surround the Portland Trail Blazers as they prepare for the 2021 offseason. Obviously, there’s the matter of their next head coach. Then there are the rumors surrounding the trade value of CJ McCollum and whether his departure is the best route towards retooling. It’s the usual scuttlebutt that every Blazers offseason seems to have. Except this year, the Blazers actually have to do something.

Seven players on the Portland roster could potentially be gone by the start of next year. Four of those players played significant minutes both throughout the regular season and in the postseason.

If the Blazers want to restart the Damian Lillard Era, the first step might be letting people go. But who? And more importantly, who should stick around? Today we’re diving into Portland players with expiring contracts, asking whether or not letting them go would be a mistake.

We already covered Norman Powell, Derrick Jones, Jr., and Zach Collins in Part 1 of this topic earlier today. Now let’s look at the rest of the potential free agent roster.

Carmelo Anthony

I’ve actually somewhat enjoyed the Carmelo Anthony experience with the Blazers. Porous defense and general ball-stopping aside, it’s fun to see him go off against a random team on a Tuesday night with five threes in the fourth quarter. He’s a bona fide Hall of Famer in my book, and I’m glad he got to spend his twilight years in Portland.

That being said...the numbers are bad. He’s a net negative on the floor and a clear negative on defense (-2.1 estimated plus-minus and -1.7 estimated defensive plus-minus). Anthony cut back on the iso post ups, but he still does it the 18th most times per game in the NBA. He ranks only in the 50th percentile among post-up scorers. On top of that, he’s going to be another year older next season. To be honest, the odds of him changing his playing style are not high.

Anthony’s one-year minimum deal expires this offseason. I think once it’s official, it’s time to let him go. Bench minutes were a huge reason for Portland’s struggles in both the regular season and the playoffs, and Melo’s glaring flaws were a big reason for those struggles. Running it back with him as a sixth man just doesn’t make sense for a team in dire need of a fresh start. Thanks for the memories, Melo, but it’s time to call it quits.

Enes Kanter

Speaking of defensive struggles, let’s talk about Enes Kanter. Actually, that’s not very fair to say of Kanter, who I would argue was solid during the regular season. He stepped up when Jusuf Nurkic was out (I wrote about it here) and showed that in many matchups, he can be relied upon to contribute consistently.

But the playoffs showed the ugly side of Kanter. According to StatMuse, the Blazers posted a net rating of 19.7 with Nurkic on the court. With Kanter, they posted a -31.2 net rating and a 143.1 defensive rating. With no joy that I say the “Can’t play Kanter” adage rang true in this previous playoff series.

Kanter and Carmelo Anthony paired together made it impossible for Portland to thrive defensively. With Kanter on the floor, the Blazers gave up 3.3 more points per 100 possessions throughout the regular season, putting defenses with Kanter in the lineup in the 23rd percentile per Cleaning the Glass. Teams also had an effective field goal percentage that was 0.7% higher with him on the court. That’s not a winning recipe.

I think only one of the Kanter and Melo combo can realistically come back to Portland. Truthfully, I don’t think either of them should. Kanter could be a cheap option at the five who continues to produce big numbers, but you can find posts who produce a similar impact for cheap just about anywhere. Instead of re-signing Kanter, it might be time to look at a defensive big to back up Nurk.

Harry Giles III and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

I decided to combine these final two guys because they were such non-factors. Giving them each their own sections seems like more work than necessary. Giles showed promise but ended up struggling defensively and not flourishing as Blazers fans hoped offensively. It was fun to see him go off against the Kings in the preseason. I even argued at numerous points throughout the season that Giles wasn’t always utilized properly. But upon further examination, I just don’t think he is what Portland needs.

As for Hollis-Jefferson, I find myself indifferent towards what the Blazers do with him. He’s not exactly a big difference-maker for this team, and he didn’t show in the playoffs that he could be a valuable member of this squad. I think he’s fine as the 10th or 11th guy who gets spot minutes occasionally. You can find a lot of other guys to fill that role in free agency. If they re-sign RHJ to a low-cost deal, that’s fine. If they don’t, that’s also fine. I really don’t care because he’s not important enough to warrant much worry.