In Pursuit Of Melo


Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

With today being the start of the NBA’s free agency period, Carmelo Anthony can officially begin visiting the bevy of teams clamoring for his unique set of skills. The market for Melo is competitive, filled with organizations looking to add a player capable of helping them be part of the championship mix for the next four or five years.

Depending on who you believe, the informal recruitment of Melo started many months ago, with an off the record pitch being delivered by a certain member of the Chicago Bulls during All-Star weekend. Since that time there has been a lot of speculation about whether he wants to stay in New York, and with meetings set for this week and next we should know very soon where Melo intends to write the next chapter of his career.

Unless a mystery team emerges out of left field, the favorites for Melo remain (in no particular order) the Bulls, Knicks, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers. Betfair Sportsbook even recently released odds on which team he will land with:

  • Chicago Bulls – 5/4
  • NY Knicks – 9/4
  • Houston Rockets – 7/2
  • Dallas Mavericks – 8/1
  • Miami Heat – 12/1
  • LA Lakers – 14/1
  • LA Clippers – 20/1
  • Cleveland Cavaliers – 33/1
  • The Field – 4/1

Carmelo has stated that at this point in his career it is all about winning, and if that is truly the case I would advise him to stay out of the Western Conference by any means necessary. Though the Heat have had a stranglehold on the East for the last four years, getting past one team as opposed to the eight or nine strong contenders who routinely beat each other up out West seems like the better way to go.

Pairing Melo with Dwight Howard and James Harden on the Rockets would make for an appealing threesome, but acquiring him would likely come at the expense of losing some of their essential role players. You need depth to escape out West (as the Spurs just proved), and having one of the best centers in the NBA and two dynamic scorers might not be enough to beat the OKC’s  and San Antonio’s of the world.

His former frontline mate Tyson Chandler was just traded back to the Mavericks, reuniting the valued rim protector with Dirk Nowitzki. Chandler played a major role in the Mavs winning the title back in 2010, and Mark Cuban is banking on him again being a major asset for a team that took the Spurs to seven games in the first round of the playoffs. Dallas will try to sell this to Melo as a sign that they are close to getting over the hump, but does he really want to risk his future on a joining the 36 year-old Dirk and soon to be 32 year-old Chandler on a brittle frontline? Seems like a very small window of opportunity. I do think that Rick Carlisle is one of the top coaches in the entire NBA, but even that wouldn’t be enough to sell me on the Mavs if I were Melo.

The Lakers? I know Carmelo and Kobe are tight, but that can only carry so much weight. Besides, can we be certain how much Kobe has left in the tank at this point? Probably more than D-Wade but certainly not enough to be a top ten player on a nightly basis. With no coach and only a few players currently under contract, this is a franchise and roster that is in a state of flux at the moment. Outside of the far-fetched rumor of LeBron/Carmelo possibly joining forces in Los Angeles, I don’t see this the Lakers getting very far in their pursuit.

The Clippers on the other hand would be very interesting. Out of all the teams in the Western Conference, from a basketball standpoint this makes the most sense to me. You have a great coach in Doc Rivers, an explosive power forward in Blake Griffin, and arguably the best point in the NBA in Chris Paul. How great would it be for Melo if he actually had a point guard capable of creating easy looks for him, or a big man down low that actually commands the occasional double team? This scenario would likely extend his career for several additional years. Unfortunately, given the monetary demands of Melo and the current contract commitments that the Clippers have, the chances of this occurring are probably close to the 20/1 listed above.

Chicago has been the pseudo favorite for Carmelo right off the rip. They are many pros to this arrangement, such as:

  • Remaining in the Eastern Conference.
  • Playing for a highly respected coach in Tom Thibodeau.
  • Playing with two of the NBA’s better interior players in Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson (assuming they don’t have to give up Gibson to acquire Melo), and a fierce wing defender in Jimmy Butler.
  • Playing alongside a former league MVP in Derek Rose.
  • Suiting up with a team presumably ready to win now.

Sounds good right? But Melo has to be at least aware of the negatives of playing in Chicago for a coach like Thibs, for he is notorious for wearing out players with his relentless style. The demands Thibs puts on his players (along with the insane minutes he plays his starters) might wear out his new star before the team even begins the playoffs. And then there is Derek Rose, his injury history, and questions regarding whether or not he will ever be the same player again. Melo would be going to Chicago in theory to play with another superstar, and if Rose can’t be that guy anymore it could be a repeat of the Amar’e Stoudemire situation all over again for him.

Selfishly, I hope Carmelo stays with the Knicks. He is someone I have rooted for since his year in upstate New York back in 2002-2003, and watching him play these last few years in New York with the Knicks has renewed my interest in my favorite team. I realize he doesn’t want to waste another prime year of his career and that it would be a gamble banking on Phil Jackson to make the decisions necessary to improve the roster and attract free agents. I certainly wouldn’t begrudge Melo if he left, but with the competitive nature of the Western Conference and degree of  uncertainty in Chicago, building something sustainable in New York might not be out of the realm of possibility just yet.