One of the major, ongoing storylines of the summer has been what is going to happen with Carmelo Antony and the Knicks. Well, rest easy. The Carmelo Antony Trade is done. He’s going from New York to Oklahoma City per Adrian Wojnarowski:
The draft pick is only a 2nd rounder, so this isn’t such a great return for the Knicks. Kanter can score, but is not good on defense. McDermott has offensive potential and will try defensively, but has not yet lived up to his status as a lottery pick (not to mention, this will already by his 3rd team). And the pick will be a 2nd round pick (though, it’s a Bulls pick, which means it should be pretty good since Chicago projects to be awful). In other words, this is a great deal for the Thunder.
As for OKC, they are clearly going all in this season. Carmelo Anthony isn’t the offensive juggernaut he once was, but he’s still a wonderful threat who can space the floor, get his own shot in isolation, and punish mismatches. He’s no longer a pure wing and more of a tweener forward who should play a lot of PF, but playing next to George and Adams in the front court will help him be slotted appropriately.
Billy Donovan will have what Marlo Stanfield would call one of those “good problems” offensively — finding ways to get all his ball dominant players the requisite touches and scheming a way to punish defenses that over-help. There are ways to do this and I expect, as I do when it comes to really good/great players, they will figure it out on that end.
Defensively…well, that’s another story. George and Adams are very good on that end and Andre Roberson is one of the best wing defenders in the league. Westbrook shows flashes of competing on that end, but also has too many lapses of effort and energy when contesting shots. Melo is — did I mention his offense?
Lastly, if it all crashes and burns, Melo, George, and Westbrook can all be free agents at the end of this season. OKC is positioned well, then, to either make a deep playoff run and attempt to keep the band together or have everyone walk and then rebuild anew (more on this later).
Enough about OKC (and New York), though. What does this mean for the Lakers? I’d say this can mostly be seen from a couple of different angles.
First, Melo was a name a lot of fans were interested in from a trade perspective. The prospect of potentially unloading Luol Deng and/or Jordan Clarkson in a trade for a 1-year Anthony rental appealed to a certain subset of fans. I’d have liked a deal including Deng, even if I wouldn’t have been a huge proponent of actually keeping Melo. Don’t get me wrong, I like Melo fine enough as a player — his offensive ability is now to the point where it’s underrated. But, defensively he’s not good.
I mean, he’s for real not good.
This type of stuff, along with how Melo fits with this specific group of Lakers players was always a concern for me. If looking at the venn diagram of skills I want the Lakers to go after, Melo really only fills the “shooter” category and that would maximized most at PF. Which also happens to be the Lakers deepest position right now.
So, I’m not sad to see Melo go to a different team than the Lakers. However, the specific team he did go to does create more questions. Namely, how does this impact the Lakers’ pursuit of Paul George and/or Russell Westbrook? Does this make it less likely Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka will get a chance to recruit these guys? Will the prospects of landing George — something many around the league have counted as close to a sure thing — fade like Michael J. Fox’s family in that picture from back to the future?
Predicting the future is hard, but a scenario is now in play where the Thunder are not only a very good team, but one that can make a deep playoff run and challenge the Rockets as the 2nd best team behind the Warriors. That may not seem like a big deal — not when the Warriors project to be historically great again — but when you’re that good all it takes is a break or two and you find yourself right in the mix to win the title.
As far fetched as that sounds on its face, a timely injury or suspension or any other disruption that throws off the trajectory of the Warriors opens things up for the next teams in line. Right now, that discussion includes the Thunder who has positioned themselves well to slide in should the Warriors falter. And, if that happens, how does that impact the free agency plans of George (and others)? Remember, these guys say they want to win. If it looks like the best chance to do that is in OKC playing together, the Lakers could be in trouble.
Again, this might sound improbable. And maybe it all is. I think there’s a large portion of Lakers fans who simply cannot see players like Melo and George wanting to stick it out in one of the NBA’s smallest markets regardless of how good their chances are of winning. I’m not a betting man and I’m sure I carry some bias, but I know that’s the direction I’d lean if you’re asking for my gut reaction. When considering the possibility all this doesn’t work anyway — this triumvirate has a fair amount of volatility — maybe all the pre-trade assumptions about the Lakers good chances still come out true.
But, I think it’s more than fair to say that what was being peddled as a sure thing no longer is. Not with George, not with anyone. Of course the rumors will persist. Not just with George, but with LeBron and other big names. The general perception of the Lakers is shifting (or already has) and that will trigger speculation which fans eat up. But the reality of those things coming to fruition becomes more uncertain as high profile players find desirable situations for this upcoming season.
Which, for every major FA not named LeBron (who, to be fair, is a walking favorable situation) has basically happened. Regardless of how strong you think the Lakers hand is next summer, these things will matter and, potentially, not in a good way.