Thunder’s Carmelo Anthony headache is about to get worse
The Thunder have a Carmelo Anthony problem.
One of the highest-paid players in the NBA is having the worst season of his career. And with that season on the verge of coming to an end — the Thunder trailing Utah 3-1 entering Wednesday’s Game 5 at home — it presents the question, what’s next for Oklahoma City and its declining star?
“We gotta win. Nothing to it. We’ve just gotta win,” Anthony told reporters after Monday’s 113-96 loss. “We can sit here and say what we gotta do, or what we didn’t do or what we did do, but it comes down to having the will to win that game Wednesday and forcing a Game 6 back in Utah and taking it from there.”
It has largely been Anthony’s inability to hit shots, or defend the pick-and-roll, that has the Thunder in this hole. And his struggles have been season-long. He averaged 16.2 points on 40.4 percent shooting and 76.7 percent from the stripe, with a middling 12.78 PER. Every one of those stats is a career low.
Since waiving his no-trade clause to get out of a toxic Knicks situation, Anthony has sacrificed to try to fit into Oklahoma City’s Big Three, switching positions, turning himself into a stretch-four and taking a backseat to Russell Westbrook and Paul George. But he may have to sacrifice a lot more.
On defense, Anthony has gone from porous to slow and porous. Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles have lit up the Thunder, who are worse with Anthony on the floor. And with Anthony set to make $27.9 million next season – and turning 34 next month – can Oklahoma City actually afford to keep him?
It’s becoming apparent that Anthony will opt in to the next year of his contract, making him the 11th-highest paid player in the NBA. He also may be the league’s most overpaid. And Jerami Grant is making himself a useful, athletic late-game complement to Westbrook. Olympic Melo is long gone; will we see Bench Melo?
Thunder coach Billy Donovan has praised Anthony’s professionalism all season, much the way the Thunder have steadfastly and stubbornly taken a “nothing to see here” stance on their woes. But he clearly isn’t a fit playing second — no, make that third fiddle — and would they keep him as the world’s costliest reserve?
He could be waived outright. After Anthony accepted a trade from the Knicks because he thought he could win alongside Westbrook and George, would he accept a buyout in hopes of landing in Houston with James Harden and Chris Paul? And would the Rockets even want a stationary shooter who can barely shoot, hitting 35 percent from deep and playing precious little defense?
Anthony’s Value Over Replacement Player was a minus 1.1, which was 537th out of 540 qualified players. At 27, that’s a struggle. At nearly 34, that’s a precipitous decline. But at nearly $28 million, it’s a problem the Thunder must deal with this offseason.
If they lose Wednesday, that offseason will start immediately.
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