As Saturday’s deadline passed, Oklahoma City Thunder forward Carmelo Anthony didn’t exercise the Early Termination Option of his existing contract. By not doing so, Anthony will remain with the Thunder for one more season and OKC will have to pay him the remaining $27.9M owed to him for the 2018-19 season.
The Thunder acquired Anthony and the balance of his five year $120M deal last season in exchange for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and Chicago’s 2018 2nd round pick which turned out to be 36th pick Mitchell Robinson, a 20 year old 7-1 center from Chalmette High School.
Anthony started all 78 games he played for OKC last season but he averaged career lows in scoring ( 16.2 points per game ) , field goal percentage ( 40.4% ) , free throw shooting percentage ( 76.7% ) and assists ( 1.3 assists per game ). With those numbers and the fact that Anthony is already 34 years old, he wasn’t expected to get a better offer had he tested the free agency market. In fact, at $27.9M, Anthony is a very overpaid third option on a mediocre team.
But because teammate Paul George is in a similar position - George can opt out of his current contract, Anthony could play an increased role in Oklahoma City should PG13 decide to leave the Thunder in free agency. If George stays, Thunder head coach Billy Donovan will have at least one more year to win with George, Anthony and the Thunder’s 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook. Said Donovan:
"If he is back with the team, if he feels like this is something he wants to continue to do, we all just got to be on the same page," Thunder general manager Sam Presti said in April. "I don't want to lead it any different direction. Carmelo was great for us this year in the role he was playing: made more 3s than he's ever made in his career, changed his shot distribution, lowest turnover year. As I said before, that lineup was the best starting lineup in the league."
The Paul George Dilemma
Per Mark Stein of the New York Times, the Thunder have a ‘better than expected’ chance to retain the services of Paul George. According to Stein, ‘more than one team rival’ revealed that George will ‘strongly consider signing a one-plus-one deal’ to remain with the OKC Thunder and continue playing with Westbrook and Anthony. The rumor says that George will make $30.3M in year one and another $32.7M in 2019-20. The deal reportedly includes a player option to become a free agent again next summer.
If George does decide to return to OKC, then it’s going to be huge for the Thunder’s 2018-19 NBA campaign. However, if he does, and the Thunder sign him to a max deal this summer, then OKC will have one of the largest payrolls in the history of the NBA. According to the ESPN’s Bobby Marks, OKC’s payroll could reach the $150M mark if George re-signs. As a consequence, the Thunder will then be expected to be hit with a luxury tax of $120M. That’s massive for a small market team like the Thunder.
George, a native of Palmdale, California, has long been linked to his hometown Los Angeles Lakers. Those rumors were already there even before George hit OKC and the Thunder took the risk of trading for him without the guarantee that he will be staying beyond the 2017-18 season. But George said that he was willing to stay in OKC if they accomplished something special last season. The Thunder didn’t and now the feeling is that PG13 might bolt OKC by opting out of his contract.
No matter how you look at it, the Thunder are the losers of that trade. Victor Oladipo has blossomed into a legit all-star and a true franchise player in Indiana while Domantas Sabonis, who was but a mere kicker to the deal, put up career high numbers in his first season with the Pacers. Sure, OKC got a marquee name in Paul George, but he has given them nothing more than uncertainty after just one season.
The Consequences For The Thunder
As for Anthony, the Thunder knew the consequences when they traded for him. There was no chance in hell that Melo would opt out of his existing contract because there was no way he could earn $27.9M in the free agency market, not at his age and not with what his game brings to the table.
Now that Anthony has opted in, the Thunder will not only have to carry the financial burden of his salary but also his ego. It can be recalled that Anthony declared last season that he would never come off the bench in OKC. Then after the Thunder got eliminated by the upstart Utah Jazz in the first round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs, Anthony sounded off on the team during the exit interviews and expressed his frustration over the role he was given on the team.
“I think for me, my focus would be on kind of figuring out what I want out of the rest of my career, what I want in my future, what am I willing to accept, if I'm willing to accept that at all," Anthony said following the season. "I think everybody knows that I've sacrificed kind of damned near everything, family, moving here by myself, sacrificed my game for the sake of the team and was willing to sacrifice anything and everything in order for this situation to work out. So it's something I really have to think about, if I really want to be this type of player, finish out my career as this type of player, knowing that I have so much left in the tank and I bring so much to the game of basketball."
While he said all those things, Anthony put up career worst numbers in scoring and field goal shooting. His assist totals for the 2017-18 NBA season was also a career low for him and him getting the starting job was heavily criticized by midseason.
Based on the results, Anthony was probably more of a disaster than a bonus in his first season at Oklahoma City. Instead of having the luxury of having a third all-star on his team, Thunder head coach Billy Donovan was more busy finding a role that pleased Anthony rather than Melo helping the team pick up victories.
OKC’s Immediate Future
Carmelo Anthony has decided to stay in OKC. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t be moved. The Thunder have the option to negotiate and buy him out of his contract. Should they go that direction and be successful, OKC can then use the stretch provision to defer his effect to their salary cap.
Anthony cannot be traded to another team unless he waives the no trade clause in his contract. He waived his right when he was in New York and decided he wanted to play for OKC. But the NTC isn’t a consumable option, and he has to waive it again in order for the Thunder to deal him to another team.That is if there is another team willing to trade for him.
As it stands right now, the future of OKC’s 2018-19 campaign lies in the hands of Paul George. Will he decide to stay with the group and try again for at least one more season? Will Anthony’s re-signing convince PG13 to stay? Or will it drive him away from the Thunder. Those questions will be answered soon as George has until June 30th to opt out of his contract and hit the free agency market on July 1.
The Westbrook-PG13-Melo experiment failed miserably in year one. The Thunder barely got into the postseason and were booted out right away in round one. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is destined to fail again in Year 2 - that is if there will be another year for the OK3.
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