Ever since LeBron James returned to the Cavaliers, there has been much speculation that he would eventually team up with some of his best friends in the league; Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade, and Carmelo Anthony.
Chris Paul is unnecessary, as the Cavaliers already have a star point guard in Kyrie Irving. Paul is also, most likely, unattainable, as he was just traded to the Houston Rockets to pair up with James Harden. James has already played with the Bull‘s current superstar, Wade, but may have another chance as a buyout for the latter appears to be a possibility this season. While Anthony, a member of the Knicks, is also poised to don a different uniform in the near future after his fallout with the organization.
New York appears to be entering a rebuilding stage, centered around forward-center Kristaps Porzingis and newly-drafted guard Frank Ntilikina. This puts Anthony in an awkward situation, as he has expressed his desire to remain in New York to be close to his son and wife. At 33 years old, Anthony is approaching the twilight of his career, and he likely belongs to a contending team in order to help them win, instead of keeping a young team mediocre.
The Knicks would strongly prefer trading Anthony for young players and picks, as opposed to buying him out, but the star forward has a no-trade clause in his contract, which gives him the ability to veto any trade involving him. Reports say that there are two teams he would waive the clause for and they are Cleveland and Houston. This bodes well for the Cavs, as Anthony’s market is limited, reducing competition and keeping his price low. Anthony would also keep his options down to the Cavs and Rockets if he is bought out.
The Rockets are limited in what they can and would give up for Anthony. Any trade would almost certainly have to include stretch-four Ryan Anderson to help match salaries. Anderson is a solid offensive player and shooter, but is very overpaid. And with three years left on his contract, the Knicks were correct in rejecting him in a possible Anthony deal in the past. Since the Knicks have no interest in Anderson, Eric Gordon and Trevor Ariza would need to be involved, but as those two players are crucial members of the Rockets’ eight-man rotation, it’s tough to see Houston agreeing to a deal. Because of this, Anthony to Houston seems unlikely at this point.
Seeing as the Rockets, basically the Cavs’ only competition in trade, are unlikely to land Anthony, wouldn’t it be best for the Cavs to wait for a possible buyout in order to get Anthony for free? Not necessarily.
If Anthony is bought out, the rest of his contract would be void, making him a free agent. Because of this, he would be free to sign with any team. While in this scenario, he would probably sign with Cleveland, there is certainly no guarantee.
But possibly, and most importantly, if he signs with the Cavs after a buyout, it would be just for the rest of the season. And because of the Cavs’ cap situation, the most they could offer him is the mid-level exception, valued at $5.2 million, which is vastly less than what Anthony is worth, even at the age of 33.
A third issue is the timeline. Anthony would be joining the Cavs at about the midpoint of the season, giving the team less time to work on its chemistry. The Cavs learned this the hard way last season when they signed Deron Williams. He never got into a groove with the Cavs, leading to an abysmal NBA Finals performance. The more time a new player is allowed to acclimate to his new team, the quicker he will be up to speed and contributing at a high level.
Because of these reasons, trading for Anthony now instead of waiting should be strongly considered. If they traded for him now, they would keep his current contract, which, while it appears rather pricey, is really not a bad deal for the team. Especially considering that the Cavs would be able to keep him for next season, and perhaps most importantly, they would gain his bird rights, which would allow them to re-sign Anthony at any price despite already being over the salary cap (exactly how the Cavs were able to re-sign Kyle Korver to a 3-year, $22 million deal this summer).
Acquiring Anthony now would allow him to gel with the Cavs’ Big Three, granted that neither Irving nor Kevin Love would be traded, as Anthony would become an integral part of the offense, and will also allow the Cavs to adjust to the loss of the players to be traded for Anthony.
But would Anthony even fit in well with the Cavs? What’s the point of trading for him?
In short, Anthony would be a godsend for this team. Despite being 33, he is still one of the top scoring threats in the entire league. He is not the athlete he once was, but has developed his game to the point where that doesn’t hurt him. His mid-range jumper in isolation is a thing of beauty. He is a good three-point shooter, better than his percentage indicates because he takes many contested triples due to how defenses gameplan against him.
While he doesn’t have a reputation as a great passer, he does have stretches where he sees the court very well, and facilitates for his teammates, and that’s when his teams are at their best. Defensively, he doesn’t have a great reputation either, but is actually a passable to decent perimeter defender, at least better than Love. The only time Anthony has ever played with really good players has been during his three Olympic appearances. Olympic Melo is fantastic to watch, and the Cavs would be getting something similar to that, although maybe not to the exact degree because of the higher level of competition.
As for his fit, Anthony would be best-served coming off the bench, playing the three and four positions. He is taller than LeBron James, as well as strong, so he has the physicality to guard power forwards. One of the Cavs’ biggest issues last season was how they completely fell apart when James was not on the floor, even when Irving and Love are playing. This is due to the fact that the Cavs’ entire offense is built around James’s ability to score and garner attention, something that completely disappears once Richard Jefferson replaces him. Staggering James and Anthony would eliminate this problem, as he can do just about anything offensively that James can. And at the end of games, the Cavs could run a lineup of Irving, J.R. Smith, James, Anthony, and Love, which, while lacking defensively, would be simply unstoppable offensively.
So what would a trade package for Anthony look like? Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson, and Iman Shumpert would match salary, while either a first round pick or soon-to-be Cavalier Cedi Osman would need to be added in order to make it worthwhile for New York.
Shumpert and Tristan Thompson would also work, but losing Thompson would hurt, right?
Probably not actually. Thompson is no longer a good matchup against Golden State, and while losing their starting center would be a big blow to the Cavs, signing a free agent center on a cheap salary would negate that. The Knicks already have a plethora of big men, so getting Thompson would be redundant. Because of this, they could send Kyle O’Quinn back to Cleveland, as his contract fits into the trade exception created by trading Mike Dunleavy last season. O’Quinn is bigger than Thompson, has a solid offensive game, is a very good defender, and is still relatively young. He would be at worst a lateral move from Thompson.
Recent reports have the Rockets pursuing a trade along with a third team, in this case the Portland Trail Blazers. The Cavs would be wise to attempt to do the same.
The Cavaliers need to do something to better matchup against the Golden State Warriors, and that means finding a way to counter Kevin Durant. Trading for Carmelo Anthony would go a long way towards doing that.