Sam Presti moves in silence!! After months of one-step-forward, two-step-back negotiations, the Carmelo Anthony era in New York finally, mercifully ended Saturday—just not how we all thought. Anthony, a 10-time All-Star and once one of the faces of the NBA, will not, in fact, be joining Chris Paul and James Harden in Houston as expected. He’ll instead join Russell Westbrook and Paul George with the Oklahoma City Thunder, according to ESPN and Yahoo reports.
In order to pull off the move, Presti, the Thunder GM, will reportedly send out the following: Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and a second-round pick (via Chicago). So, in summation, Presti landed two members of last season’s Eastern Conference All-Stars for Victor Oladipo and Kanter (two flawed players on bad contracts), McDermott (little more than a specialist at this point), and Domantas Sabonis (an older rookie who struggled to stay on the court for a team that needed shooting). Anthony is even waiving his trade kicker for OKC! This shall heretofore be known as the Summer of Presti.
The move is an obvious windfall for the Thunder. Anthony is hardly the player the average fan thinks he is, but he’s also not worse than a rookie who has never played in the NBA. There are immediate concerns about how a player who has dominated the ball his whole career will fit next to a reigning MVP with one of the highest usage rates in league history, but if Anthony is willing to transform into one of his better, most team-friendly alter egos—and waiving his no-trade clause to leave New York, a city so beloved by him that he’s chosen in the past to stay there over better on-court situations, for one of the smallest markets in the league is a good sign—the Thunder will instantly become a title contender. Westbrook viciously running around and into things, George playing off him and combining forces with Andre Roberson to defend the opponent’s best players, Anthony spotting up and potentially taking over late when OKC needs his still-effective one-on-one scoring, Steven Adams doing the dirty work. It could be beautiful, if Anthony is willing to make it work.
Because for Anthony, this is as much an ending as it is a beginning. He’s entering perhaps the best basketball situation of his life, with the potential to start ridding himself of some of the criticisms that have taken over as the dominant story line of his career: that he’s more interested in his own success and personal interests than his team’s. But we may also be saying goodbye to the player who, weirdly enough, helped define an era. After seven seasons of serving as the face of one of the league’s biggest franchises, Anthony is off to become a third option. Dwyane Wade can barely get on the court. Chris Paul is still a point god but perhaps no longer the Point God.
The party’s ending for a generation of superstars. The hope here is that, with the older guard glomming on to the next wave, as Anthony and Paul have, the back end will be a hell of a celebration.