After Carmelo Anthony spent most of last season struggling in Oklahoma City, Houston’s near-trade for him in the 2017 offseason (and taking on the remaining $54 million on his contract) could’ve been remembered as a fourth I Know What You Did Last Summer. Instead, one year later, The New York Times reported that after Melo is bought out by the Hawks, he plans to sign with the Rockets. He is expected to sign a one-year contract at the veteran minimum.
Anthony was sent from OKC to Atlanta last Thursday in a three-way deal, but he won’t hit free agency until the trade is made official. That may take until next week—which might also be when our brains are able to process the idea of Melo in Houston’s offense. Yes, the 34-year-old has been linked to the team since rumblings began that the Thunder wanted to move him; yes, he’s good friends with Chris Paul; and yes, he played under Mike D’Antoni once before in New York. (Time heals all.) But there’s still a giant, looming question mark regarding fit, and, more importantly, Carmelo’s willingness to fit.
Other than aiding in the initial recruitment, Paul is crucial to Anthony’s role in Houston because the former could convince the latter to take on a smaller, more appropriate role than what Melo was aiming for with the Thunder. He seemed disgruntled in OKC from the jump, laughing in a preseason press conference when asked if he might come off the bench:
The Thunder offense was turbulent for a majority of the season. Paul George was still trying to get acclimated, and usage-rate king Russell Westbrook was still eating up possessions, but Anthony was often a scapegoat (who fired away shots like he was the GOAT). Playing with Westbrook can be unflattering for those around him; there’s even a popular argument now that his former teammates thrive once they leave OKC. (Victor Oladipo, now with the Pacers, was 2018’s Most Improved Player the season after he was traded away.) Even so, Anthony playing under the James Harden–Paul oligarchy could surpass playing alongside one Westbrook: D’Antoni’s offense gets its oxygen from Harden’s and Paul’s ball dominance, whether they’re driving it in to kick it out, or finishing at the rim, or pulling up the moment the 3-point line is visible. Anthony is a capable catch-and-shoot option—a career-high percentage of his shots came from deep last season, and he made them at a 35.7 percent clip—and he could offer jump-shot security from the midrange if Paul goes down again. The question is whether he’ll be content with that role.
Paul convincing his friend to find happiness in a reduced role seems hard to believe after last season, yet Anthony won’t benefit the team if he insists on more. Houston already lost Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute this offseason, taking two hits to its defense; adding Melo to the roster would be a third.
It’s difficult to list Anthony’s pros and cons when one of the latter is a history of indignation. Should he be open to not being the first, second, third, or even fourth option, there will be a place for him in Houston. But unlike in OKC, if the Melo experiment fails, it won’t be on Anthony. The Rockets had a season-long preview of what they could be getting themselves into.