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Where in the World Will Melo Go Next?

Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder are reportedly separating this summer. Will he join LeBron on the Lakers? Chris Paul on the Rockets? We weigh some of the possible options.

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Stay Me7o, just do it somewhere else. Oklahoma City is reportedly working on an arrangement with Carmelo Anthony to part ways this summer. As is, the Thunder are looking at $310 million in payroll and luxury taxes for the upcoming season, the highest in league history. Shedding the 34-year-old Melo would likely save the franchise around $107 million (and a couple of hundred ill-chosen, off-the-dribble 3s).

Anthony declined to exercise the early termination option on the final year of his contract, guaranteeing his $27.9 million salary for 2018-19. That kind of money wouldn’t have been waiting for him as an unrestricted free agent, but his role in OKC wasn’t a clean fit for either side. From the start, Melo seemed agitated with being a lower priority on offense than Russell Westbrook and Paul George, which was a significant step back from six and a half years of headlining the Knicks.

There are a few options GM Sam Presti is considering as a means to Melo’s exit, according to ESPN: a trade, using the league’s stretch provision (which would add a $9.3 million charge to the Thunder’s cap sheets in each of the next three years), or agreeing to a buyout and then stretching what the team owes him. Dealing Anthony elsewhere is ideal—the stretch provision is kind of like the ghost that keeps on haunting you—though getting another team to take on $27.9 million (perhaps only to waive him) will still cost OKC, just in assets and/or draft picks. Melo has the power to veto any trade, but it seems like soon enough, he’ll be back on the market, available to sign wherever he wants—and for cheap. Where else could Melo fit?

Houston Rockets

Houston was within inches of trading for Carmelo last summer. As the Thunder’s season dragged on, it looked like a blessing for the Rockets that the deal fell through. Yet the front office is reportedly still interested in signing Carmelo, according to Marc Stein. They doubled down on Chris Paul, agreeing to a four-year, $159.7 max contract on Sunday, signaling a massive “win-now” push. But how Carmelo figures into that remains to be seen. Anthony’s fit in OKC wound up being more rigid than it ever was useful, and it’s difficult to imagine anything different with Houston. Carmelo would sedate its defense, which is already going to miss Trevor Ariza, and there’s little room for his ball-dominant, isolation-heavy offense next to Paul and James Harden.

Los Angeles Clippers

These aren’t your mom’s Clippers anymore—they’ve traded Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan is now in Dallas for real, Austin Rivers and all nepotism is gone, and Jerry West is in the corner burning sage; finally, L.A. has a fresh start. There is a catch in losing three stars, even if those stars were, in the end, dragging the franchise down: The front office has to prove it can cater to a star once again.

The fit goes both ways. If the roster stays as is, the Clippers have more guards than MJ does rings. Two of Doc Rivers’s most frequent 3-point shooters are gone; the other, Lou Williams, is a reserve. Carmelo can fire off all the shots he wants if he’s starting for the Clippers, doing some damage control after his performance in OKC heading into next summer.

Chicago Bulls

Chicago is Melo’s “what if” team. He chose money over winning when he re-signed with the Knicks instead of joining the Bulls in 2014, or at least that’s how it seemed at the time. He had even decided on Chicago before ultimately flipping, though the reasons he liked the idea of being a Bull—Tom Thibodeau and title contention—are gone.

Los Angeles Lakers

There’s no shame in wanting to play with one of your best friends in the twilight of your career … or, after 15 unsuccessful seasons, in chasing a ring. Here’s a disclaimer: I don’t think Melo’s presence would make any sense in Los Angeles next to LeBron James. But here’s another: The same logic applies for Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and JaVale McGee. It wouldn’t be the first wacky one-year deal Magic Johnson gave out this summer (but hopefully, it’d be the last).