The more the Knicks lose, the more I hear chatter about Carmelo Anthony becoming a "gettable" free agency target for the Lakers this summer. "He is dissatisfied in New York with the losing, his good friend Kobe and the Los Angeles weather will be able to convince him to come to the Lakers and push them back towards title contention" seems to be the gist of it.
There are a lot of obvious flaws in this line of thinking, which I will try to summarize here:
- Melo Does Not Want to Play His Most Effective Position- This is obviously a huge factor in terms of roster fit. Early last year, when Carmelo was playing small-ball power forward for the Knicks, their offense was flowing and he personally was also playing some of the most effective ball of his career. He has additionally played this role at times for Team USA and thrived there as well. Yet this year he has shifted back to small forward, some of which is coaching and roster yes, but does anyone really think that the Knicks would not start Melo at center if he asked to play it? I didn’t think so. In addition to the stats presented by Zach Lowe in the previously linked to Grantland article, this Bleacher Report article by Adam Fromal contains a chart summarizing how much more effective Anthony is at power forward during the 2012-13 season. As Fromal states, the numbers at center are obviously an outlier, as he only played 4% of his minutes there. For the other stats though, it is clear to see that not only did Anthony’s strong suit of offense improve at the 4 spot, his lack of size did not cause him to worsen on defense by very much in terms of his PER given up. This passes the eye test as well, when Melo is guarding power forwards on post ups, he seems to be much more physical on the defensive end, whereas on the perimeter he is exceedingly prone to blow-bys. Additionally, his PER differential, meaning his PER minus the PER of the player he was guarding, was several points higher at the 4 as well. Those articles gives a more in-depth argument for Carmelo playing the 4 then I ever could. Read them if you are not convinced.
- If Carmelo Anthony is Going to Play Power Forward, Who is Going to Protect the Rim?- Throw all of those stats about Anthony playing power forward out the window, they were skewed by the huge outlier that is Tyson Chandler’s Elite Rim Protection™. The Lakers currently do not have anyone of that ability level on their roster. Remember, while the numbers said that Anthony’s widely maligned defensive ability and effectiveness only got slightly worse while playing the four, they still got worse and that was with Tyson Chandler playing next to him. Who knows how much worse that figure would be with a replacement level center patrolling the back line. Unfortunately, replacement level is all the Lakers can reasonably shoot for at the 5 if they commit max or close to max level money to Carmelo Anthony. The main asset that the Lakers have to add to their roster other than cap space is their first round pick in this year’s draft, likely to be very high or within the top five. Regrettably, the 2014 draft, while loaded, looks to only have one prospect who could possibly fit the bill of center of the future: Joel Embiid of the Kansas Jayhawks. Now, if the Lakers were even in a position to draft Embiid to unite with Melo and Kobe, it seems a little unfair to expect a rookie center who has been described in college as raw seemingly mandatorily in every mock draft that I have seen, to come in and learn how to defend at the NBA level with at minimum two minus defenders acting as turnstiles to the rim in front of him. Could Embiid end up being good enough to defend in a situation like that at the NBA level at some point in his career? It is possible, but again, seems like a bad spot to put him in as he learns all the ins and outs of the league.
And speaking of personnel issues affecting the fit of Melo in LA
- Mike D’Antoni is Still Coach- In New York, Carmelo was the lead factor in his resignation. That much is not up for debate. Could the two still have a working relationship? They seemed to be able to at the Olympics. But working in more of a co-worker type relationship, as Anthony and D’Antoni did with Team USA where D’Antoni is an assistant; and working under D’Antoni again would be too very different situations. This is due to a multitude of factors, the most significant of which is probably philosophical differences on style of play. D’Antoni would prefer to run multiple pick and rolls at a fairly quick pace, while Carmelo prefers to have the ball in his hands in isolation to make a play. The Lakers seem married to D’Antoni for at least next year, and I think given all of the injuries he has had to deal with this season, he has proved that he is an above average coach deserving of at least one more year.
Additional fit issues include that
- Anthony Still Wants to Be the Undisputed Number One Option- We have all seen Carmelo and Kobe play together on Team USA, and seen Anthony subvert his ego and play off of the Mamba and other more established and better players such as LeBron, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, etc. Nevertheless, this is similar to the argument against him and D’Antoni ever reuniting: it is very different to do this for a couple of weeks or months for one event representing his country than it is to sign up for it for multiple years on an almost daily basis. Given the fact that Kobe just last year told Dwight Howard, a much more valuable overall player than Anthony WITH a bigger ego and thinner skin, that he could get in line behind him in the pecking order, it does not sound like he is ready to let go of his place at the top of the food chain just yet. So unless his all of his injuries within the last year have softened that stance, this presents a problem, because Carmelo has given no indication that he is ready to not be a team’s leading (shot taker?) scorer. Just looking at his tenure with the Knicks, during his first season he came in and took over the lead scoring role from Amare Stoudemire. Then the next year he went down with an injury, the team started playing better during Linsanity, so Carmelo responded by coming back, derailing the teams flow, leading to Mike D’Antoni's resignation and causing the Knicks to let Lin go. Last year, when he was playing the 4 and the ball was moving around the court at lightning speed, Anthony was admittedly effective. Other than that time, as well as his short stints with Team USA, Anthony has shown no inclination to be a part of a team where he is not the undisputed focal point of the offense. Maybe he and his good friend Kobe Bryant could come to an understanding, but that is certainly not the most likely outcome.
- Melo is not coming to L.A. - Makes all the arguments about fit moot anyway. Despite the ongoing tire fire that is the Knicks 2013-2014 season, Carmelo has given every indication that record alone is not enough to make him want to switch teams. Despite his assertions to the contrary, Anthony showed at the 2011 trade deadline when he made the Knicks give up a plethora of assets to trade for him so that he could do an extend and trade contract for more money under the terms of the expiring CBA, rather than just sign with the Knicks outright over the summer when they would have had the cap space to do so. All fit issues aside, I think that Carmelo would stay with the Knicks just for the fact that they can guarantee him more money, as well as seemingly giving him and his agents run of the franchise.
So basically, for Carmelo Anthony to work out as a Laker, the following would have to happen
- He would have to take less money/years than the Knicks can offer him
- He would have play his less preferred position of power forward
- The Lakers would have to acquire a legitimate rim protector to play next to him
- He and D’Antoni would have to settle their differences
- He and Kobe would have to be able to co-exist, with only one of them being able to be the alpha dog/leading scorer.
I would be thrilled about the move if all of those things could happen. Watching Melo and (a healthy) Kobe run creatively designed plays to dually attack over-matched defenses has the potential to be basketball porn. However, I am not willing to bet on it happening. Are the Lakers?