Carmelo Anthony and the Los Angeles Lakers have been connected more than any player and team in recent memory without any real report about trade talks having taken place.
In the coming months, that’s sure to change, but for now, the Lakers have a few serious questions to ask themselves about the player they once chased and fell short with in free agency only a couple years ago.
This is simply too good an opportunity to pass up, so let’s try to answer a few of those questions right here.
How did we get here?
When Phil Jackson basically announced to the world that Carmelo Anthony was on the trade block, it’s immeasurably safe to say the wheels starting turning in the Lakers’ newly-filled offices.
That press conference essentially tanked any remaining leverage he might’ve once had, and a couple of heady businessmen like Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka had to have taken note. When they pick up the phone to inquire about Anthony, they’ll be doing so from an incredible position of strength.
Passing on such an opportunity would be a pretty poor way to start their first offseason.
The Lakers find themselves smack-dab in the middle of a couple crucial stages in a rebuild. On one hand, they could very easily trot out the same core that improved by nine wins from last season to this one.
On the other, that win total went from an all-time low 17 wins to a pretty measly 26.
D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Ivica Zubac and Larry Nance Jr. have all flashed enough talent to intrigue, but not enough to make anyone absolutely positive about the franchise’s direction.
Because Phil mangled that press conference the way he did, the Lakers could pretty easily inject their roster with legitimate NBA talent they haven’t had since Kobe Bryant’s achilles injury without offering up a major piece of their future.
When Jeanie Buss said she’d be heartbroken to not have a Laker playing in the All-Star Game next year, we all should’ve taken notice. The city is starving for a star, and that hunger seems to start at the very top of the Lakers organization.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and this just seems to make too much sense not to hear more about it as we get further into the offseason.
Let’s make a deal.
Again, the Lakers are working from a position of incredible leverage. Quite frankly, off the top of my head, I can’t remember such a disparity in leverage since poor Dikembe Mutombo tried to use his buck-fifty frame to keep Shaq out of the key.
Now, technically, Phil could take various offers to other teams to try to regain any semblance of that all-important leverage, but don’t get me wrong, there is no way the return on Melo will be anywhere near what the Knicks gave up to acquire him.
Anthony is set to make nearly $27 million next season and has another year left on it beyond that — two if he accepts his player option for the 2018-19 season.
Teams are already going to balk at paying this much for a player whose skills have diminished and will continue to do so, but seeing as teams have actually spent fairly responsibly (outside of last year — more on that in a bit), it’s actually tougher than you’d think to find a viable cap match in a trade.
On top of that, Anthony is by all reports still focused on major markets (Los Angeles, New York, Chicago or Miami) or teams vying for a title.
Chicago doesn’t have the contracts to make it work. The Clippers don’t have much outside of Austin Rivers and some future picks. Miami could be an option, but they have some serious questions to answer on their overachieving roster. Cleveland could make it work, but outside of their key pieces, they don’t have anywhere near the assets to compete.
Which brings us to the Lakers.
We could jest about Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng to New York for Melo, but not even Phil is that desperate.
Clarkson will probably have to included as he represents a combination of a viable asset with a good contract. Could Magic and Pelinka convince Phil to consider a package of Clarkson, Deng and the Houston pick for Melo? Probably not, but this is a good place to start realistic negotiations.
If they do accept the offer for some crazy reason (and they might — this is the Knicks), Melo’s contract is a full year shorter than Deng’s (if he doesn’t pick up that player option for 2018-’19).
Best case in this scenario: Phil accepts Clarkson, Deng and the picks necessary for Melo, who then opts out only a year later. The Lakers could then stretch Mozgov that same summer and holy crap look at all that cap space. Let’s just enjoy this a bit.
Alright, we’re back.
Phil would absolutely leak this trade upon offering so as to get other teams to raise their offers, but the Lakers should feel comfortable with this as a conversation starter.
To be clear, this would be an absolute home run of a deal for the Lakers. Giving up Clarkson or the Houston pick for cap relief obviously isn’t ideal, but Deng’s contract is just. That. Bad. If further picks are needed to make this work, the Lakers would still have to listen to what Phil might ask for.
To take another step towards reality, the Lakers might have to swap out Deng for Corey Brewer, whose contract is up at the end of next year.
Despite the negotiations on Wednesday’s “Locked on Lakers” podcast (audio below), this is about as far as I’d be willing to go if I’m the Lakers front office. There’s absolutely no necessity to make a deal here. Carmelo represents a pretty good NBA player who could go a long way in replacing a not-very-good
corpse NBA player on an outright awful contract.
If the trade is indeed Clarkson, Brewer and that pick for Melo, Deng would have to be dealt as soon as humanly possible. The Lakers cannot afford to pay nearly $45 million to two past-their-prime tweener forwards.
(Quick sidenote: I’d think long and hard about a trade centered Randle, Deng and whatever picks it might take to Minnesota for Ricky Rubio in a subsequent deal to get Deng’s money off the books and clear up the crowded frontcourt.)
But still, why Melo?
Mostly, because I think he’s criminally underrated at this point. Way to go, Knicks. You just keep on Knicksing.
Of course Melo has slipped. He’s on the wrong side of 30 and probably can’t play small forward consistently on a good team anymore. Cool thing is: The Lakers just drafted a small forward, and another really good wing is reportedly hell-bent on coming to L.A.
For some reason, people seem to think adding Anthony would somehow hurt the chances at garnering interest from Paul George, but I’m of the opinion he’d probably like to arrive in Los Angeles with a Team USA teammate waiting for him. Both guys have said they’re okay playing power forward so long as it isn’t their dominant position.
So, they alternate. Problem solved.
As far as why I think the Lakers will make the dealn it's because, well, they’re tired of not only being bad, but being boring. Sure, most commenters on the site and Twitter GMs will balk at the idea, but generally speaking, they’re far outweighed by casual fans who just want to see their team win.
Is this the best way to run a franchise? No, probably not. Is it a smart way to run a business? Yes, yes it is.
If the Lakers can acquire a big name without offering up Russell or Ingram and potentially shedding one of the biggest contractual mistakes in Lakers history, then it’s an absolute no-brainer.
Carmelo obviously isn’t the perfect injection of star power we’d all have in mind, but it’s really rare that a player like that becomes available — let alone at such a bargain basement price.
Again, you just keep on doing your thing, Knicks.
Lastly, what would this mean for the development of the kids?
I honestly think fans who paid close attention are so scarred by Kobe’s depressingly negative effect on the Russell that they think any star would have a similar impact. I’m just not of that frame of mind.
When people think of Melo at this point, they probably envision a ball-stopping, inefficient defensive sieve. To certain extent, they aren’t necessarily wrong.
I just happen to believe situation dictates success, and the Knicks are such a cancerous organization that would hurt just about any player’s value, almost regardless of talent level.
For Russell, he gets someone who commands defense’s attention, thus helping spacing.
Brandon Ingram gets to learn how to score from quite arguably one of the best to ever put ball in basket in NBA history at his position. Ingram already likes to try to play bully ball. Melo might be one of the best bullies the league’s seen in recent years.
The player this probably hurts most by far is Randle, unless he becomes worlds better defensively. Otherwise, Melo’s arrival (as stated above) might signal the end of Randle’s time as a Laker. This said, Nance as a free safety small-ball five alongside Melo’s offensive prowess could be quite a bit of fun.
Is there risk involved? Of course there is. But getting rid of Deng in any deal is usually worth that gamble. The upside of what Melo might bring on the court is just icing on the cake.
So, what now?
Well, we wait.
All this could very well be for naught. In which case, well, I’m sorry. But the stars do seem to be aligned here.
Phil is done with Melo. The Lakers have the contracts and assets to make a deal work. They also have an eager new front office ready to make a splash — this would just be a responsible one, if worked out correctly.
Just know that this involves a lot more thought that those who will quote-tweet this link with some iteration of “Smh clickbait” or “hell no your dumm”.
Just as has been the case since this rebuild started, the Lakers need to take advantage of situations whenever they present themselves. So, when Phil Jackson basically puts a bow on the best player the Knicks organization has had in decades, the wheels had better start turning.
Anthony Irwin is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here, or listen to our latest episodein which I negotiate a Melo trade with Locked on Knicks below).