This will be Houston’s second go at pursuing Anthony in the past four years and our second Photoshop of Carmelo as a Houston Rocket
From the moment Dwight Howard arrived, the “stretch four” concept has both tantalized and eluded the Rockets. Despite elite defense from Omer Asik, the Rockets never found a consistent way to make their offense run at peak efficiency without a power forward with mobility and perimeter skills. That’s why Terrence Jones quickly played his way into the starting lineup, and why other players such as Ryan Anderson in New Orleans have been popular potential trade targets.
Along those lines, it would seem that probable free agent Carmelo Anthony — yes, the seven-time All-Star and 2013 scoring champion – has all the “stretch four” qualities the Rockets are searching for and then some.
In short, Anthony is a bonafide scorer who commands respect all over the floor and makes the game easier on offense for everyone around him. Though he turned 30 in May, his game doesn’t seem to be overly dependent on athleticism. Judging by PER and Win Shares, the Knicks forward turned in the two finest seasons of his entire career during the past two years. If anything, he seems to be making further improvements, including the highest 3-point percentage (40.2%) of his career in 2013-14.
By all indications, Anthony is likely to opt out of his contract by June 23 and become a free agent. The Rockets have reportedly gained “significant momentum” as Anthony’s preferred destination, now resting alongside Chicago on the top line.
Before we delve too far into the fit, let’s start with the obvious: the Rockets are chasing a player who can be the “third-best player on a championship team”. Anthony, who averaged 27.4 points/game and 8.1 rebounds/game in 2013-14 for the New York Knicks, is clearly someone of that caliber.
For two consecutive postseasons against Oklahoma City and Portland, we’ve seen what Kevin McHale chooses to do when Houston’s back is against the wall. They go small, believing it’s the best way to maximize spacing and give James Harden room to operate. That’s the reason Harden and Chandler Parsons each spent considerable time guarding LaMarcus Aldridge this year, and why Parsons frequently picked up Serge Ibaka a season ago.
The main problem, of course, is that neither Harden nor Parsons is thick enough to hold his ground in the post and offer much resistance. Enter Anthony, who at 6-foot-8, 236 pounds and built like a bull, has actually proven to be a very capable post defender. He won’t remind anyone of Tim Duncan on that end, but he could mesh perfectly with how these Rockets want to play – especially with Howard available behind him for help. And on offense, especially in a half-court setting, his presence would lift them from being one of the best to a potential juggernaut.
While many discount Anthony as a ball-stopping scorer, take a look at how he has played in Olympic action and All-Star games when surrounded by top talent. In the 2012 Olympics in London, he set the all-time US record for points in an Olympic game (37), doing it in just 14 minutes (what?), and ultimately guided the team to a gold medal. Flanked by a similarly-talented roster in the 2014 All-Star Game, he hit eight threes to set an All-Star Game record. Those performances suggest Anthony would have the potential to thrive playing alongside an elite scorer such as Harden.
While it’s believed that the majority of his time in Houston would come at power forward, Anthony’s versatility with the forward spots could allow the Rockets to manage Parsons’ minutes more closely as well. Parsons averaged nearly 38 minutes/game during the season and 42 minutes/game in the playoffs – numbers that likely compromised his energy on the defensive end of the floor.
The Rockets do not have major cap room at the moment, but continue to operate as if trading Asik and Jeremy Lin for that space is a mere formality. They may not quite reach the level of space needed for Anthony’s full-max deal (almost $23 million), but Anthony is reportedly willing to make some financial sacrifices if it can be shown to him that it enables his new team to have a better supporting cast.
Anthony and his wife are said to love New York City as a home, and the Knicks can offer him a 5th year on his contract that other teams cannot. But Anthony’s rumored top priority is to win titles, and there’s little Phil Jackson can say this summer to prove the Knicks’ status as a near-term contender. Because of that, the perception in league circles is that Anthony is likely to depart, just as Howard did from Los Angeles a summer ago.
If the decision comes down to the Bulls and Rockets, the selling points for each will be evident. The Bulls will offer a slightly more glamorous city, a proven coach in Tom Thibodeau and a potentially easier path to the NBA Finals. The drawback, of course, is that much of Chicago’s plan depends on the health of Derrick Rose and his knees.
Meanwhile, the Rockets will offer a team with two superstars already in place, both healthy and close to the prime of their careers. Neither play Anthony’s position. And in Howard’s case, Anthony already signaled an interest in prior years to playing alongside him.
If Anthony’s top priority is truly winning titles – not merely advancing to the Finals courtesy of a weak Eastern Conference, or winding up in a glamour market – the Rockets have to like their chances.
Clutch also contributed to this profile.