NBA

What Carmelo Anthony's decision to not opt out means for him and the Oklahoma City Thunder

Jay Asser 24/06/2018
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Carmelo Anthony is coming off the worst season of his career.

Unsurprisingly, Carmelo Anthony didn’t exercise his early termination option on the final year of his contract, meaning he’ll return to the Oklahoma City Thunder next season while being paid $27.9 million.

Anthony could have chosen to opt out and hit free agency, but the 34-year-old likely wouldn’t have received anything close to his current annual salary on the open market.

While he’s a 10-time All-Star – and was named one as recently as 2017 – Anthony is clearly on the decline and coming off the worst season of his career, in which he averaged 16.2 points on just 40.4 per cent shooting in his first season with the Thunder.

Oklahoma City were expected to be title contenders with a core of Anthony, Russell Westbrook and Paul George, but were instead bounced out of the first round of the playoffs after a wildly inconsistent campaign.

Anthony’s role was in question throughout the season after he came over from the New York Knicks, where he was the main man and primary shot-taker. Playing alongside Westbrook and George – two players definitively more equipped to carry a greater offensive burden at this stage of their respective careers – Anthony struggled to settle into a supporting role.

After the season, Anthony didn’t sound like a player who is willing to scale back even further and give more room to Westbrook and George.

“I think the player that they wanted me to be and needed me to be was for the sake of this season,” Anthony said. “Should I say, because it was just so – like I said, everything was just thrown together, and it wasn’t anything that was planned out. It wasn’t no strategy to me being here, me being a part of the actual system and what type of player and things like that.

“As far as being effective as that type of player,” Anthony added, “I don’t think I can be effective as that type of player. I think I was willing to accept that challenge in that role, but I think I bring a little bit more to the game as far as being more knowledgeable and what I still can do as a basketball player.”

Anthony also once again shot down the idea of coming off the bench after laughing off the suggestion before the season.

It seems as if Anthony still believes he’s the type of player he has been for most of his career – a high-volume, go-to scorer – rather than what the current state of his skills dictate – a spot-up threat and primary option on the second unit.

In fairness to Anthony’s steadfast belief he’s still a starting calibre player, the Thunder’s five-man starting lineup of him, Westbrook, George, Andre Roberson and Steven Adams had a net rating of plus-14.2 this past season, which was third-best in the league among units to log at least 300 minutes. The lineup never realised their full potential as Roberson suffered a season-ending ruptured left patellar tendon at the end of January, just when it appeared Oklahoma City were finding their rhythm.

That lineup may not get a second chance as Paul George could be on his way out in free agency, with the star forward heavily linked with the Los Angeles Lakers.

If George does leave, the Thunder may not have any other choice but to leave Anthony to his own devices and expand his role on offence. With no other proven shot-creator on the roster other than Westbrook and the team over the salary cap even without George, Anthony should get his opportunity to put up numbers in a contract year.

That situation would fare well for Anthony, but it’s unlikely to lead to much success for the Thunder. However, that’s the gamble the franchise made when they traded for a flight-risk in George and then acquired Anthony, who was never going to opt out of the final year of his contract.

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NBA

Between LeBron James, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, the Los Angeles Lakers can't afford to strike out this summer

Jay Asser 23/06/2018
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Paul George and LeBron James could be in purple and gold next season.

It’s been eight years since the Los Angeles Lakers have won a championship, which, for a franchise with 16 banners, can feel like an eternity.

A title won’t be on the line for the Lakers this summer, but the pressure to deliver will be comparable. This is the offseason the franchise have been building towards for years, and striking out is a nightmare scenario.

Almost every team in the NBA enters the summer with hope – hope of adding a promising prospect in the draft, hope of reshaping their roster through trades, and hope of landing a big fish in free agency.

The Lakers aren’t going into this offseason with hope, they’re going in with a mandate: turn this lottery team into an instant contender. Even though the franchise have finished with a losing record for five consecutive years, the expectations for the coming season are sky-high thanks to the position they find themselves in.

Not only are some of the best players in the league available – including the very best – but at least two of them reportedly prefer Los Angeles. And because the Lakers have an abundance of cap space, as well as the ability to create more, their dream scenario isn’t limited to luring one star, or even two. Theoretically, they could construct a whole new super team built on three pillars to potentially dethrone the Golden State Warriors.

Adding three stars would be a home run. Two? Fortuitous. One would be slightly underwhelming, but a necessary step nonetheless. Anything short of that and the Lakers will have failed this offseason, regardless of what else happens.

Since Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka took over the Lakers’ basketball operations more than a year ago, their focus has been on the summer of 2018, and now that it’s here the landscape couldn’t be lined up any better for them to take advantage.

LeBron James is the ultimate target and a gettable one for the Lakers through free agency.

LeBron

After falling to the Warriors for the third time in four years, James’ championship prospects with the Cleveland Cavaliers have plateaued. The roster is in salary cap hell and the avenues for improvement are few, making a return to Cleveland an uninspiring choice.

Also working in the Lakers’ favour is the sentiment that LeBron’s other options are flawed. The Houston Rockets were one game away from knocking off the Warriors with a core of James Harden and Chris Paul, but adding James would require shredding the rest of the roster. The Philadelphia 76ers have the young talent to supplement him, but the on-court fit next to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid would be awkward.

It’s not like the Lakers, at least as currently constructed, have a team that LeBron can compete with. What they do have, however, is the potential to surround James with veteran star power, while appealing to his off-the-court desires of growing his enterprise and situating his family.

Landing LeBron would change the Lakers’ entire trajectory and instantly put them back on the map. It may also mean adding Paul George.

The All-Star swingman, who grew up just outside Los Angeles, has been linked to a move out west for the past year. The Oklahoma City Thunder took a chance by trading for him last summer in the hopes they could convince him to stay long-term, but they failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs in a relatively disappointing campaign.

Now, the Lakers can pitch George on returning home, whether it’s as James’ sidekick or as the face of the franchise if LeBron doesn’t pull the trigger. The mutual interest is there, it’s just a question of whether or not the Lakers can come through.

George

George isn’t the only star who’s indicated he wants to be in purple and gold though.

He’s not a free agent and therefore not as attainable as George, but Kawhi Leonard has reportedly made his intentions clear to the San Antonio Spurs that he wants to be traded to the Lakers.

To fit all three of James, George and Leonard under the salary cap, the Lakers would have to dump Luol Deng’s contract on the Spurs in the trade, which will prove difficult considering that’s not a pill San Antonio want to swallow. If only one or neither of LeBron and George sign, the Lakers could offer the Spurs a package that doesn’t include Deng.

Either way, Leonard will be the toughest star of the three to add this summer, but if he and the Lakers want each other badly enough, it will be hard to keep them apart.

In Leonard’s case, patience may be the best approach for Los Angeles. He’ll be a free agent next season summer and the Lakers can make a push for him without giving up any assets, as they’re about to do with George.

But if James and George don’t come, the pressure will mount on the Lakers to get a deal done now.

That’s just the reality the Lakers are facing in the coming weeks. The bar is set incredibly high, but it’s not at all out of reach.

Los Angeles have three shots at coming out of this summer with one of the 15 best players in the league. If the Lakers mystique is still alive and well, now is the time to prove it.

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NBA

Golden State Warriors take Jacob Evans in 2018 NBA Draft

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NBA champions the Golden State Warriors selected Cincinnati Bearcats guard Jacob Evans in the 2018 draft.

The 21-year-old, who played college basketball for the University of Cincinnati team, will join Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and others as they fight for a third consecutive title next season.

Golden State were given the 28th pick in the draft, while NBA finalists the Cleveland Cavaliers had eighth choice, selecting Collin Sexton.

Alabama’s highly rated 19-year-old point guard quickly appealed to LeBron James to re-sign with Cleveland.

He told Fox Sports: “Man, LeBron, let’s do it… I see you need a few extra pieces this past season, and let’s do it. Let’s go back to the finals.”

The Phoenix Suns had the first pick of the night and went local with Deandre Ayton of the Arizona Wildcats.

The Suns, who had the worst NBA regular season record at 21-61, were drawn last out at the NBA draft lottery.

The second pick went to the Sacramento Kings, who selected Duke Blue Devils’ 19-year-old power forward Marvin Bagley.

The Atlanta Hawks went third in the draft and chose Dallas Mavericks’ Slovenian shooting guard Luka Doncic, 19.

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