I had just sat down at The Copper Penny in Stillwater when the news of Carmelo Anthony’s trade to Oklahoma City broke on Saturday morning. I stared blankly at Adrian Wojnarowski’s tweet for a few seconds, put down my beer, and looked up to my friend with that “I’m about to be on my phone for a while” expression. Seeing as how I actually walked out of dinner with the same friend the night the Thunder landed Paul George, I knew he’d understand.
To get an idea of how big the trade was in the state of Oklahoma, you really only have to consider the timing. Saturdays in football season are reserved for — you know — football, but it didn’t take long for the word to start spreading.
“We got Melo??”
So on and so forth.
Even by the end of the OSU/TCU game, as we stood and watched the dream of a perfect season come to a screeching halt, I found my mind retreating back to where the day began — Melo. Carmelo Anthony plays for the Thunder… How will it work? What will it look like? Is this even real life?
Now that I’ve had time to process everything that occurred, I have some thoughts on basketball season officially beginning in Oklahoma City. Let’s dive in.
(1) Of course you make this deal
Outside of general excitement, the most common emotion I’m seeing applied to the new-look Thunder is uncertainty. Russell Westbrook just posted the highest usage rating for any one season in NBA history. Paul George has scolded a teammate in a press conference for not passing him the ball. Carmelo Anthony is number 27 on the all-time list for attempted field goals.
Could this result in a disastrous train wreck? I mean, yeah. It could.
It’s not a perfect union at face value, as three of last season’s top ten isolation scorers now reside in the same starting five. Anthony also comes with a hefty price tag that gives the Thunder a luxury tax bill of $27.8 million. There’s also the whole “Russ, PG, and now Melo can all leave after this season” thing.
But at the end of the day — it’s Melo. And because the Warriors still exist, it’s going to take some Hail Mary’s to compete.
The 33-year-old Anthony just acquired by the Thunder is hardly the nightmare-inducing superstar he used to be, but he enters his fifteenth NBA season still very much capable of carrying the offensive burden on any given night. He’s fresh off a 2016-17 season that saw him average 22.4 points and 5.9 rebounds on 43 percent shooting — including 36 percent from downtown. As he transitions into an offense that will ask him to do less for the first time in his career, the hope is that his strengths will shine through based on opportunity alone. He’s never played with players the caliber of Westbrook and George, so he’s also never experienced the open looks they’ll provide.
Which brings about the legend of Olympic Melo:
Is it possible that his new surroundings will unlock the power of Olympic Melo? It might be unrealistic to assume he’ll shoot 45 percent from downtown like he’s done in his Olympic career, but those open looks will be there. He shot nearly 42 percent on spot-up threes last season in New York, and nearly 44 percent from the corners — if he buys into his role, he’s perfectly capable of creating worlds of havoc for opposing coaching staffs. That’s exactly what Sam Presti is banking on here.
When the season tips off on October 19 against Enes Kanter and the New York Knicks, all eyes will be on the newly formed big three in OKC. It could change the competitive landscape of the entire NBA. It might ultimately become an unmitigated disaster. Either way, the seemingly endless possibilities make the deal a no-brainer regardless of how it plays out.
(2) It changes everything and nothing at all
From an expectations standpoint, the entire 2017-18 season has changed. Most considered the Thunder the fourth best team in the Western Conference prior to landing Melo, but you don’t have to look far to now find projections of a Thunder/Warriors showdown in the conference finals. And it’s not just fans and talking heads buying up Thunder stock at the moment.
Speaking with Sam Amick of USA Today after yesterday’s trade went down, Paul George said:
“This feels like a championship team. I’m in a good place. I know Russ is in a good place. Melo is motivated more than ever…You put us three together, who all have something to prove still, we’re going to be a special team. We have a young group, a lot of talent here, an unbelievable coach, as you see, a front office that’s willing to do whatever it takes to improve the team. It just has all the makeups to be a great organization and a chance to put championships together.”
That’s… that’s something. (Championships, you say? Plural?)
That is sort of the attitude surrounding this team right now — everyone involved is intoxicated on the power of what it could become. The Thunder has a chip on its shoulder, loaded with more talent than any roster outside Oakland, and appears obsessed with overcoming the insurmountable odds of competing with the super team to end all super teams. In the eternal struggle of good versus evil, does anyone have a better shot at toppling the Warriors? With a few lucky breaks, it’s no longer outside the realm of possibility.
But that’s the thing — this team becoming transcendent and raising a banner will require those lucky breaks. As talented as the Thunder roster has become, it still pales in comparison to Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and the Warriors. Like it or not, the road to something truly special still runs directly through Dub Nation.
As Ric Flair used to say, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.” That being said, I like the Thunder’s odds more now than I did two days ago.
(3) This “30-for-30” is going to be nuts
When Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City for the Bay, it wasn’t unfair to assume the Thunder’s immediate future was dead in the water. Left with a roster built for a two-superstar attack and a collection of bad contracts, it appeared as though Sam Presti was backed into a corner with no way out.
Fast forward 14 months and it’s hard to believe where the story has gone.
Westbrook — fresh off an MVP campaign that saw him average a triple-double — finds himself on a Thunder roster that also contains Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Presti essentially turned Enes Kanter, Cameron Payne, Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Doug McDermott and a second round draft pick into a formidable “Big 3”, and Westbrook might actually have the supporting cast needed to at least adequately challenge his teammate-turned-mortal enemy. It’s exactly why sports is the best reality show on television.
Just days after Durant’s odd Twitter meltdown, he had this to say about the Thunder landing Carmelo Anthony:
While the time for talking appears to be over, the OKC vs. Durant story line will only get louder with the addition of Anthony. We’ve seen the set up, the break up, the bad blood, and will now watch the Thunder’s first real attempt at vengeance. Whether Westbrook and his teammates succeed or it all ends in more heartbreak, the stage is set for an incredible next chapter in one of the biggest stories in sports.
(4) One time for Enes Kanter
A number of players have come and gone since 2008 that remain entrenched in the hearts of Thunder faithful. From Kendrick Perkins to Anthony Morrow, certain guys just have the it factor that captures the hearts and minds of the Oklahoma City community. I’m comfortable enough saying now that Enes Kanter should sit atop any list of beloved Thunder alumni.
Enes deserves appreciation for a number of reasons, most of which have nothing to do with his on-court production. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice having a walking double-double on the bench, but he connected with the fan base on an unprecedented human level. He put it all out there for Thunder fans, and Thunder fans always gave it right back. Regardless of positional redundancy and an expensive price tag, there was part of me that hoped he’d never leave.
Whether you wanted to see him dealt or not, Thunder fans — and the OKC community as a whole — owe Kanter a debt of gratitude for simply embracing the state unlike any other player in Thunder history. He had the city’s back, preached the state’s gospel, and was never shy about telling the world how great Oklahoma the place can be. I also appreciate his willingness to share his culture, and becoming everyone’s Muslim friend in a part of the world that sometimes struggles with separating the human being from the religion. His importance in that regard shouldn’t be overlooked, and I do hope he helped push the narrative forward for all of the great people who live here.
When thinking back on Enes Kanter’s time in Oklahoma City, most will remember his Twitter antics, issues with the Turkish government, the Stache Bros hilarity and his endless love for Russell Westbrook. His raw and very real connection with the community should be remembered right alongside those items, and I speak for a lot of Thunder fans when I wish him all the luck in the world in New York.
(5) This is going to be fun
With so much happening since the Thunder’s first round exit in late April, it’s hard to comprehend how much different the 2017-18 season will be. Russell Westbrook will team up with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony — in Oklahoma City — and the most improbable of media circuses will reside in the 405 for at least the next 82 games plus playoffs. The circus surrounding what happens with the three men and their contracts will likely need a tent of its own, and there will be plenty of discussions about the long term future of the franchise before its all said and done.
It’s hard to think of a fan base more blessed than the one in Oklahoma City — and the rich have gotten richer over the course of the last few months. It might be another season of constant panic on the “You coming back or nah?” front, but the upcoming campaign promises to be extremely long in the entertainment category. Sit back and enjoy the ride.