The Game 5 Melo story
Buried in the middle of Royce Young’s piece about the 2017-18 Thunder season is a very strange story regarding Carmelo Anthony and Game 5 of the first round series versus Utah. Apparently, Melo had no idea what time the game started…
“Before Game 5, Anthony forgot what time the game started, showing up to the arena as if it tipped at 7 p.m. local time, rather than the scheduled 8:30 start. He walked down the hallway to the Thunder’s locker room, nonchalantly looking around and seeing no one, before realizing he was there way too early. He got in his car and left.”
So he was a bit off — we’re all human, OK? But everything you need to know about this Thunder team is (A) Melo didn’t know the start time of an elimination game, and (B) he left the arena entirely upon realizing he was an hour and a half early. Didn’t stick around and wait. Didn’t get some shots up or watch a bit of film. He got in his car and bounced.
Sort of feels like the entire season in a nutshell.
The Future of Paul George
Bobby Marks of ESPN Insider laid out some of the ways the Thunder could keep or lose Paul George this summer. Some highlights from that piece:Stay
: 5-Year Max — “Returning on a five-year, $176 million contract would provide George financial security and keep him in a Thunder uniform for the prime of his career… The downside: a costly roster that might not be better than it was this season. The Thunder would be faced with a $147 million payroll, nearly $24 million over the luxury tax with five roster spots open. The tax bill before the rest of the roster is addressed would stand at $84 million. Adding four players to minimum contracts would make the tax bill increase to $115 million, and that $268 million in tax and salary would be the largest one-year total in NBA history.”Stay
: Short-Term Contract — “Would George risk $125 million in guaranteed money to enter free agency in 2020? By signing a three-year, $97 million contract with a player option in the third year, George could return to Oklahoma City for two years and become a free agent in 2020. This scenario would give George an out after two years if the roster stagnates. It also allows him to receive a more lucrative contract in the future. Because George would reach 10 years of service in 2020, he would then be eligible to sign a four-year, $169 million max contract with a team with cap space.”Leave
: The Chris Paul Scenario — Last summer, Chris Paul opted into the final year of his deal with the Clippers in order to facilitate his trade to Houston — a team without the cap space to sign him otherwise. According to Marks, this is an unlikely route for George and the Thunder, as it would cost him $10 million next season and teams like the Lakers and 76ers have the cap space to sign him outright without needing to send assets back to OKC.Leave
: Sign & Trade — Could the Thunder sign George to a max deal and then trade him? Sure, but it’s not likely because, again, the Lakers (who remain the biggest threat to OKC) and 76ers have the cap space to sign him outright. There’s really no incentive to help the Thunder out if you don’t have to. George is likely to be courted heavily by teams that can get the deal done immediately.
All in all, it’s impossible to know what George will do until he actually does it. However, it’s important to know the Thunder will be deep into the tax if he stays, and there’s really no reason to hold out hope for getting something in return if he chooses to leave. Marks also mentioned Jerami Grant being the most likely roster casualty should PG13 return, as an $8.6 million mid-level exception for Grant could end up costing OKC $45 million in luxury taxes. If George leaves and everything else stays the same, the Thunder still figures to be in the $130 million range in terms of salary. It’s far from ideal but there’s at least a path forward should he stick around. Dark days ahead if not.
What to do about Melo
Much of the 2017-18 season and playoffs were spent discussing how the Thunder could get the most out of Carmelo Anthony. Now, in the wake of his oddly defiant exit interview, there’s an even greater sense of uncertainty about what to do with the disgruntled 10-time All-Star.
Though Melo sounded off about his role, a lack of strategy, and passionately denied he’d ever come off the bench, I feel like it’s important to mention that it’s still likely he ends up back in Oklahoma City next season. For one, he holds a no-trade clause — so you can’t just ship him off. Secondly, rarely, if ever, will a guy terminate a contract that guarantees him $28 million next season. It’s believed Melo would likely be worth the $8.6 million mid-level exception if he were to hit the open market. That’s leaving about $18 million on the table, which I don’t believe he’s inclined to do.
So what can the Thunder do?
Keep Him: This isn’t ideal but Melo holds the power here. I don’t know how the Thunder would navigate his demands + his diminishing ability, but I think this is still far and away the most likely scenario. Take one dose of the medicine (his salary + ability) and be done with him altogether after the 2018-19 season.
Trade Him: IF someone wanted him and he gave the green light, Melo could be traded. I don’t think anyone is looking to acquire a $28 million player that insists he’s still a superstar — but hey, anything can happen. Just don’t hold your breath on the trade front.
Buyout: The Thunder could always buy him out of his contract, whether that be for the full $27.9 million or a number negotiated between the two sides. A good real-world example of this is Dwyane Wade’s recent buyout with the Chicago Bulls. He was scheduled to make $23.8 million this season but agreed to forfeit $8 million in exchange for the right to sign elsewhere.
Stretch His Contract: The NBA’s stretch provision allows teams to take a player’s salary and pay the cost over the course of several seasons instead of paying it all at once. If the Thunder stretched Melo’s contract before the August 31 deadline, the organization could essentially pay off his remaining salary in $9.3 million (which counts against the salary cap and luxury tax) increments over the next three seasons.
This will be interesting to watch unfold.