Last season started with so much promise for the Oklahoma Thunder, with an in-his-prime Paul George and a still-dangerous Carmelo Anthony joining the dynamic Russell Westbrook and the ever-improving Steven Adams. But the team unraveled, culminating in a first round exit at the hands of the Utah Jazz.
Westbrook was spectacular once more, while George was brilliant for long stretches, including a sublime 34-point, 8-rebound effort in a win-or-go home game 5 in the aforementioned Jazz series. Anthony, unfortunately, struggled all season, posting career lows in points, field goal percentage, minutes, and assists. He was particularly rotten in the postseason, where he seemingly couldn’t find the basket and was routinely picked apart by the Jazz on defense.
In other words, the former Syracuse star was a huge disappointment for the Thunder, whose championship hopes last year hinged on the trio of Westbrook, George, and Anthony playing high-level basketball. Anthony, however, just couldn’t figure things out, both on offense and more so on defense, where he hemorrhaged points to the horror of Thunder fans. He also looked disengaged way too many times.
So yes, Melo’s time with OKC was an utter failure, a downright disaster given the high expectations of championship contention. What made it even worse was Anthony’s aversion to a reduced role. He completely dismissed the idea of him coming off the bench for the Thunder this season, which given his yearlong struggles seemed the most logical thing to do. “I’m not sacrificing no bench role,” Anthony told a pool of reporters right after his team was eliminated by the Jazz.
And with that, the dice was seemingly cast. With Melo’s $27.9 million contract a ball and chain to the Thunder, astute GM Sam Presti finally (and expectedly) pulled the plug on the Westbrook-George-Anthony experiment, sending the former Orangeman to Atlanta. The Hawks promptly bought out Anthony’s massive contract, making Team USA’s all-time leading scorer a free agent at the age of 34.
Some team will take on Anthony, and the Houston Rockets, a game away from reaching the finals last year, look like the frontrunner to land Melo. Teaming up with fellow Team USA members Chris Paul and James Harden may very well inject life into Anthony’s flat lining career, and would be an unexpected break considering his recent performance. A scoring talisman for much of his career, Melo when engaged might just be able to push the Rockets to rarefied territory occupied by the Chicago Bulls 1995–96 team that led the league in scoring and offensive rating. Whether he, Paul, and Harden can be an all-time great team like those Bulls remains to be seen, though, especially with the way Melo struggled last year.
Melo is no longer in his prime, but as mentioned, he is still a good enough player to help a team, especially one with a great system and headstrong leaders. Houston fit the bill, and it may likely be Anthony’s last legit shot at becoming a true winner.