OKC Escapes Melo, Luxury Tax Woes in Deal to Atlanta
Carmelo Anthony went from a smart acquisition to an utter disaster for the Oklahoma City Thunder in just a season with the team. He went from arguably a top-15 player in the league to a less-than-desired veteran. He went from hunting for a large deal in the future to becoming a salary burden.
And on Thursday, Melo went from a luxury tax headache to a sigh of relief for OKC.
The Thunder will dump off Anthony to Atlanta, where he will be waived and then become a free agent, along with a 2022 protected first-round pick (1-14, or two second-round picks for Atlanta). OKC’s return is also nice, acquiring guard Dennis Schroder and forward Mike Muscala, who will be sent to the Philadelphia 76ers for forward Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.
Melo’s $27.9 million expiring contract will be paid in full, which leaves Anthony with the luxury of taking however much—or less—he wants for his next destination. Currently, both the Miami Heat and the Houston Rockets are the favorites to sign Anthony.
This is great for the Thunder for two main reasons. The organization had so much grief toward Anthony's looming contract. Had they decided to waive-and-stretch Anthony, the Thunder would have saved $107 million. But they decided to improve their roster and still allowed them to save money. OKC’s luxury tax bill now will go from a projected $150 million to $88.8 million, with $62 million in savings.
They lose a past-prime star of Melo for a guy like Schroder, who essentially plays a similar role on the floor as Russell Westbrook. However, Schroder could be involved with some interesting rotations. Head coach Billy Donovan can use Russ at the point, move Schroder to the 2, drop Andre Roberson at the wing, make Paul George a true forward and keep Steven Adams at the center spot. It would allow the Thunder to spread the floor more in stretches and that lineup alone could be a dark horse matchup against Golden State (Russ-Steph, Schroder-Klay, Roberson-KD, PG-Draymond, Adams-Boogie).
Schroder, 24, has a three-year deal worth $15.5 million per season, so if it doesn’t work out with the Thunder by next year, or even by the trade deadline, OKC can dish him away for some draft picks in return.
Big win for OKC and general manager Sam Presti.
Atlanta is in obvious full rebuild mode as of now. They have six players currently on expiring contracts, including veteran point guard Jeremy Lin, who was acquired in a trade with Brooklyn. Guys like Kent Bazemore ($18 million/year) and Miles Plumlee ($12 million/year) both have two years on their contracts and could be on the trading block soon enough. There’s no way Atlanta signs them after two years.
The Hawks dealt Schroder after drafting Trae Young at No. 5, which will mean they rid themselves of Schroder’s three-year deal in spirit of their rebuilding efforts. They will buyout Melo, thus leaving themselves with Young and Kevin Huerter to build for the future.
Expect Atlanta to tank again this year and seek hope from the 2019 NBA draft, where they will have the Mavericks’ first round pick and their own first.
Houston, although the probable contenders for Melo as it stands, should be hesitant before making any moves. Right now, the Rockets priority should be to re-sign Clint Capela, who’s a perennial Defensive Player of the Year. Who’s to say if the Rockets sign Carmelo and lowball Capela, that Capela chooses to walk away from the team instead?
Bottom line, the ultimate winner of the trade was Melo himself. He walks away $27 million-plus richer and with the ability to play wherever he would like.