Carmelo Anthony is finally on the move. Before he gets to his final destination, though, he’ll have a brief layover in Atlanta.
Longtime NBA scribe Mitch Lawrence had reported Wednesday that the Oklahoma City Thunder and Atlanta Hawks were in talks on a deal that would send Anthony, a 10-time All-Star forward who had an up-and-down season in his lone campaign in Oklahoma City, to Georgia in a deal that would amount to a roster- and cap-sheet-clearing move for both sides. The news came down Thursday afternoon from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they’d put the finishing touches on what turned out to be a three-team deal involving the Philadelphia 76ers.
The full trade:
• Anthony, forward Justin Anderson and a lottery-protected 2022 first-round pick go to Atlanta, with Anthony getting bought out — and receiving his full $27.9 million salary for 2018-19, which instantly makes him one of the summer’s biggest winners — to enter unrestricted free agency;
• Point guard Dennis Schröder and wing Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot go to Oklahoma City;
• Big man Mike Muscala heads to Philly.
When Anthony’s buyout is completed, he’ll hit the free market, and be able to join any team he chooses. It’s been widely reported that the Houston Rockets, who lost forwards Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, will be the frontrunners for his services.
What the Hawks get out of the deal
After landing former Oklahoma star Trae Young in the 2018 NBA draft and swinging a deal for Jeremy Lin last week, the Hawks — who’d reportedly been looking to move Schröder, the boom-or-bust German-born playmaker who’d been pretty clear that he didn’t want to spend his prime years in a rebuilding situation like the one Atlanta’s clearly in right now — were all set at the point guard position and still had a little over $11.3 million in salary cap space. General manager Travis Schlenk elected to use that to get into the ‘Melo conversation, with Atlanta wiling to take Anthony’s full freight deal off OKC’s hands … provided the Thunder would take the rest of Schröder’s contract off theirs.
With Anthony’s deal coming in and those of Schröder and Muscala going out, the Hawks wind up just underneath the $101.8 million salary cap. The deal frees up minutes at the point for Young and Lin by shedding the $46.5 million in fully guaranteed money still owed to Schröder through the 2020-21 season. That puts the Hawks in position to have well over $50 million in cap space next summer, too, to use for either signing free agents or pulling off more deals just like this one, renting out their space to teams looking to get off money in exchange for future draft considerations and young players.
It also adds another first-round pick to the rebuild war chest being amassed by Schlenk, who previously picked up a top-five-protected 2019 first-rounder from the Dallas Mavericks in the draft-night deal that sent Luka Doncic to Dallas and brought Young to Atlanta. (That the pick is set to come in 2022, which could be the first year in which high-school prospects return to the draft pool, only sweetens the pot.) And, to top it all off, the trade gives new head coach Lloyd Pierce a familiar face — the athletic, defense-first Anderson, with whom Pierce worked as an assistant in Philly — to add to the mix as he starts establishing himself and his system in Atlanta.
What the Thunder get out of the deal
For Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti, the deal accomplishes two goals. First, it sheds Anthony’s ’18-’19 salary, allowing the Thunder to chop down what was poised to be a league-record luxury-tax bill by a substantial margin. It’s not quite the nine-figure relief they would’ve gotten by waiving Anthony outright or finding a place to move him with without taking on any salary in return — an impossibility, once the teams with max-level cap space had spent it on players in the July free agency window. It still saves a ton of money, though — between $71 million and $73 million in salary and tax this season — while actually adding to this year’s roster.
The Hawks’ previous administrations drafted and committed to Schröder, who has found his fair share of detractors through five NBA seasons through a combination of shot-jacking offense (he averaged a shade under 20 shots per 36 minutes last year, despite shooting 43.6 percent from the floor and 29 percent from 3-point range), absent defense and various on- and off-court issues. But he’s undeniably talented, the kind of lightning-quick pick-and-roll playmaker who can make you want to bet on him.
He’s also proven capable of showing up in big ways in big moments. Schröder was arguably Atlanta’s best offensive player during their first-round 2017 playoff series against the Washington Wizards, averaging 24.7 points and 7.7 assists per game while going toe-to-toe with the likes of John Wall and Bradley Beal before the Hawks bowed out in six games. Now, the 24-year-old guard will be Oklahoma City’s No. 2 table-setter behind Russell Westbrook, giving the Thunder a supercharged second-unit scoring threat ahead of steady veteran Raymond Felton, and adding some playmaking spice to a team in search of a more free-flowing and versatile offense after last season’s often awkward flow.
French swingman Luwawu-Cabarrot fell out of the rotation in Philadelphia last year as the Sixers moved from “theoretical power” to “actual very good NBA team,” but he’s a 6-foot-6, 205-pound wing with a 6-foot-11 wingspan and some bounce to his game. Picking him up is a very Sam Presti move — when in doubt, bet on the Thunder to make a viable player out of the very young athlete with long arms — and will give head coach Billy Donovan another option as he looks for answers alongside George and the returning Andre Roberson at the small forward and shooting guard positions.
What the 76ers get out of the deal
One suspects the 76ers wouldn’t have gotten involved with this deal if Nemanja Bjelica hadn’t had a change of heart about coming to Philadelphia, preferring instead to
stay in Europe pursue a more lucrative deal in Sacramento. That decision left the Sixers short a floor-spacing big man who could fill the role Ersan Ilyasova played last season, creating space inside for stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and also acting as a stretch five to help give shape and offensive oomph to second units while still providing size and rebounding on the interior.
So, in comes Muscala, a 6-foot-11, 240-pound out of Bucknell who was making $5 million this year, and who didn’t figure to be part of the future plans of an Atlanta team that’s now got sophomore John Collins and rookie Omari Spellman in the frontcourt mix. Muscala shot 39 percent from 3-point range on nearly 300 total attempts over the past two seasons, and ranked among the league’s most efficient catch-and-shoot big men last season — a tailor-made target for pick-and-pop passes or drive-and-kick outlets to the perimeter. The Sixers needed a guy like that, and the Hawks needed somewhere to send Muscala’s $5 million to create the requisite cap space to absorb Anthony’s deal.
Making this two-for-one deal — two young, athletic, switchable wings who were both under team control beyond this season for one 27-year-old center who’ll hit unrestricted free agency this summer — feels at first blush like something of an overpay for the 76ers, who had a handful of in-house options to replace the minutes and production lost through Ilyasova’s exit and Bjelica’s reversal of course. But with veteran forward Wilson Chandler coming over in trade, Furkan Korkmaz taking a step forward with a strong Summer League, and rookies Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet joining the fold, both Anderson and Luwawu-Cabarrot appeared to be on the bubble of the Sixers’ roster, and in danger of being crowded out of Brett Brown’s rotation. This balances things out a bit more, and adds shooting to a team that can look like a world-beater when the floor’s spaced, and seize up something awful when there’s not enough marksmen on the court.
What comes next for Carmelo Anthony?
Now that Oklahoma City and Philadelphia have fortified their rosters, and Atlanta has pared down its long-term salary structure while adding a future asset, the biggest remaining question is: what happens next with ‘Melo? We think we know the answer; for his sake and Houston’s, here’s hoping it turns out better than I expect it to.
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