So the worst-kept breaking news story of the new NBA season occurred last weekend just prior to the start of teams reporting to training camp. Carmelo Anthony was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a 2018 second-round pick. The trade itself came as no surprise, as it had been widely speculated all off-season that Anthony had played his last game as a Knick and a return to the team was unlikely. The true surprise in this deal was that the Thunder were the organization Anthony would waive his no-trade clause in order to form their own version of an NBA “Big Three,” joining Thunder All-Star Russell Westbrook and newly acquired forward Paul George.
The Houston Rockets, Anthony’s reported preferred destination, had been the speculated front-runner to receive the All-Star’s services even just days before training camp was set to begin. Just recently, Anthony himself alluded to the fact that trade deals had been secured with both the Rockets and later with the Cleveland Cavaliers, before eventually falling through at the last minutes for reasons unknown to him. Melo revealed that once the Houston and Cleveland deals were no longer in play, it was time to come up with additional options, which apparently included reporting back to the Knicks. Despite these assertions, it is somewhat difficult to imagine that an amicable reunion with the Knicks was still in the cards following the public relations storm ex-Knicks President Phil Jackson created at the end of last season when he shared with the media on multiple occasions that it was time for Anthony to ‘move on’ in the interest of everyone involved. Despite the brave faces of new Knicks GM Scott Perry and newly appointed President Steve Mills, who professed the professionalism of Anthony and attempted to reassure fans that all would be well with him reporting to Knicks camp this week, the reality is that no one was hoping to have to endure such a scenario – especially Melo.
Thus the dark horse team of the Thunder presented the last option for Anthony and the Knicks to dissolve their tumultuous and unfulfilling marriage in the Big Apple. The question now becomes what sort of an effect will it have on the parties involved? First, the Knicks rid themselves of employing a disgruntled All-Star whom the organization publicly denounced during the off-season and felt would be a hindrance to the impending rebuilding efforts. As a result, the team will look to it’s young rising star in Kristaps Porzingis, to become the new face of the franchise and to lead the youth movement which will include re-acquired guard Tim Hardaway Jr. and budding fan favorite center Willy Hernangómez. It will be interesting to see how Knick’s coach Jeff Hornacek reimagines this new Knicks roster, incorporating the likes of Kanter, McDermott and rookie PG Frank Ntilikina along with seasoned veterans Ramon Sessions, Courtney Lee and Michael Beasley. With the absence of ex-President Phil Jackson, so goes the commitment to the growing unpopular triangle offense which players were reluctant to adopt and argued that the offense was no longer effective and relevant in today’s style of play. This is sure to translate into an exciting fast-paced offense with increased ball movement, which Anthony was often credited (fairly or not) for stagnating. However, will it translate into better defense and more wins this season for the Knicks? That remains to be seen.
For the Thunder, Anthony completes what was a very productive summer for Oklahoma GM Sam Presti. First, he sent Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis packing to the Indiana Pacers for All-Star Paul George, whom the Pacers feared would leave the organization with nothing to show in return. Then, when Presti smelled an opportunity to play spoiler in the Anthony / Knicks drama, he bid Thunder-loving and organization defending Kanter, along with McDermott and a 2nd round pick, a fond farewell to the city that never sleeps. As Portland Trailblazer CJ McCollum recently reminded us through Twitter – “Stay woke, it’s a business.”
Now the Thunder look to use their newly-formed triumvirate to do what every organization stays up late at night worrying about – how to take down the mighty Golden State Warriors. However, there are still many variables to consider here. How much leadership will Westbrook acquiesce to Anthony and George, who are all accustomed to being the alpha males of their teams? Will they be able to develop chemistry quickly enough and generate enough touches to keep everyone happy and motivated? We will soon find out. What is undeniable is that Presti has provided Westbrook with two players that will command the attention of the defense at all times, the likes of which he has not had since the departures of James Harden and Kevin Durant. Anthony is on the downward arc of his playing career, but is still a feared sharpshooter from anywhere on the court when given the proper amount of space, which Westbrook and George will undoubtedly provide.
Where does that all leave us? Well it certainly makes for an alluring prelude to the upcoming NBA season. The Knicks look to turn the chapter and start anew, hoping to end a downward spiral of futility the franchise has been marred with the last several years. The Thunder will look to remove the gigantic chip on the team’s shoulder, placed their by the departure of their former savior Durant, and Anthony will look to change the narrative on his NBA legacy as the shot clock on his career winds down. For all the uncertainty, this much is undeniable – the ‘Melo Effect’ will have a profound impact on the outcome of the coming season, and perhaps even years to come.