Master plan to move Carmelo Anthony should best benefit OKC Thunder

Carmelo Anthony, OKC Thunder (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Carmelo Anthony, OKC Thunder (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Carmelo Anthony saga is bordering on farcical. But, OKC Thunder fans must trust the process because Sam Presti has a good reason for holding on to Melo for now.

NBA Free Agency has been quite a ride for the OKC Thunder.

The anxiety began weeks before free agency even opened, as Paul George teased Thunder fans with his short film series. Then, starting with one party-pooping barber, fans erupted in celebration as PG13 opted to put his faith in OKC. The sense of elation continued, as Sam Presti signed Jerami Grant, Raymond Felton and even Nerlens Noel to lock in the core.

Then, the joy turned into panic. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski gave Thunder fans their first reality check of the offseason. Crunching the numbers, Woj revealed that the Thunder’s current tax bill stood at a historic $300 million, given the current roster construction. More importantly, he highlighted the fact that Carmelo Anthony’s near-max deal alone would cost the Thunder almost $107 million, with taxes.

That number immediately triggered “reports” of interest in Melo from around the league. NBA websites played their part too, expounding on Presti’s options toward removing Melo’s salary from the payroll.

And, as always, NBA Twitter obliged. Since Woj triggered the Melo drama, fans have been all-out baying for Presti to just waive the man. With every moment of free agency creeping by, Thunder fans have got increasingly restless for Melo’s departure.

The hard truth

Thunder fans need to realize that as much as the $100 million felt like a classic #WojBomb to them, it really shouldn’t have been. Right from the offset, Sam Presti knew what it would cost to have both PG and Melo on the team. And, nine months ago, TI already calculated the potential $100 million tax bill.

So, if Sam Presti knew all along this problem would come up, why hasn’t he resolved it? The answer is that he has been trying. The answer just isn’t what fans want to hear.

Right now, fans have been focusing on Presti waiving or stretching Melo sometime soon. After all, as one site pointed out, it is the most straightforward option. Melo is likely open to accepting a buyout, because it allows him to sign woth the Lakers or the Rockets. The alternative would be trading him. But, given the rough market conditions, the list of teams open to trading for Melo grows shorter every day.

But, here’s the catch. Cutting Melo for nothing seems like the most obvious option. But that’s only when considering the Thunder’s financial position. When deciphering the OKC Thunder’s wider front office challenge, as we tried to do here, it becomes clear that Presti has something else on his mind.

MUST READ: Five low-key trades for Sam Presti

The master plan

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Consider the roster makeup right now. Without Melo, the Thunder are only left with three shooters, two of whom (Alex Abrines and Patrick Patterson) haven’t proven themselves playoff material.

Hammer Melo for his deficiencies all you like. Even if he regressed during his run with OKC – which he did – Melo was still a big reason why the starting lineup was an elite bunch. He may not have made others better in the advanced metric sense, either by being an efficient, volume shooter or by creating looks for others. But, in the most basic principle of basketball today, the spacing he offers, especially during crunch time, helped Westbrook and PG work their magic.

Cut Melo for nothing and Sam Presti has almost no way of adding another free agent shooter to the roster. Instead, if he holds out for a trade, he opens up his options from other teams.

Ideally, Presti receives a desirable roster piece, namely a decently-priced shooter, along with a host of other contracts that make up the numbers. From there, Presti can cut the other contracts and still enjoy the cost savings he’s looking for.

Following the deadline

Remember, what hurts about Melo is not the $27.8 million he is due. It is the luxury tax that exponentially compounds the OKC Thunder’s payroll. So, as long as he cuts Melo before the trade deadline, the Thunder will escape the touted $107 million bill.

Hanging on to Melo all through the trade deadline is definitely not ideal. It disrupts team chemistry and compromises Presti’s chance to add a contributor on the roster.

But, this scenario just means Presti isn’t operating on the same timetable as NBA fans may be. Months before the #WojBomb flurry, Presti knew this challenge would land on his table. The more teams fill up their roster, the higher the chance of Presti landing a trade. Philly, for example, might be tempted to swap Dario Saric for Melo’s playoff pedigree.

To be honest, predicating Presti’s next move can be an exercise of pure speculation. Like his mentor R.C. Buford, Presti has learnt to keep his cards close to his chest.


But, if there is anything OKC Thunder fans can decipher from the silence, it’s that OKC will likely move Melo, except maybe just not in the way or timeline most are hoping for.