Ever since Bill Simmons wrote this column last week, Grizzlies fans have been abuzz with the thoughts of acquiring the "star player" that they missed out on in the much-ballyhooed 2003 draft. Again, even though I am loathe to do so (and because this is the kind of thing that the Sports Guy loves to criticize bloggers for doing), I have to take exception to his suggested trade proposal:
The Bernard King Award
To Melo for (what's soon to be) another quick playoff exit, another dicey off-court incident and an inevitable summer of trade rumors. Remember, Bernard battled drug/alcohol demons and bounced around for his first few years before eventually landing with (cueing up the Marv Albert voice) ... the New York Knickerbockers. It's unclear how to define Melo's problems beyond the whole "you can take the kid out of Baltimore, but you can't take the Baltimore out of the kid" joke, but clearly something is going on, and during an era when younger stars are much more personable and squeaky-clean, Melo seems to be a throwback to the mid-'90s, back when young players still made dumb mistakes and were surrounded by a swollen entourage at all times.
I don't see him spending his entire career in Denver, much less next season, and there's a 98.7 percent chance he'll become the focal point of every trade rumor this summer. For instance, what if the Grizzlies get the No. 2 pick and decide they want to take hometown kid Derrick Rose even though they already have three point guards on their roster. If you're Denver, do you trade Melo for Mike Conley Jr., Hakim Warrick and Mike Miller, chop a few million off your payroll and hope Miller and Linas Kleiza can replace Melo's numbers (which, by the way, they would)? If you're Memphis, wouldn't you sell tickets with Melo, Rose and Rudy Gay? In other words, aren't those two teams a match? What if Minnesota got the No. 2 pick? If you're Denver, would you offer Melo to the T-Wolves for that pick (plus expiring contracts) and take Rose? See where I'm going here? If the Nuggets can turn Melo into a point guard, cap space and/or something else, don't they have to think about it?
(Of course, Melo can vanquish the previous two paragraphs by putting the Nuggets on his back and torching the Lakers for the next few games when they don't have a single guy who can defend him. Let's just say I'm not keeping my fingers crossed.)
Let's break this one down point by point, shall we?
1. Carmelo Anthony is a SF. Coincidentally, so is Rudy Gay. I know that Rudy played some PF this season and that if he improves his ball handling ability over the next few seasons he'll probably wind us at SG unless the Grizzlies draft/sign/trade for a high-level player at that position. But the fact is that the team's two best players would play best at the same position in that scenario. In addition to that, Rudy Gay's sophomore campaign produced better stats than Melo's. Higher RPG, SPG, BPG, FG%, 3PT% and virtually the same PPG, APG and TO. In other words, isn't it possible that Rudy is going to be as good as (if not better than) Melo in another season or two? Consider that Strike 1.
2. Yes, in all likelihood, a lineup that included Rose, Gay and Anthony would sell tickets in Memphis, which is a concern in these parts. However, the real question is this: Will they win playoff games and playoff series? Memphians have seen regular season success before and it no longer impresses them that much. I know that Melo was the best player/leader on that Syracuse team that won a national title, but has he been that player in the NBA? According to most fans, we already had one alleged franchise player that couldn't make a difference in the postseason, despite posting quality numbers in the regular season and postseason. Do we really want to travel down that road again so soon? Melo has made the postseason all five seasons in the NBA.....and has yet to advance beyond the first round. I realize, of course, that basketball isn't a one-man game (unless that one man is named LeBron), but that's what we in the business call a "pattern". It was a pattern for Kevin Garnett (who needed an All-Star season from Sam Cassell to finally get over the hump) and it continues to be a pattern for Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. Some players just don't have it in them to be "The Man" in the NBA Playoffs. Lack of postseason success (and an apparent lack of concern about that result) equals Strike 2.
3. To follow up on being "The Man" in the playoffs, we now come to this issue: Is Carmelo Anthony a Superstar? (Note the capital "S") I say no. Is he a star? Absolutely. He's a great scorer and has displayed the ability to be clutch beyond belief -- even on par with Kobe and LeBron. However, a Superstar elevates his teammates in addition to being the go-to guy on offense. Oh, and a Superstar makes more than marginal effort on defense -- not that Melo even does that. If Melo isn't a Superstar, then why should the Grizzlies trade away a solid offensive option (Mike Miller) and one of the top PG prospects in the last few seasons (Mike Conley) for a guy that is very, very good, but ultimately isn't great or a true difference maker? I realize that Simmons hates the Grizzlies (as evidenced by the fact that he is constantly trying to move them to another city every other week) and really hates Chris Wallace (and not just for the Gasol trade that made the Lakers a championship contender for the next 5 seasons), but for Pete's sake, we do want this team to experience some playoff success in the future and eventually make the leap to contender. Does this trade accomplish that without Rudy Gay and/or Derrick Rose becoming All-NBA level players? I don't think so. We'll call this one a foul tip to keep him alive for one more point.
4. Salary cap structure. This is why the team traded away Pau Gasol for draft picks and cap space, remember? Taking on Carmelo's salary means that they once again have a max contract taking up space. So when the time comes for Rudy Gay to get his max-level extension, guess who is sitting there making $17 million or roughly 30% of the salary cap? That's right - Melo. Then when Derrick Rose is ready for his extension the year after that, guess who has a player option for $18 million? Newsflash Sports Guy: Boston might be able to afford 3 guys making max money, but Memphis cannot. If they could, then Pau Gasol would still be here...and Allen Iverson or Vince Carter probably would as well, but that's another story for another day. Ring him up, because that's Strike 3.
Carmelo Anthony to Memphis? No thanks, I'll pass -- even though he doesn't.