BY JOHN ROHDE
Sept. 26, 2017
Financially speaking, it would be crazy to trade for a 10-time NBA All-Star, pay him $26,243,760 this season and not even start him.
Strategically speaking, however, bringing 33-year-old veteran forward Carmelo Anthony off the bench for the Oklahoma City Thunder might not be all that crazy.
The most critical aspect to this upcoming season is how Thunder coach Billy Donovan will stagger substitutions using various combinations of reigning Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook, four-time All-Star Paul George (acquired July 6) and Anthony, who was acquired last weekend.
Anthony could come off the bench quickly, of course, after the first five or six minutes or so.
If the Thunder’s opponent happens to take an early lead, they’ll look to the scorer’s table and think, “Oh, man. Here comes Melo.” If the opponent falls behind early, it would draw the same reaction. “Oh, man. Here comes Melo.”
Besides, it’s not who starts, it’s who finishes.
Through the years, the Thunder has had some lethal weaponry come off the bench, players who were non-starters for the betterment of the team. James Harden. Kevin Martin. Reggie Jackson. Dion Waiters. Enes Kanter.
However, such scenarios only work when everyone is on-board, and Melo most definitely is not.
During Media Day on Monday at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Erik Horne of The Oklahoman asked Anthony what he thought of starting at the 4 position or possibly coming off the bench for the Thunder rather than starting.
Horne hadn’t even finished asking his question when Anthony interrupted.
“Who me?” a stunned Anthony asked. “I mean I don’t know where that started, where that came from.”
After a few more chuckles, Anthony spotted George, who was standing in the back of the interview room. A still laughing Anthony shouted at George, “Hey, P. They say I gotta come off the bench.’ [More laughter] … No, I’m sorry. Go ahead (with your questioning).”
The Thunder practiced for the first time on Tuesday. After being reminded Anthony laughed at the thought of not starting, Donovan was asked if the plausibility of Anthony coming off the bench was a laughable notion.
“We’re going to probably maybe bring him in the start of the fourth quarter,” Donovan joked. “Nah, he’s going to start at the power forward spot for us. That’s what we’re going to do. He’s obviously been in this league for a long time. I think he’s a total pro. … Certainly, I think having a guy with that kind of veteran experience and leadership on the court and in the locker room is important. Yeah, I think that’s the best thing for our team.”
So, there you go. Asked and answered. From both sides.
In 14 seasons, Anthony has played 976 regular-season games and 66 postseason games, and has started every one. Based on his Media Day response, he has no intention of ending the string now.
No one knows exactly how well, or how quickly, the Thunder’s three-headed monster of Westbrook, George and Anthony is going to mesh.
There’s a chance OKC’s starting lineup of Westbrook, George, Anthony, center Steve Adams and off-guard Andre Roberson will demoralize opponents from the opening jump. Then again, perhaps not.
With a shortened preseason (only four exhibition games rather than the usual six or seven) and the regular season starting two weeks earlier than usual, it’s ludicrous to expect the Thunder’s Big 3 to be in synch from the get-go. That could take weeks or months. Heck, it possibly might never happen.
If the trio meshes quickly, a Western Conference Finals showdown with Golden State likely awaits.
But if the Thunder offense is slow to gain traction with Anthony in the starting lineup, who would supply a lift off the bench?
In terms of NBA career scoring averages, 33-year-old guard Raymond Felton is the only Thunder reserve averaging double figures (11.9 ppg), but the last time he averaged double-digits in scoring was the 2012-13 season. Besides, Felton is backing up Mr. Triple-Double, and exactly how many minutes do you envision Westbrook sitting?
This is why bringing Anthony and his career 24.8-point scoring average off the bench – at least initially before easing him into the starting lineup – doesn’t sound so crazy.
Again, Melo must be on-board with the idea and right now he’s not about to step on the vessel SS Substitute. Then again, Donovan is not asking him to.