Before a bunch of the NBA’s best players took the court Monday night at Staples Center, NBA scouts and executives in attendance gossiped about Carmelo Anthony, one of the league’s former greats, and whether there’s a spot for him on a roster in 2018.
Anthony, who is a Houston Rocket in a “for now” sense, seemingly will be looking for a fourth team in less than four months after a rumor-filled weekend and his third missed game in a row because of an “illness” Tuesday night in Denver.
Assuming Anthony is released and no team claims him, his next landing spot is unclear.
It won’t be with the Clippers, a league executive unauthorized to speak publicly told the Los Angeles Times. Across town, it’s a little murkier, but it seems unlikely. If the Lakers do decide to add Anthony, it means they’re desperate enough to try to resuscitate a career that some scouts and executives think is on the doorstep of being done.
If Houston decides to pull the plug on its one-year minimum deal with the 10-time All-Star and future Hall of Famer after 10 games, the Rockets are confirming what people saw after a full season in Oklahoma City. In the modern NBA, there’s little room for a veteran score-first player who can’t defend and who would prefer to live in the mid-range area than behind the three-point line.
It’s hard to pair him with a young team because he very well could stunt the growth of developing players. It’s hard to put him on a contender because there’s no track record of him helping in a reduced role. So, where does he go?
Anthony, who is close friends with LeBron James, will be carrying the burden of having to prove there’s still a place for him wherever he ends up next.
The Lakers, who could use more talent, would need to talk themselves into gambling on Anthony at this stage in his career, where it’d be impossible to justify playing him instead of Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram or Josh Hart.
Similarly, there’s a lot of pressure on Jimmy Butler, who officially joined the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday after being traded from Minnesota.
The deal ends a months-long standoff with management that turned the Timberwolves’ locker room into a “soap opera,” as one Minnesota veteran termed it last week.
Butler, who left Chicago with some bridges smoldering, saw his reputation suffer after a season-plus of unremarkable results with the Timberwolves. Now in Philadelphia, he enters a situation with expectations of contending for a championship — albeit with hints of locker-room unease.
Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have wildly different personalities, with some around the league wondering if they’re headed for an eventual showdown. Add Butler to the mix for this season (and almost certainly the future), his locker-room reputation will be tied to Philadelphia’s successes and failures, even as he ages into a lesser role behind Simmons and Embiid.
Anthony and Butler could take a lesson from Vince Carter, who at 41, nearly helped the Atlanta Hawks upset the Lakers on Sunday night at Staples Center.
Carter was once one of the top stars in the NBA and one of the league’s best scorers before authoring multiple chapters as a role player in a variety of situations, including lesser roles on playoff teams in Dallas and Memphis.
“I made the decision that I wanted to stick around and I would do whatever it takes,” Carter said. “I still can do it — but it’s just not what’s called for.”
It’s not easy to go from a star to role player; it takes a desire for reinvention, and that’s not for everybody.
“It’s what people are looking for and what they want. Are they willing to commit to their new role?” Carter said. “Some guys I know who probably could still play this game just didn’t want to transition to a new role as a reserve.”
Carter said he has fielded calls and questions from players asking for advice on how to extend a career. He’s figured out his role, his final chapter as a mentor for young players. After dunking and squaring up with James on Sunday, he went right to the weight room with 20-year-old rookie Kevin Huerter on his hip.
It’s why he’s still more than employable.
“I just wanted to play,” Carter said.
If things don’t change, a lot of people around the NBA aren’t sure how many more chances Anthony will get.