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Carmelo Anthony to Miami? And other Super-Team Thoughts

Feb 16, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Eastern Conference forward Carmelo Anthony (7) of the New York Knicks, forward LeBron James (6) of the Miami Heat and forward Chris Bosh (1) of the Miami Heat talk before the 2014 NBA All-Star Game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Jared, Evans, Miles, and Robby had lots of thoughts about the Melo-to-Miami rumors and all the Super-Team talk. Sit back, relax, try to keep your blood pressure down, and enjoy.

Jared: This is a place that allows for the free-flowing exchange of ideas. We’ve all got ideas about super-teams in these parts, and we’re going to use the Melo-to-Miami rumor floated last week by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein to do just that. I think I’ve made my feelings on the issue fairly clear on Twitter and other places, so I want to hear what you guys have to say about super-teams in general, or Melo-to-Miami (Meliami?) in specific, first. Have at it.

Evans: I’m not against this Melo/Miami thing, but at the same time, I’m against it. Let me explain.

I don’t think it’s ethically wrong for Melo and the Heat to explore the possibility of playing together. I don’t think they should be barred from doing it, or anything like that. This is a free country and Melo is soon to be a free agent, and he’s earned the right to do with his career as he chooses.

But c’mon, man! This is such a net minus for the NBA overall. When you take one of the game’s most exciting and marketable stars out of a city like New York and put him on a roster that’s already got three All-Stars, you’re diluting the rest of the league. The other 29 teams suffer when you put all the talent in South Beach.

There’s a diminishing returns problem here. Having one star on a team is good. Having two or three is great. More than that is overkill! There’s only one ball, and those guys can’t all score 20-plus a night. When you spread out the talent, it makes for more intrigue. It gives the fans in every other NBA city a couple extra chances per year to think, “Ooh, tonight’s game will be fun, we’ve got [Star X] coming to town.” There’s already not enough teams with a hook like that, especially in the East. Taking Melo off of the Knicks devastates yet another team’s watchability factor – and it’s one in a huge market that the NBA can’t afford to lose.

I get why Anthony would be intrigued by the Heat. And he’s got the right to look into it. But please, Melo – for the love of the NBA, don’t do it.

Robby: I’m all in on this (and I say that as an employee of a team in Miami’s division). I don’t buy into the idea that this makes the league less intriguing or watchable. People would tune into EVERY Heat game because it would be special. As to the competitiveness of the East, what was the competition this year? All I heard all year was how miserable the East was so you’re going to be concerned about removing the best player from the 9th beat team in the East? Nope. Not buying that argument.

There are certain #brands in the NBA that are teflon. The Knicks are one of them (the others being the Lakers and the Celtics). The Knicks being bad doesn’t hurt the NBA especially because this would clear a huge amount of cap space for them to make a run at any number of free agents in the next two years. New York would not be irrelevant for long (if at all) if Melo left, so concerns about the health of the league aren’t something I buy into.

These 4 guys coming together and deciding to take less money in order to get what they want would be awesome. We always say we want guys to put winning first, but when they do something “too drastic” like this, which would all but guarantee a title, it’s them copping out.

This would also scare the hell out of the owners and maybe it would actually give the players leverage to raise the salary cap and max contracts. If star players start saying that the max isn’t enough to entice them into playing situations they don’t want to be in, owners will have to react. Players rarely if ever have any sort of leverage in CBA negotiations, but this might actually do it.

Miles: I’m not ready to declare if Meliami would or would not adversely affect the league’s overall health. But I do believe it’s in the best interests of the Miami Heat to avoid making this transaction.

As Evans mentioned, the Heat will still only be allowed to play with one ball even if Carmelo does make his way to Florida. The issue with Carmelo — and Carmelo specifically — is that his strengths as a player come from controlling the ball and methodically breaking down his defender in a variety of one-on-one scenarios. While the Heat don’t consistently play fast, they are always spring-loaded and waiting for opportunities to unleash their fantastic individual speed — be it with a cross-court pass, a dizzying and havoc-inducing series of defensive switches, or an electrifying transition bucket. There are not too many highlights of Carmelo doing these things.

How about this: in 2013-14, Carmelo had a Usage Rate of 32.4% and an Assist Rate of 15.8%. Lebron’s numbers in those two categories: 31.0% and 32.0%. Wade: 27.9% / 25.5 %. And Bosh’s numbers look a little different because he has famously reinvented himself as a jump-shooter: 22.6% / 5.8%. (Bosh’s assist percentage was usually twice as high when he was with Toronto.) The Heat tallied the 11th-most assists in the league while playing with the 27th-fastest pace. The Knicks finished 28th in both pace and assists.

While these numbers are in part explained by the supporting casts surrounding these four — who, exactly, was Carmelo going to pass it to with confidence on the Knicks? — it remains true that Carmelo will be required to completely transform his approach to the game if he comes to Miami. This is why Bosh really is a huge reason for Miami’s continued success: in addition to his Hall of Fame-level talent, there are incredibly selfless components to his personality. Bosh’s personality inspires him to find new ways to help his team — instead of insisting that the team adapt and find new ways to help him. Putting contract considerations aside — who in this whole league really would be a better “third banana” than Chris Bosh? Who else is fantastic enough to dominate a game when necessary, and also has enough self-esteem to be content with a win on an eight-shot night?

Whoever it is, that ideal “third banana” does not subsist on dominating possession, as is Carmelo Anthony’s signature.

Apr 6, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (center) stands between Miami Heat center Chris Bosh (left) and Miami Heat forward LeBron James (right) during the second half at American Airlines Arena. Miami won 102-91. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Jared: My ideas here are more about the “morality” and “fairness” of super-teams than the specific situation of the now-seemingly-unlikely MeliamiTM  rumor.

I don’t understand how people can sit there (hi, Woody) and ridicule players for not winning championships, then turn around and knock guys like LeBron or Melo if they want to team up with the best possible teammates in order to do so. Like those people wouldn’t want to work with their friends in a cool city and be really awesome at their jobs if they had a chance. Please.

It especially irks me when people say things like “Magic and Larry would never have teamed up to beat Jordan.” Those dudes didn’t have to team up because they were drafted onto all-time great teams. Magic played with Kareem, James Worthy, Michael Cooper (a preposterously good defender), Norm Nixon and more. Bird played with Kevin McHale, Robert Parrish, Dennis Johnson, Bill Walton and more. LeBron got drafted onto a team whose best player was Zydrunas Ilgauskas. How is that comparable in any way whatsoever?

And why do people care so much if a team is built through the draft or free agency, anyway? Why is the former considered pure and good and the latter ruthless and evil? I mean, it’s obviously because Pat Riley is an evil monster, but still. The Spurs tanked like crazy to get Tim Duncan, remember? Why does nobody care, but they throw fits about players exercising agency and choice to pick who to play with and where?

That folks got so up in arms about a Melo to Miami rumor also took my head in a different direction. Would people have even cared if the rumor was Melo to OKC to go play with KD, Russ and Ibaka? It’s a perfectly comparable situation, but I feel pretty strongly that there would have been not even one tenth of the noise and nonsense we saw on Wednesday, right?

And since you guys got so into the specifics, I want to address a few of your concerns about the actual MeliamiTM rumor.

Miles: Melo’s best strength is not isolating his man and breaking him down to get a basket. That’s just what he does most often. He’s turned himself into an elite long-range sniper over the last few years, and you’ve seen in the Olympics just how much damage he can do as a tip-of-the-spear finisher type rather than someone who has to create all of his own offense. All of the Miami guys, but especially Bosh, had to change their games when they came together in Miami, and I see now reason Melo can’t adjust the same way. Imagine if he was getting assisted on 75-80 percent of his baskets like Bosh is now – his shooting percentages and efficiency numbers (always one of the knocks against him) would skyrocket.

Evans: I fail to see any tangible way this would be a minus for the NBA as a whole. Interest has skyrocketed since the Big Three came together, and you can bet a Big Four would bring even more interest to the league. Melo going to Miami doesn’t dilute the talent on 29 other teams – it dilutes the talent on one other team, the Knicks, who would then have a high draft pick and in excess of $50 million to spend in the summer of 2015, with Phil Jackson as a recruiter. How much worse is that than having Phil, Melo, a mid-to-late pick and $25 million to spend? Sure, it’s worse, but it opens up a lot more options. They wouldn’t be all that screwed.

There’s also the side benefit of, for at least a year, knocking a bunch of national TV Knicks games off the schedule and redistributing them to other teams like the Raptors, Wizards, Bobcats, Suns, Pelicans and more. The Heat already play the maximum number of national games, so it’s not like they can get more. If you get non-Knicks (and Lakers since, they’re likely to be bad, too) games on national TV more often, that helps those fan bases grow and it introduces a wider audience to the players on those teams. Do you want to see more of Kyle Lowry, John Wall, Brad Beal, Kemba Walker, Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Anthony Davis on ESPN, TNT and NBATV? I sure do.

Robby: I don’t think the players union would want to get rid of maximum salary contracts. Most of the players in the league are not max guys, and removing the cap on individual salary would mean less money for the grunts of the league and more for the LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Melo’s of the league. That’s not exactly looking out for the constituency.

Robby: That’s a fair point, but I do think it gives the players some kind of leverage that they never really had before if they start saying they’re willing to choose situation over money. This isn’t the norm and players rarely make that choice but if it starts happening more often and with as drastic of pay cuts as these guys would be taking then that would have to have some impact.

Miles: I totally agree that it’s unwise to ridicule players for pursuing superteams — because the sacrifices that all parties involved have to make when stepping into one of these agreements are real and substantial, financially and basketball-wise.

LeBron James is, at worst, the second-best basketball player on the planet. This season he earned less money than Joe Johnson, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard, all of whom are incapable of seizing control of the game — at both ends, simultaneously — in the ways that LeBron does with apparent ease.

No, I shed no tears for LeBron and his millions lost to opportunity cost, and I don’t think he quite felt his own life impacted by a pay cut in the ways that us civilians would if our own compensation was truncated. But an elite NBA locker room is a place where phrases like “alpha dog” and “money equals respect” are not empty cliches but ways of life. For human beings who have accomplished so much in such an unforgivingly competitive field, I believe they really do feel appreciated when and only when they are compensated favorably to their peers. It might seem narcissistic on the surface — and maybe it’s narcissistic below the surface as well — but this type of attitude is probably an essential dimension to their personalities as lifelong competitors.

So when a superteam actually manages to assemble, I don’t view it as superstars being selfish for chasing rings. I view it as players voluntarily sacrificing resources that matter the very most to them — money, publicity, shot attempts per 36 minutes — in earnest pursuit of greatness. The alchemy that the Miami Heat have managed to maintain for four years running, of collectively sacrificing while maintaining elite individual edge, is not guaranteed no matter how talented the characters involved.

I suppose this means that my earlier thing about Carmelo not jiving as a member of the Heat is logistically incorrect. If he is willing to sign to a substantially lower contract — and given cap limitations his pay in particular would be cut dramatically — then that means he has already decided that he will adjust his game in whatever ways prove necessary.

Robby: I agree with you about the NBAPA not trying simply to just raise max salaries, but they could push for a higher cap or a non-capped structure to accommodate max players getting more without it effecting the earning potential for the rest. That’s highly unlikely, but it might be something discussed at least a bit more seriously.

Hardwood Paroxysm