Unlike those of elite players past, Carmelo Anthony’s now-conclusive free agency period has been more about the question of should teams sign him than which team will. Long one of the more often debated players in the league, Melo boasts the individual accolades of a superstar but none of the team successes that are supposed to come with it. So has come the somewhat popular idea that you can’t win a title with Carmelo Anthony as your best player. The “you” is referring to the NBA teams that were interested in signing Melo to lead their squad, and there were plenty. Thus the question: Could any of them make it happen?
Yes and no.
This all starts with Melo, a 27.4 points per game scorer and rough statistical equivalent to Kobe Bryant in 2009 and Allen Iverson in 2001. A potent offensive scorer that can tackle huge amounts of output while remaining efficient above everything else. While Bryant and Iverson led their individual rosters to the NBA Finals in listed seasons, Anthony has made it to the conference finals just once in his NBA career. If you had to give him a broad standing in the league, he’s in the tier between your ordinary All-Star and the transcendent games of LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Not the best, but certainly unique. With that said, give him a hypothetical but reasonable roster and it’s not outlandish to see him leading it to a championship.
Begin with a point guard capable of defending, creating out of the pick and roll and spacing the floor, like Mike Conley. At the two, we’ll have an all-purpose swingman that prioritizes shooting the three and defending, such as Wesley Matthews. With Carmelo playing at his optimal position – the four – let’s get some lockdown defense from the small forward spot in Jimmy Butler. Closing out the starting five, center Al Horford. This ensemble (using 13-14′ salaries) would accumulate about $50 million in cap room, leaving $8 million and change as well as the MLE to put together the rest. It’s arguable whether or not I stretched the rules here by saying Anthony is a better player than both Horford and Conley, but put that aside for a minute. Yes, assembling this team would be extremely difficult. Horford and Conley were both steals on their current deals and Butler’s still on his rookie contract. But give this team some depth and a bright young coach in Jeff Hornacek who runs an offense predicated on floor spacing and a defense that resembles Tom Thibodeau’s and it isn’t hard to imagine it competing. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that if you surround Melo with floor spacers and strong defenders, he should very well be able to take said team deep into the postseason.
So you can build a winning team around Melo! Only, most can’t.
Dirk Nowitzki didn’t win a title until 2011, LeBon James until 2012. It’s really, really hard to build a winner, as evidenced by the mere nine teams that have done so since 1989. You need star power, whether it be one or more. You get a few steals in the late first round or second round of the Draft. You get veterans to take miniscule deals with the promises of a ring. You get players that formerly didn’t seem to have a place in the NBA to break out on your team. You also get a little bit lucky. When you get unlucky, you have to hold this giant contraption together for as long as it takes to finally win that championship. In reality, maybe seven teams are run well enough to come close to pulling this off.
People will always say it’s impossible to win with a team devised around Carmelo Anthony until it happens. In the meantime, it’s best to realize some of that isn’t on Melo. It’s tougher to have a contender built around someone that may be among the league’s best talents, but isn’t named James or Durant. The Spurs could definitely do it better than the Timberwolves or Bucks. As for the Knicks, they’ll be almost completely off the books next summer and have a young coach that oozes in leadership qualities and a legendary basketball mind running his first front office. They may not be able to pull it off, but I’m looking forward to seeing them try.