So LeBron James finally leaves the NBA East and there is relieved cheering and merriment across the conference, like when the Munchkins of Oz were finally rid of the scourge of the domineering Wicked Witch.
Except, in Miami, at least, nothing changed.
The Heat's path to the kingdom's crown has not cleared because the King has fled.
The Celtics and 76ers now joust for LeBron's vacated Eastern dominance. Last season's top-seeded Raptors are still around. The Pacers, Bucks and Wizards would come next. Maybe then you get to Miami right up there at the front of the "others" category of teams competitive enough to be in play for a low playoff seed.
Which brings us to Carmelo Anthony.
Oklahoma City is maneuvering to part ways with Melo and has given the player the OK to shop himself. Houston and Miami are interested, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reports. I would be surprised if LeBron's L.A. Lakers didn't kick tires on Anthony, as well.
Miami's interest in Melo finds a team aware of its middling situation trying to find a bridge to relevance -- any bridge, even a temporary one, even one that is creaking a bit.
Anthony is 34. He is a defensive liability and his conditioning has been an issue at times -- both at odds with the Heat's self-described culture. His shooting touch has been steadily declining to last year's career-low 40.4 percent. Finding minutes and shots for him would come at the expense of Justise Winslow's continued development. Guys such as Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson also are pretty solid at the role Anthony would come into.
Melo doesn't seem to fit here, in other words.
But he's Carmelo Anthony, still a superstar by name albeit getting close to career fumes. He's a 6-8 versatile forward. His DNA is that of a prolific offensive player. He can still be effective as a catch-and-shoot scorer. His three-point shot remains in the credible range. And Miami, post-Big 3 era, has never been accused of being a potent offensive team.
In that respect, I get why Coach Erik Spoelstra is interested. It would be a splash signing in an otherwise quiet free agency summer for Miami. It would be a stopgap signing, not a long-term solution, but as a free agent at a bargain price, I get Miami's interest.
Melo's decision figures to be an intriguing one.
He would be closer to a championship with Houston or with LeBron.
He would be closer to South Beach and an ego-pleasing career sunset here, with Spo apparently prepared to make him the starting power forward and give him a last shot at being a 20-point scorer again.
So. Is he chasing a ring? Or a role?
He would come off the bench in Houston and play for the same coach, Mike D'Antoni, he feuded with in New York.
In L.A. he would be lost in the deep shadow of LeBron.
In Miami he would have the chance to be his old self again, rather than just old.
It might be good for Melo, but for Miami? Does the Heat want to be the franchise whose best players are Dwyane Wade, at 36, and a recycled Anthony thrust into a featured role?
Miami needs to hope young guys such as Winslow, Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo develop into real keepers and find a way to add an in-his-prime superstar or two -- the NBA championship map these days.
Next summer, 2019, is when the Heat might have a chance to strike big. Free agents next year will include Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard (if he isn't traded first), Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Klay Thompson, Marc Gasol, Al Horford, DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus Cousins.
But will onerous contracts like those of Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson allow the Heat to be major player in a year?
This is where Pat Riley finds himself. Trying to find a way out for his team. A way back to relevance.
Riley needs a whale (or two) to lift his franchise and carry it forward.
Carmelo Anthony was one of those, once.
Sports on 07/12/2018
Print Headline: Heat need a whale to lift franchise