ATLANTA–So, let me get this straight about our hometown Atlanta Hawks:
The franchise, which recently finished last in overall attendance and last in percentage of arena tickets sold, reportedly plans to buy out Carmelo Anthony's $27.9 million contract and let him hit unfettered free agency.
Am I reading this right?
Or has the whole world of NBA pundits suddenly gone mad?
My exasperation over the Hawks' proposed strategy shouldn't be misconstrued here. Without a doubt, the 34-year-old Anthony no longer merits the hype of a certifiable superstar. In fact, he might not even have the offensive prowess to carry a franchise for a solid month, let alone an entire season.
With that caveat out of the way, let's get down to the argumentative portion of today's piece, citing four recurring themes:
a) The future Hall of Famer's exorbitant salary has already been baked into the club's cap situation.
b) With Dennis Schroder (2-year average: 18.6 points per game; 44-percent shooting) relocating to Oklahoma City, Atlanta now has a major scoring gap with its starting five.
c) Historically speaking, marketing campaigns built around rookies (Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, Omari Spellman) tend to burn out around the All-Star break.
d) There would be no downside to keeping Anthony for the first 4 months of the regular season (October-January), with the hope of finding a suitable trade partner in mid-February (NBA trade deadline).
(NOTE: Anthony still has a full no-trade clause in his contract and would have to approve any future trade with Atlanta. That aside, his suitors would likely only be playoff-bound teams.)
AN UNNECESSARY FAVOR
The Thunder executives must have been doing cartwheels in their Oklahoma City offices during the week. Not only did they purge Anthony's prohibitive contract from the books (no strings attached), but they also extracted $62 million from the franchise's luxury tax bill.
Sixty-two ... million ... dollars!!!
Until the details of this story became public, I didn't even know it was possible for an NBA team to shave $62 million from a tax bill with a single trade.
So much for the salary cap having any tangible meaning.
Yes, before the Hawks got seduced by the concept of adding Anthony's full salary and stockpiling a lottery-protected first-rounder in 2022, the Thunder likely would have 'stretched' the tax bill over a few years, even though Carmelo's deal expires next spring. (Apparently, it's permissible in the Collective Bargaining Agreement bylaws.).
Instead, Clay Bennett's ownership group has a more palatable luxury-tax check (around $88 million) to write this fall, and Oklahoma City arguably has the NBA's third-best top-7 roster (Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Andre Roberson, Steven Adams, Jerami Grant, Nerlens Noel and Schroder) – after Golden State and Boston, of course.
It's a strange turn of events, for sure, especially since the Hawks and Thunder don't have a long history of consummating mutually beneficial trades.
STOP ... IN THE NAME OF MARKETING SANITY
Look, if the Hawks were realistic candidates for the Eastern Conference playoffs or had a jam-packed depth chart full of young studs who were ready for serious playing time, I'd understand the front office's impending decision to release Anthony and let him sign with a contender (for a near-minimum salary).
But none of the above hypotheticals ring true with this squad.
Even if John Collins and Spellman were poised for All-Star-level campaigns at power forward, there would still be a place for Anthony's typical scoring prowess.
(Last season, Atlanta scored 95 or fewer points 22 times.)
I say 'typical' because 'Melo averaged only 16.2 points per game last season ... which somehow clouds the fact he averaged 25 points a night (on 44-percent shooting) from 2012-17.
And even if the teen-aged Young was truly ready for the pressure of being the face of the franchise, would it not serve the rookie well to have daily access to Anthony's experience of being a purported franchise savior for the Denver Nuggets back in 2003 – at the same tender age of 19?
Did the Hawks front office likely agree to immediately drop Anthony after last week's trade went down? Probably.
Is Anthony still one of the NBA's 20 best players? Absolutely not.
Would Anthony's versatile offensive gifts more than compensate for a defensive skill set that isn't grand? Eh, judgment call.
Is 'Melo one of the five best Hawks on the current roster? Even if the answer's 'no,' shouldn't this notion be confirmed during training camp, the preseason slate or the inaugural 2 months of the regular season?
Plus, Anthony's still one of the NBA's most marketable faces; and that should mean something to a franchise which desperately needs to sell the public on experiencing the massively renovated Philips Arena on a wintertime Monday or Tuesday night.
Which brings us to the original gripe: The Hawks aren't running a charity here. If Anthony only wants to play for a title contender, in the interim, perhaps he should go all-out for 4 to 5 months in Atlanta as a means of rehabbing his on-court image.
This success could then potentially lead to a robust trade market in February.
With the Rockets (Carmelo's reported preference), the iso-heavy Anthony would be the fourth scoring option in a high-tempo offense (read: not a great fit). On many nights with the Hawks, though, he'd figure prominently in the gameplan during the fourth quarter.
After all, Anthony still ranks fifteenth among NBA glitterati in annual salary. As such, it would be a shame for 'Melo to forfeit the last mega-payday of his career ... just because he prefers Houston to Atlanta in the short term.
The beauty of this speculative debacle? The Hawks still have time to sell Anthony on the benefits of sticking around for a few months and improving his current stock assessment. They still have time to seize the upper hand in this relationship, in terms of someday peddling Carmelo for something positive before the trade deadline.
It's a smart strategy for a team on the brink of better things, but also in need of time-tested gate attractions. Bottom line: If the Hawks are destined for 30 or fewer wins this season, the marketing department won't be able to save everyone's bacon with more Tinder Night promotions.
As such, I'm sure the marketing gurus already have a number of promotional concepts to sell Young and Anthony – on the floor together.
Let's start with this: In Carmelo's decorated career, from a splits perspective, Anthony's second-highest scoring day just happens to be Tuesday (24.5 ppg).
Typically a soft sales night in the NBA world.
See, the marketing pitch writes itself. In my mind, Hawks fans are already lining up on Amazon to purchase the Tuesdays With 'Melo book series.