At some point later today, Carmelo Anthony will come to town to hear the Dallas Mavericks’ pitch to join the team as a free agent. I assume at some point someone will take him to Pecan Lodge, unless he doesn’t like barbecue. Maybe he doesn’t like barbecue?
Anyway, other than Dirk Nowitzki prominently working as the lead recruiter this time, we’ve been down this road before, with Deron Williams and Chris Paul and Dwight Howard spurning the team’s advances over the last two summers. So far, all that the Mavericks have come away with is Monta Ellis, who played great last season, but was widely seen as a pretty disappointing fallback plan when he signed. Why should this time be any different?
To begin with, everything. OK, maybe not everything. But the Mavs have learned from their failures of those two summers. Williams wasn’t against partnering with Dirk. He just wasn’t sure what the team had should Nowitzki get injured, fears that were immediately borne out when Dirk went down with a knee injury and missed his first extended period of time. Paul and Howard — well, Howard screwed that up with his disastrous exit from Orlando, so once Paul was traded to LA and the Clippers got a better coach, he was no longer on the table. And Howard chose a younger core to hitch his Ed Hardy-designed wagon to in Houston. Put simply, the Mavs didn’t have enough pieces. Now they do.
Beyond Nowitzki, they have a more than capable second (and sometimes first) option in Ellis. And last week, they traded for Tyson Chandler. It is already, arguably, a better team than we saw last year, especially if coach Rick Carlisle can perform his brand of blank-faced, crew-cut magic on throw-in Raymond Felton (who has not always been terrible!). If Carmelo signed with the Mavs, and they were able to re-sign vets Devin Harris, Vince Carter, and Shawn Marion, I don’t know if that’s a championship contender. But you absolutely can’t rule it out. Offensively, that’s a load to handle, and in just about every conceivable way. And if Carlisle can construct a defense that gave the eventual champion Spurs all it could handle, imagine what he could do with Chandler back in the fold?
Money-wise, it makes more than a little sense, or at least as much as any other team in the running that isn’t the New York Knicks. Anthony would have to take a haircut on his salary, but not an insane one, since Dirk has said he will take a hometown discount. (There is also this bit of salary-cap karate — Dirk signs for the minimum, opts out after next season, signs for $20 million, and the team would still have cap space to add more big pieces — that sounds insane, and definitely goes against the spirit of the salary cap (WHO CARES?), but as far as I can tell is totally within the rules and totally something the Mavs would attempt.)
So, the Mavs could sign Carmelo Anthony. But should they?
As a franchise, yes, of course. Any time you can sign a player like Carmelo Anthony, you absolutely should. He’s a worthwhile asset to have, whether you’re talking about the box office or the national TV schedule or local sponsors or just future moves. As a basketball team, it’s a little bit more complicated. I’d still lean toward yes, but as a player, I think Anthony’s best role is as a small-ball power forward. He can defend that position better, and it creates more mismatches for him to exploit on offense. But power forward is, obviously, where Dirk plays. “Oh, then play them together and just move Dirk over to center?” Yeah, I see you. They might win some games 150-145 playing that way, if Dirk and Melo both got hot at the same time. More often, they’d lose 133-102. Probably a lot more often. So, no thanks.
Melo is not as good a defender as Shawn Marion was, is, or will be, even when he’s just getting in a quick run at the local Y in five or six years. But he can be better than he’s shown, and if anyone can get him there, it’s Carlisle. And he’s so much more gifted than Marion as a pure offensive player, I think the good outweighs the bad.
No matter what, the Mavs are not a longshot in this race anymore. I feel like, ultimately, Anthony doesn’t end up here. But unlike two weeks ago, I wouldn’t be surprised if he does.