Q&A on Carmelo Anthony’s alleged interest in the Houston Rockets

After SI’s Chris Mannix’s Wednesday report of Carmelo Anthony’s alleged interest in the Houston Rockets, I got together with Jeremy Wagner of ESPN TrueHoop’s official Denver Nuggets blog, Roundball Mining Company. What ensues is our conversation about, among other things, the plausibility of a deal between Houston and Denver.

Rahat: On Wednesday, it was reported by Chris Mannix that Carmelo Anthony would be open to signing a contract extension with, in addition to the New York Knicks, the Houston Rockets or New Jersey Nets.  To begin, what do you think is the likelihood of Anthony being traded?

Jeremy: At this point it is clear that Carmelo Anthony is not convinced that Denver is the place for him.  As long as the Nuggets cannot be assured that he will return to play for them following this season it is only prudent to begin shopping him around the league to determine his value. Whatever that value is, it will certainly be greater than nothing, which is what the Nuggets could end up with should he exercise his early termination option and sign somewhere else following the 2010-11 season.  Because of that I do believe Carmelo will be traded sometime before the trade deadline in February.

Rahat: Up to this point, with the reports of his interest in the Knicks, I had assumed that for Anthony, the driving force was to, rather than leave Denver, simply go to New York; ie: I did not feel he actively wanted out of Denver.  With this latest report regarding Houston, it appears the motivation is to leave the Nuggets.  Did this come as a surprise to you and do you have any insight into his mindset in this force of departure?

Jeremy: Carmelo certainly does like Denver and he knows if he stays, he will be regarded as the best player in franchise history.  The reality is the Nuggets seemed to have seen their best chance at competing for a championship come and go last season when they were once again eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.  Carmelo realizes that and while Denver has done a pretty good job of pairing him with some extremely talented running mates in Allen Iverson and now Chauncey Billups most of the Nuggets key players are either injury prone or in the twilight of their careers.

I believe as you stated at first he was simply enthralled with playing in New York.  However, with the Nuggets dealing with a closing window and then seeing Miami pull off their free agent bonanza he began do dream about other possibilities.  I am not surprised that he would consider teams other than the Knicks.  If the driving force behind his decision to to be in the best position possible to win a championship, he would be crazy to only consider the Knicks simply because they are in New York.

I do think Houston is an odd fit and I question who leaked the report that Carmelo would consider the Rockets. Not to go all conspiracy theory on you, but I have to wonder if the Nuggets are doing their best to create some competition and urgency in an effort to driving up the price.

Houston is a team that can offer a young player or two, salary relief and draft picks.  The Knicks have reportedly offered Danillo Galinari, Eddy Curry’s expiring deal and a future draft pick, which will have to be in 2014 at the earliest.  That is not a great haul for an All-Star and borderline MVP candidate.  If the Nuggets want to save any face here, they must pull off a good deal and without teams competing against each other, Denver may struggle to do better than New York’s offer.  Houston could certainly create some competition, real or imagined.

Rahat: A leak from the Denver front offices could certainly be possible, but at the same time, I wonder what purpose that would ultimately serve insofar that Anthony would not want to unnecessarily deplete his new roster; were there really no interest, he would comeforth and refute the report, bringing us back to square one.

Regardless, let’s assume for a moment that the report of his interest is true.  Who among the three teams could offer the package most enticing to the Nuggets?  Among the Rockets’ assets, apart from their core, are Jordan Hill, Patrick Patterson, Chase Budinger, the expiring contracts of Shane Battier and Jared Jeffries, and the New York Knicks’ draft picks in 2011 and 2012.

Jeremy: That is a good point about Melo not wanting to weaken his future team and I thought about that, but I would not totally discount his desire to get paid as well.  The only way he gets his extension is if he is traded prior to the trade deadline.  Even a sign and trade would cost him money, especially considering it will be consummated under a new CBA.

The question is do the Nuggets try to make a deal that will keep them a playoff team, or do they decide to rebuild behind Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo and Nene.  Personally I think they are better off rebuilding.  I get no satisfaction out of first round exits year after year and I would like to see some bold action to attempt to bring a championship to Denver.

Out of the three teams Carmelo has been rumored to be interested in the Rockets, Knicks and Magic, I think the Magic are the least likely destination.  I doubt the Nuggets would be interested in Vince Carter, although he would fit the bill for a player they could acquire in an attempt to remain a playoff team next season and if Denver goes the picks and prospects route, Orlando could not offer Denver prospects and high draft picks.

As mentioned above the Knicks are prepared to offer Gallinari, Curry and a future draft pick.  If I was Denver I would hold out for Anthony Randolph in place of the pick, which would not come for a few years.

Before we get to the Rockets I think we need to mention another team.  The Nets could put together a nice package with Derrick Favors, Troy Murphy and a draft pick or two.  I seriously doubt they would part with Brooke Lopez, but he would probably seal the deal in favor of the Nets if he was available.

I have to wonder how much of their stockpile of assets Houston would be willing to give up.  Obviously the expiring contracts of Battier and Jeffries would be a must.  The two picks owed from the Knicks would be enticing, especially since by sending Melo to Houston those picks would be more valuable than if he were sent to New York. In fact, the value of those picks could be used as leverage the Nuggets could use with Houston as a Knicks team with Melo would decrease their value.  Jordan Hill and Patrick Patterson are nice assets too and either one of them would sweeten Houston’s proposal.

I think the decision comes down to the Knicks and Rockets, assuming Lopez is off limits, and if you want to know which offer I would select, you will have to check out my post on Friday where I name a fictitious winner of the Indian Summer of Carmelo.

While Carmelo may be interested in Houston, I wonder if the interest in mutual.  Daryl Morey is a fan of statistical analysis and efficiency on both ends of the floor.  Carmelo is not an overly efficient scorer, in fact when compared to the other elite scorers in the league he is one of the least efficient.  Plus I have always admired the way the Rockets play unselfishly with great ball movement and patience.  George Karl likes to refer to Carmelo as a ball stopper meaning when the ball hits Melo’s mitts, it stays there.  That does not seem to fit with what the Rockets like to do.  Then of course there is the matter of Carmelo’s defense, or lack thereof.  Carmelo is a big name, but is he a player that makes sense for the Rockets?

Rahat: I think New Jersey easily has the capacity to put together the best package if putting either of Brooke Lopez or Devin Harris in play.  Having said that, one wonders if Carmelo would still consider the Nets a desireable destination sans either of those players, given his entire motivation for this exit.

I feel the Rockets are the only team that can put together an attractive offer while still having enough left over to contend, given their aforementioned assets.

I want to get to your other point in a bit, but first, what do you think it would take (in a Rockets offer) at the bare minimum for the Nuggets to bite?  What’s an offer with which you would be pleased?

Jeremy: Because of the shortage of teams Carmelo would agree to sign an extension with I think the Nuggets will be choosing from a handful of less than exciting offers.  Even so in order to send Carmelo to the Rockets I personally would want at the very least the expiring contracts of Battier and Jeffries, Hill or Patterson, and the Knicks picks.  To guarantee the Rockets are the big winners they would probably have to add in Buddinger and $3 million.

In your opinion who should the Nuggets target in negotiations with the Rockets between Hill or Patterson?  Hill seems to have more potential, but Patterson would seem to be a safer, but less exciting prospect.  Would you agree?

Rahat: Pretty interesting that you feel that that would be all it takes; Rockets fans would be dancing in the streets if landing Carmelo without sacrificing either Aaron Brooks or Kevin Martin – I think most of us considered it a foregone conclusion that Brooks would be required to consummate a deal.

Your assessment of Patterson/Hill is dead on.  I think, given his ceiling, the Nuggets would prefer Hill, while ironically, the Rockets would prefer to keep Patterson, given that the latter is more ready to contribute.

Jeremy: I do not think Denver would be interested in Brooks due to the presence of Ty Lawson.  Denver would certainly welcome Kevin Martin, but I was working under the assumption, possibly a false one, that Martin was quasi-untouchable.  If the Nuggets are looking to rebuild and achieve some cap flexibility, which is the route I would prefer they go, Martin’s contract, while reasonable, might be more than they are interested in acquiring.

By the way, I would like to see Denver shed the contracts of Chris Andersen, four years $20 million and Renaldo Balkman, 3 years, $5.0 million in any trade involving Carmelo.  So take that for what it is worth.

Rahat: I had felt that either of Brooks/Martin would be necessary, not with Denver as an end destination necessarily, but as simply “value”, parlayed to another team at a later date if Denver so chooses.

The Rockets have a trade exception from the Ariza deal with which they could absorb Andersen, but I do not think they would be too eager for such a transaction given that he would cost them $10million/annually (due to tax implications.)

To revisit your earlier point: Melo’s inefficiency has been well-documented, especially amongst stat-heads.  One would imagine Morey would subscribe to this thinking, but at the same time, if drawing from his public statements, I don’t know that Morey is the staunch idealist he is characterized as by the media.

While intrinsic to conventional philosophy, he’s spoken many times of the need for a “star” and to that end, Carmelo Anthony would seem to fit that need.

Having watched him up close, are the criticisms warranted?  Is Melo truly elite and can he lead a team to a title?

Jeremy: Carmelo is an elite talent, but to this point in his career that talent has not translated into becoming a transcendent player on the court.  He can do almost anything he wants to on the court, including playing defense.  Sadly he places value on his ability to score and as a result does not utilize his other talents to help his team win.

There are few players who can score in as many was as Carmelo can, yet instead of exploiting the advantages the team earns due to the attention he receives from the opposition Melo frequently forces his way into the teeth of the defense in an attempt to prove he can do it.  Carmelo has never made that leap from I can do it, to we can do it and as a result makes things more difficult on himself than it needs to be which leads directly to the surprising void between his talent and his lack of efficiency.

After watching Carmelo play in Denver for seven seasons I have come to the conclusion the Nuggets are better off with someone else paying him $20 million a season.  Carmelo will absolutely get you at least 25 points a night and plenty of regular season wins.  Even so until he begins to value wins over accolades neither he nor his teams will reach their full potential.

He talks about winning championships and I do believe his desire to win a title is what is driving him to want to leave Denver, but he is constantly held back by his refusal to do what it takes on the court to earn one.

I firmly believe if Carmelo is your alpha dog, you are not winning a championship.

Do you believe Houston would go so far as to part with Kevin Martin, who was acquired less than a year ago to provide outside shooting and scoring punch to compliment Yao Ming, for a player who may be more talented, but less efficient and who is not even a mediocre shooter from behind the arc?

Rahat: I go back and forth on that one, as that’s a question which would make for a classic philosophical case-study.  Given each player’s inabilities on the defensive end, they probably can’t coexist at the wings – do you trade the poster-boy for offensive efficiency to finally fill the conventional “star” role?

I also wonder if Courtney Lee was acquired to make preparation for a Martin-Melo swap.  To answer/dodge your question, I don’t know, but I hope not.  This team would be scary explosive with Martin/Melo, while I could maintain (for this year, at leat) willful oblivion regarding their inabilities.

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