NBA Sunday: For Carmelo, Houston May Offer Best Future Payday

Approving a trade to the Cavs for Kyrie Irving could have major negative financial repercussions for Carmelo Anthony.

Alan Draper profile picture
Sports Editor
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Sure, a move to Cleveland would be better for Carmelo Anthony’s legacy, but a move to Houston would probably be better for his pocketbook.

That’s not to say that Anthony’s only concern is maximizing his earning potential, but let’s just point out the fact that he hasn’t made giving up guaranteed money a habit.

What makes his trade situation most interesting to watch from afar is wondering whether James has already tipped his hand and has revealed that he doesn’t intend on re-signing in Cleveland. If he did, it would probably be a much better prospect for Anthony. But without such an assurance, Anthony would be making a financially imprudent decision to take his talents to Cleveland, even if it meant an appearance in the 2018 NBA Finals.

Meanwhile, as the New York Knicks have done their due diligence on their franchise player, Kyrie Irving has reportedly had enough of life as LeBron James’ sidekick.

Irving notably has little leverage over where the Cavaliers ultimately opt to ship him, but the fact that he only has two years remaining on his contract means that many teams would refrain from trading a treasure trove of assets for him without assurances that he would re-sign. For evidence, look at what the Indiana Pacers netted in return for Paul George.

Anthony wants out, Irving wants in. On some levels, a swap appears to make perfect sense, right? In theory, a trade centered around Anthony, a future first round pick and either Frank Ntilikina or Willy Hernangomez might be attractive to the Cavs. With Anthony joining Derrick Rose, Jeff Green and James’ three-time defending Eastern Conference Champions, the team would have an opportunity to win the conference for a fourth consecutive year. With either Ntilikina or Hernangomez and the future first round pick, the Cavs would also improve their future fortunes. They may not find a better offer on the open market.

The only problem?

Anthony hasn’t given any indication that he would be willing to go to a Cavaliers team that was playing without Irving. The goal, it is said, was for Anthony to join Irving, not replace him.

For Anthony, though, the financial ramifications of joining the Cavaliers could also be catastrophic. Obviously, nobody can tell the future. The most a player can do is use the information at their disposal to make the best decision possible.

So here’s why Houston, financially, makes much more sense for Anthony than Cleveland would: tomorrow looks much more certain in Texas than it does in Cleveland—and the odds of Anthony securing one final huge payday in Houston appear to be more of a certainty there than Cleveland.

Obviously, only Anthony knows his true motivations—playing with Paul would help to extend his career and give him both a point guard and a peer that would help bring out the best in him. It is quite possible that his want for H-Town is rooted in nothing more than basketball, but it’s worth wondering whether Anthony would be opting for that if it didn’t seem, from afar, to be the most lucrative option.

Follow the logic.

As it stands, Anthony has two years remaining on his current contract, the second of which is at his option. Anthony will earn $26 million for the 2017-18 season and can decide whether to opt it to the final year of the contract for the 2018-19 season, where he would earn about $28 million.

You don’t have to know Anthony to know that his tendency has been to secure his finances and maximize his earning potential. It is there that Houston cements itself as being a better situation.

Should Anthony relocate to Cleveland, his financial and basketball future would be connected to James. As it stands, the prevailing belief is that James is going to opt out of the final year of his contract, thereby making him a free agent next summer, as well. Should Anthony relocate to Cleveland and James opts out, he would face a tough decision—either opt in to the final year of his contract for the $28 million 2018-19 salary and play a season in Cleveland without James, or leave the money on the table and opt for free agency.

While becoming a free agent does have its appeal, at the age of 34 and with his best days seemingly past, there’s no guarantee that Anthony would be able to secure a big money contract, especially with early reports suggesting that in dealing with the exploding cap, NBA teams have overspent. Free agents over the coming years, it is said, are very likely to feel a pinch.

Consider that for a second and consider what would become of Anthony should he approve a trade to the Cavs and James leaves.

Would the Cavs offer him a three-year contract worth $60 million to stay? Would he even want to? The answer, in each instance, is probably no.

That’s why Houston affords him the best opportunity, especially since their salary situation probably wouldn’t even lend itself to receiving him in a sign-and-trade agreement.

* * * * * *

With the acquisition of Chris Paul and extension of James Harden (four-years, $170 million), the Houston Rockets have cemented themselves as a team that is going for it.

According to reports from Los Angeles, a major catalyst for Paul being traded to Houston was the fact that the Clippers weren’t willing to offer Paul the fifth guaranteed year of salary that he would have been eligible for had he opted out of his current deal. As a result, Paul opted in to the final year, was traded to Houston, and will become a free agent next July.

From the Rockets’ standpoint, it would make zero sense to trade for Paul and extend Harden only to allow Paul to walk away after one season. That is especially true considering the core players that the Rockets gave up to acquire Paul in the first place. Although Harden is married to the franchise, his desire to win was likely catered to as much as his pocketbook when tendered the extension.

With Harden under contract for the next six years, the Rockets are likely in investment mode and Paul probably knew that when he pushed for the trade. There are some that believe that Paul and the Rockets have a handshake agreement on what a new contract will look like—similar to what Pau Gasol and the San Antonio Spurs allegedly did before Gasol curiously opted out of the hefty salary due to him next season.

So yes, it would appear the Rockets are in investment mode and if Paul were given truth serum, he would probably admit that he knows it.

You know who else probably knows it?

Carmelo Anthony.

Should Anthony find his way to the Rockets, he would again have the opportunity to opt for free agency in July 2018, or opt in to the final season of his deal and hit the market in July 2019. Either way, with Harden signed through the conclusion of the 2022-23 season, if the Rockets were interested in competing, they simply couldn’t allow Anthony and/or Paul to leave for nothing. Market value salaries for each would be greater than $20 million, even with their advancing ages.

For Anthony, the opportunity to sign and be paid well by the Rockets lies fully in being traded there now. With the salary commitments the Rockets have to Harden, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and Paul’s cap hold, the likelihood of them manufacturing enough cap space to make Anthony a competitive offer next summer—should he land elsewhere and subsequently become a free agent—is quite slim. At this point, securing one final hefty payday, for Anthony, likely rests in the preservation of his Bird rights. Should he land in Houston, they would have them, and most importantly, plenty of incentive to re-sign him. The icing on the cake is that Anthony would be able to compete at a high-level out West and play with one of his best friends in Paul.

The Cavaliers, on the other hand, would immediately go into divestment mode should James opt to take his career elsewhere—especially if they had already agreed to trade Irving away in order to get Anthony in the first place.

All things considered, it’s quite easy to see why Anthony would prefer Houston. Even if the Cavaliers could offer an almost certain opportunity for him to play in the NBA Finals for the first time, with James’ future being so uncertain, he could compete at a high level for more years in Houston.

More importantly, he would be maximizing his potential to land one final big payday.

That might not be Anthony’s priority in this situation, but it probably doesn’t hurt. So for those wondering why Melo wouldn’t do the Knicks a favor by approving a trade to the Cavaliers and perhaps helping the Knicks land Irving in return—herein could lie a reason.

Alan is an expert gambling writer who works as one of the chief editors for Basketball Insiders. He has been covering online gambling and sports betting for over 8 years, having written for the likes of Sportlens,, The Sports Daily, 90min, and His particular specialisms include US online casinos and gambling regulations, and soccer and basketball betting. Based in London, Alan holds an MA in English Literature and is a passionate supporter of Chelsea FC.

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