Madison Square Garden – it’s February 24, 2014 and the Dallas Mavericks are tied at 108 with the New York Knicks, with only 10.6 seconds left in the game. Vince Carter inbounds the ball from the left sideline to Jose Calderon, who quickly feeds the ball to Dirk Nowizki at the top of the key. Only seconds left, Dirk awkwardly makes his move (in only a way that only Dirk can), and just before the buzzer sounds he heaves a shot at the rim.
The Mavs win.
Carmelo Anthony’s face following that memorable shot says it all. He had one of the best offensive performances of his career, finishing the game with 44 points. But the end of the night, it was his lackluster defense that told the story.
Now, I’ve never claimed to be any sort of expert when it comes to telling people how to play defense, but I’ll have to bet that putting your hands behind your back as the 10th ranked scorer in NBA history goes up for the game-winning shot is probably not the way to play defense.
Clearly, the Knicks superstar forward still has some room for improvement.
This summer “Melo” will arguably be the biggest name in free agency (Hint: Lebron James is not opting out). The 11-year veteran is known around the league as an offensive juggernaut who essentially considers defense optional.
Anthony is a 7-time NBA All-Star, 2-time All-NBA second team and 4-time All-NBA third team player. He’s the 2013 NBA scoring champion.
Nevertheless, it’s reasons like Carmelo’s lackluster performance in the final 10.6 seconds on February 24 that have many fans questioning the idea of adding him to the Mavs roster this summer.
I’m here to give you a big wakeup call.
Whether you like it or not, the Mavs will be going after Mr. Anthony when free agency commences July 1. Here’s one thing you should know about the NBA, when talent is available, teams will go after it – and there’s no question the Syracuse product is one of most talented players in the league.
But, is the feeling mutual?
Marc Stein of ESPN.com reports the Mavs are quietly optimistic they will be on the short list of teams that will be granted a face-to-face visit with the Knicks’ small forward. While the Mavs only have about $27 million locked up in guaranteed money next season, they also have a ton of holes to fill.
Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com reports the Mavs will only be interested in adding Carmelo if they are able to sign him at a deal that pays him less than the $22 million annually he’s able to get on the open market.
Convincing a superstar athlete in his prime to leave millions of dollars on the table sounds difficult enough, so let’s take a look at what the Mavs can arm themselves with in their potential face-to-face meeting.
The Monta Ellis Case Study
Monta Ellis was a disgruntled Milwaukee Bucks employee in the prime of his career. According to Steve von Horn of SB Nation, Ellis was free to sign anywhere he wanted or accept a three-year contract extension worth $36 million. Ellis left money on the table and chose to sign with the Dallas Mavericks.
“For me it was more important to be in an environment of winning, and to be on a team with a great group of guys,” Ellis said.
Speaking of winning, that also might entice the 29-year-old Anthony to come to Dallas. After all, he’s playing with a New York Knicks franchise that has 10 losing seasons since 1999 which just happens to be the last time the Mavs actually had a losing season of their own – and they’ve had nothing but a winning culture since.
Let’s also not forget the Larry O’Brien Trophy lassoed in 2011 by having the best owner in sports and one of the smartest front offices in the NBA.
In his 11 NBA seasons, Carmelo has never played with a star anywhere close to Nowitzki’s caliber. Melo is often criticized publicly for being an inefficient, volume shooter.
Sound familiar? That’s because the same label that was given to Monta Ellis before he came to Dallas. That’s now a long forgotten characteristic for Ellis.
So what changed? Two words – Dirk Nowitzki.
For the first time in his career, Monta had the opportunity to play with a respected NBA All-Star and future Hall of Famer who opened up opportunities for him. In a March 2014 article, Grantland detailed the evolution of Monta Ellis’ shooting production with and without Nowitzki. [Also see ‘The Evolution of Monta Ellis’ by Howard Beck]
The graphic above provides an incredible representation of Ellis’ improved efficiency just by playing alongside the “Tall Baller from the G.” That’s a lot of red and orange! Simply put, the “Dirk effect” allowed Ellis to get open opportunities, which improved his efficiency because defenses were paying so much attention to Dirk.
Imagine how this scenario could work with Carmelo in the fold. Teams around the league would be scrambling to defend the new “Big 3 in Big D” of Carmelo, Dirk and Monta.
The Melo Concerns
The Melo to Dallas scenario, however, doesn’t come without major concerns.
While convincing him to take less money is an already particularly difficult proposition in itself, there will be several other viable teams including the Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers that will be providing plenty of tough competition for his services.
Secondly, on the defensive end for the Mavericks, Nowitzki and Anthony would be a nightmare for head coach Rick Carlisle. Neither player is particularly known for their defensive prowess and there’s definitely a good reason for it.
While this may be an immediate red flag for the Mavs, it’s also important to note that the probability remains high that there will be several defensive centers that will be available this summer, including Larry Sanders, Anderson Varejao, Tyson Chandler and Marcin Gortat that could help.
NOTE: Shawn Marion, the Mavs best defensive player and starting small forward, is a free agent.
Marion said, one way or another, he will retire as a Dallas Maverick. For him, Dallas is “home.”
— Bryan Gutierrez (@BallinWithBryan) May 5, 2014
Then, there’s Carmelo Anthony’s wife, Alani Vasquez Anthony or simply “La La” as she more commonly known in Hollywood circles. La La and Dallas Mavericks fans have a history of bad blood dating back to Anthony’s days with the Denver Nuggets.
In May 2009, during the Western Conference Semifinals, while attending a game in Dallas, La La was alledgedly the subject of racial slurs and threats by a couple of Mavs fans sitting behind her in the stands that evening, according to her issued statement.
It is unclear how she feels about Mavericks fans today and whether or not this 2009 incident could sway Carmelo away from Dallas. Either way, I say it’s time to put that situation behind us and move on. Rumors say the “reality TV star” (if there’s such a thing) has a desire to stay in New York to pursue her career in…whatever it is she does.
Despite several contending issues, the fact remains the Mavericks should have a legitimate shot at landing Anthony this summer. In 2011, it was reported that Mavs attempted to trade for Carmelo Anthony’s services before he was ultimately traded to the Knicks because of the Mavericks refusal to include the “untouchable,” (gasp) Roddy Beaubois in a trade.
Unlike the mess that was Dwight Howard last summer, this time around, the Mavs will be dealing with a mature, NBA veteran who is hopefully focused on winning titles and not watching cartoons. So if the Mavs are able to put the pieces together to swing a signing of Anthony, you can bet I’ll be first in line to say, “Get the parade route ready!”
On second thought, never mind, we’ll just use the same parade route we used in 2011.
Mandatory photo credit to Colorado Sports Desk; Yahoo! Sports/Screencap via @Jose3030