Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Carmelo Anthony to get traded, released, become a free agent. But then what? By the end of the day today (Tuesday), Carmelo Anthony will be released from Houston Rockets limbo.
And land in another kind of limbo — his future is not much more clear.
The Houston Rockets have agreed to terms and will trade Anthony and some cash to Chicago Tuesday. This deal ultimately saves Houston $6.2 million in salary and tax, and Chicago will net just a little under $1 million — everyone is doing it for the money.
However, Anthony is never going to put on a Bulls’ jersey. Much like his summer trade from Oklahoma City to Atlanta, this is just a move to find a team that could take him on then release him. Chicago expected to hold on to Anthony through the Feb. 7 deadline (on the off chance they can find a one-on-one trade for him) but not play him — the same on-the-roster-but-not situation he was in Houston. If/when the Bulls cannot trade him they will waive him on a buyout after Feb. 7.
Then Anthony will finally get his wish and be a free agent.
Nobody knows. There are reports he has options for a landing spot, but if he had good ones he’d already be with that team. Clearly he is holding out for a better situation.
What would that look like? A contender/playoff team is going to ask him to come off the bench and play a role — something he was not willing to do in Houston. He felt his stature in the game — and ‘Melo is unquestionably a future Hall of Famer, and at his peak was an amazing bucket getter — entitled him to more than the small role the Rockets had for him. The problem is Anthony’s game no longer merits more than a smaller bench role. In Houston his offense slipped, he shot 32.8 percent from three, struggled to create good looks for himself in isolation, and was on pace for a career-worst .503 true shooting percentage. His defense remains a serious liability. His catch-and-shoot threes should improve, however, he simply cannot create efficient offense for himself anymore so he will be relegated to a shooter’s role. A role he does not want.
This brings us to the one team Anthony keeps getting linked to, the Los Angeles Lakers. (Which is more about LeBron James wanting to find his friend a good landing spot than the Lakers actually wanting him.) The role Anthony wants is currently filled on the wing by Kyle Kuzma — and Kuzma is better at it right now than Anthony can be (19.3 points per game, an athletic and attacking style that pairs well with LeBron). That means Anthony would have to accept a limited roll off the bench as a shooter, and he wouldn’t do that in Houston. Why are the Lakers going to cut a guaranteed contract so Anthony can battle Michael Beasley and Lance Stephenson for limited minutes?
Maybe a struggling team looking for a marketing boost picks up Anthony, although if you run a team with developing young players why take the ball out of their hands so Anthony can get up midrange jumpers?
Once the post-buyout roster shuffling ends, I expect some team will have a roster spot for Anthony, but the role is going to be limited. It’s hard to watch a great career end this unceremoniously, but here we are.
2) James Harden scores 37, but against a good team like Philadelphia the one-man show is not enough. James Harden is putting on a run for the ages — he has now scored 30 or more points in 20 consecutive games after dropping 37 on the Sixers in the biggest Martin Luther King Jr. Day game on the calendar. Harden is in Wilt Chamberlain territory with his scoring.
Harden has now scored 200 points over his last four games — and not one of those has come off an assist. Right now he’s the only reliable shot creator on the Rockets’ roster, he has to do everything.
Against a good team, that’s not enough.
Case in point, Philadelphia on Monday. Joel Embiid had 32 points, but more than that the Sixers had a balanced attack and good defense led by Embiid. The result was an easy 121-93 win.
Embiid was putting up points and had the highlight of the game with a chase-down block on Harden.
This is where the Rockets are right now: Harden is playing at an MVP level, but often against the better teams that alone is not enough. Rockets not named Harden shot 31.7 percent against Philly, and 17.2 percent from three. It was The Beard against the world, and ultimately the world is going to win that battle.
Expect more of these “huge numbers from Harden in a loss” games to come in the next few weeks, especially with Clint Capela out.
3) Klay Thompson lights up depleted Lakers for 44 points. No LeBron James. No Lonzo Ball. No Rajon Rondo.
No real chance of slowing Klay Thompson.
The guy the Lakers’ covet — and know they are not going to get because he’s not leaving Golden State as a free agent this summer according to every source around the league I talk to — hit 10 threes and dropped 44 on Los Angeles on Monday night. The shorthanded Lakers could do nothing about it.
DeMarcus Cousins had his moments in his second game. Not the most efficient scoring night — eight points on nine shots — but he had nine rebounds, five assists, and was +24 (and didn’t foul out this time). Defensively he drew a charge, made his presence felt in the paint, and on the other end even dove for a loose ball at one point that led to a Thompson three. Cousins has some conditioning work to do coming off a torn Achilles, but this game looked like a small step forward.