By Matt Flynn | Staff Writer
The reports had circulated earlier in the summer. After the Oklahoma City Thunder had signed Paul George to a four-year max, they faced the largest luxury tax bill in the history of the NBA. It was obvious that the next domino to fall was to move on from Carmelo Anthony’s $28 million dollars in salary.
Because the NBA luxury tax further penalizes any team that repeats in the tax for multiple seasons, the Thunder were staring up at over $100 million just in tax penalties, not counting the team’s extensive payroll.
One option would have been to use the stretch provision, where they could’ve waived Anthony and paid him his $28 million over three seasons, totaling a little over $9 million per year in dead money. That would’ve decreased the luxury tax bill substantially by cutting down the payroll, but it would’ve essentially had the Thunder paying a value contract to a guy for three seasons who would’ve never set foot on the floor.
Instead, they have managed to improve their roster with a quality player (Dennis Schröder) and save substantial luxury tax money, and it’s a great deal for the Thunder.
Here’s how it the actual three-team deal shakes out:
Thunder Get: PG – Schröder (from ATL), F- Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot (from PHI)
Hawks Get: PF – Anthony (from OKC), G/F- Justin Anderson (from PHI), 2022 Protected First Round Pick (from OKC)
Sixers Get: F/C- Mike Muscala (from ATL)
The Thunder payroll, with the additions of Schröder and TLC, is around $148 million dollars, which is between $24 and $25 million over the luxury tax line, having them at an $88 million luxury tax penalty, down from $150 million with Anthony. This saves the team over $60 million in money by improving the team with Schröder.
The Thunder currently have 14 players on the roster, and the 15th could very well be bringing back former first-round pick Josh Huestis at the minimum, or they could even leave the spot blank to avoid additional tax concerns.
So, the question has to be asked: Why would the Hawks want to take on Anthony’s monstrous $28 million salary? The reason is two-fold: first, the NBA teams who have cap space remaining get in the habit of selling that space to teams who need to unload bad money in exchange for assets (thus the protected first rounder), and second, because the Hawks had no need to keep Schröder around, a player entering his prime when the Hawks rebuild has just begun, and who the Hawks owe $15.5 million a year over the next three years.
That may be about what Schröder is worth, but not many teams are looking to add that kind of salary for a divisive player. The Thunder should want to roll the dice on a player with upside because it involves saving money, and it also gives them an influx of youth to contrast the slew of picks that will be flying out the door over the next several seasons from trades. The Hawks sold their space to acquire Anthony, picked up an asset in return, and also unloaded a contract that they found undesirable, but had purpose for the Thunder.
The pick is so far away because of the ‘step rule’ surrounding exiting draft picks, a team cannot dispose of two first round picks in consecutive years, they must alternate them, so the Thunder will likely lose 2020 and 2022. If the pick doesn’t convey in 2022 (it’s lottery protected picks 1-14), then it will become two-second rounders.
There needed to be a third team in the deal; however, to make the money work. The Hawks had another player to send out, veteran Power Forward/Center Muscala, who opted into his $5 million player option at the start of the offseason.
In comes the Philadelphia 76ers, who were hoping for a stretch big who can shoot after they were spurned by Nemanja Bjelica a few days ago. The 76ers had reached terms with the European Forward for the Room Mid-Level Exception, but Bjelica expressed concern about moving his family again and backed out of the deal, leaving the Sixers at the end of free agency with the full room mid-level and no good free agents left on the market.
I couldn’t really imagine them bringing in someone like Michael Beasley. So, they pick up Muscala from the Hawks. The Sixers also were in a bit of a crunch for roster spots, and sending away Anderson to the Hawks and Luwawu-Cabarrot to the Thunder, as each team in a three-team deal needs to ‘touch’ each other for the trade to be approved.
There’s a bit of a sour taste of this for the Sixers. Muscala was only an option because they were spurned by Bjelica (a superior player), and the Sixers end up shipping out two young wings that remain largely unproven. The Hawks get Anderson, an SG/SF, who is versatile on defense and has an ever-improving shot.
The Sixers acquired him essentially as the crowning jewel of the Nerlens Noel trade, and have ended up with nothing to show for it. Anderson will have a legitimate chance to earn minutes on a Hawks team and earn a qualifying offer as he heads to restricted free agency next season.
Then, there’s Luwawu-Cabarrot, an athletically gifted and long small forward, who has never quite caught up to the speed of the NBA game. He will join the Thunder and attempt to compete for some rotation minutes with other unpolished, athletic wings the Thunder like to collect. TLC was a first-round pick for the Sixers, who they are giving away for very little.
Rather than getting Bjelica on the room mid-level, they instead have to ship out two young players for Muscala. That’s a tough turn of events, but the Sixers remain confident that guys like Zhaire Smith and Furkan Korkmaz (other first rounders) can work to crack their rotation. Just as a side note, there are rumors that the Sixers are working on another deal which could bring in Kyle Korver for the expiring contract of Jerryd Bayless.
Muscala did have his best season last year, improving his scoring average to 7.6 per game, working on his three-point shot by shooting over three per game in 20 minutes per, along with a nice percentage of 37%. He’s an average defender and efficient offensive player with multiple skills, whether it be high-post pick and pop or catch and shoot off of threes.
He’s not as good as Bjelica, and he’s not as much of a two-way asset as an Ersan Ilyasova, but the Sixers do save face by adding him to their rotation. I just wouldn’t be happy about having to give up Anderson and TLC to do it. I tend to like seeing guys out of their rookie deals, you don’t have to extend them qualifying offers or keep their cap holds if they don’t work out; it’s just better to see them for all four years of the rookie deals.
I expect TLC to eventually go back to Europe, but I think Anderson could really help the Hawks as a rotation player. Them getting him, plus a future pick is a nice addition to the asset pool.
By all accounts, Anthony will be bought out for an amount pretty close to his full contract value. The Hawks aren’t contending, so it’s not as if they care that they’re throwing that money out the window, but Anthony will now search for something around the minimum for a contender. Houston tends to be the team that continues to be brought up, and that makes sense considering the departures of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute in free agency.
I’m not sure that I love his fit with Houston, but he will be a key piece for them if he signs.
The fall of Carmelo is so fascinating to me. He’s now about four-to-five years removed from being a Top 5-10 player, as his 2012-2013 season (where he was third in MVP voting, second team All-NBA, and won the scoring title) was one of the most fun offensive seasons of recent memory. He then shot his way out of New York, but not before signing this massive contract for what at that time was essentially the max.
The Thunder added him as part of a ‘big 3’ experiment, and the results were disastrous. He barely shot 40% from the floor, shot under 36% from the three-point line, saw a huge decrease in scoring and scoring efficiency, had a career low in PER, and was one of the most atrocious players in the league per 100 possessions, with a BPM of -3.8 (that’s negative four points worse per 100 possessions). There was all of this talk about the Thunder getting ‘Team USA’ ‘Melo, where he would be a spot up shooter, space the floor, and make people better, but the streaky shooting became maddening for the Thunder.
If you watch his form, he rushes spot-up shots and is never fully set. The three-point percentage decreasing in a year where he had more spot-ups on passes from Russ is not surprising. His shot looks better after his jab step or side-step dribble. As a pure catch-and-shoot player, he looked out of his element. The problem? I’m not sure that he has a role in the NBA anymore for anything but a spot-up shooter. He certainly will be asked to do that in Houston.
So the Thunder saves sixty million in tax payments and adds Schröder. Many analysts will tell you that Schröder is not a good player, that his stats are essentially empty calories on a bad team for a mediocre player. I cannot disagree more. He managed to get over 6 assists per game on a Hawks team without any talent, created 19 points per game of scoring on his own, and did it efficiently enough to cover up for his inconsistent jump shot.
He likely will play in two-guard combo lineups with Russell Westbrook, leaving their closing lineup to also include Steven Adams, George, and either Jerami Grant or Andre Roberson depending on the team. It doesn’t matter, to me, whether Schröder starts as an off-guard or acts as a sixth man, he will make the Thunder better. What this team needs, though, is a defensive recalibration.
If their coaching staff can get Schröder and Russ to play to their full potential on defense, a lineup combination of five of the following six guys (Russ, Schröder, Roberson, George, Grant, Adams) would be completely devastating, and would be the kind of lineup you’d want to trot out against the Golden State Warriors. Sure, Schroder doesn’t help fix the Thunder problem of spacing the floor, but I love his fit in OKC, both for attitude and for fast-paced play-style.
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