According to a New York Times report from Marc Stein, Thunder forward Carmelo Anthony will not opt out of the final year of his contract. Had he done so, he’d have been an unrestricted free agent; by not opting out, he will instead earn $27.9 million next season.
Anthony has until Saturday at midnight (Eastern) to exercise the option that would make him a free agent July 1 — provided he were willing to walk away from the $27.9 million he is owed next season. But he is planning to let the deadline pass quietly and keep his current contract in effect, according to the person, who was not authorized to discuss the situation publicly.
Letting the deadline pass will lock in Anthony’s full salary for next season but doesn’t guarantee that he will continue his career in Oklahoma City. Anthony announced after the Thunder’s first-round exit last season that he could not stomach returning in 2018-19 in the same limited role, which raises the possibility that the sides could pursue buyout negotiations this off-season.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as it’s unclear whether Carmelo Anthony is actually still a valuable NBA commodity; Anthony is 34, after all, and he likely wouldn’t have come anywhere close to that $27.9 million figure annually given the way his year went in Oklahoma City. The Thunder went all-in last summer on the Russ/PG/Melo model, which was always strange; Westbrook never enjoyed deferring to Kevin Durant, so how would there be enough basketball to keep another ball-dominant star in Carmelo happy?
And Paul George, who can play with anyone and be effective, was only on the books for one season. Oklahoma City now has to try to find a way to retain him while also dealing with Anthony’s contract, and the big money for Steven Adams as well.
Oklahoma City’s top priority this summer is trying to re-sign George, but success in that quest would create a separate problem in terms of luxury tax. Thanks to the hefty contracts already possessed by Westbrook, Anthony and the center Steven Adams, the Thunder’s tax bill could approach the $80 million range if George were to be brought back on a new deal expected to start at a maximum salary of $30.3 million.
Because of that looming money crunch, Oklahoma City and Anthony could be candidates for a separation before the start of next season — even if Anthony sticks to his plan to bypass Saturday’s pricey opportunity to become a free agent of his own accord.
The Thunder are in a tough spot here, although it’s tough to feel bad for them; Sam Presti acquired Carmelo Anthony knowing full well this was a likelihood. If anything, it’s going to give us more potential Carmelo drama, which is always fun. (Unless, of course, you’re a fan of the team that currently employs him.)