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The case for Carmelo Anthony on the Celtics

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Why not?

Boston Celtics v New York Knicks Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Globe’s Gary Washburn was the first to float the idea of Carmelo Anthony joining the Celtics. For context, Washburn infamously voted Melo for MVP back in 2013, preventing LeBron James from being the first ever unanimous Most Valuable Player. The Jump picked the story up as a point of discussion yesterday, but quickly dismissed the idea. With the Celtics losing five of their last six games, Melo-to-Boston is just another card in the suggestion box, but could Anthony actually make a difference?

Washburn’s case is simple. After a small revival before the All Star break, Gordon Hayward sprained his ankle and hasn’t been able to regain that momentum. Marcus Morris has also been a prolonged slump after starting the season white hot. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Anthony and the Lakers have paused talks on bringing him onto a sinking ship, but by all accounts, he’s healthy and in game shape. Melo doesn’t necessarily have to have positive effect on the floor; he’s widely considered a beloved player around the league and could mentor the young players.

The argument against is just as cut and dry. Anthony has been on three teams in three seasons for a reason. In just ten games with the Rockets this year, Melo barely shot 40% and was a defensive liability with a 111.0 DefRtg. He was blamed in large part for the Rockets 1-5 start. After he left Houston, they went on a five-game winning streak.

After Eastern Conference contenders have picked all the meat off the buy out bones--Pau Gasol to the Bucks after trading for Nikola Mirotic, Jeremy Lin to the Raptors after trading for Marc Gasol, Wesley Matthews to the Pacers--impatient fans are anticipating a Celtics’ counter in the arms race. After carving out a roster spot by trading Jabari Bird to the Hawks, it makes sense for them to at least fill the spot with somebody before heading into the playoffs.

With the return of Aron Baynes, the Celtics, for the first time in a long time, are healthy. Any signing would be to 1) safeguard the rotation from catastrophic injury or 2) simply shakes things up. With just eighteen games to go, most contenders are trying to build habits and tighten rotations, not stir up change. However, this is a team in a rut and change for change’s sake is also just change. What’s the worse that could happen?

The last time we saw Good Carmelo Anthony was back in 2016. He was coming off an All-Star season with the Knicks who was still getting to the free throw line and had a career-high in assists. That summer, Olympic Carmelo teamed up with Kyrie Irving to bring home a gold medal from Rio and the two were key components for Team USA; Irving lead the team in assists and Anthony was second in scoring to Kevin Durant. Later that summer, they hooked up at a UCLA pick up game:

If you’re a big believer that Irving is unhappy (I think he is with the media obviously, but not with his teammates), Melo could help. I don’t buy Washburn’s mentorship pitch, but having a vet to kick around with could help air out a locker room that could still be fuming from the drama of the trade deadline. Anthony isn’t exactly adding P.J. Brown to the 2008 championship team, but he would deflect the media attention away from Kyrie, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Morris.

Melo is washed and his decline has been steep since he left New York, but remember Gerald Green against the Bulls? He was sparingly used all season, but there was something about his game that sparked against Chicago after the team lost both games in Boston to start the series. The last two seasons have shown that the fifteen-year vet doesn’t have the gas for a full 82, but the twelve-time All Star could have the juice in limited minutes to turn a playoff series around. Think of him as the anti-Semi Ojeleye. Against Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simmons, or Kawhi Leonard, a defensive stopgap like Ojeleye could eat up innings for the starters. But if the Celtics need some scoring off the bench, Melo could pinch hit in a pinch.

It sounds crazy, but we’ve seen crazy work. I wasn’t a big believer in Nate Robinson and Rasheed Wallace, but those guys contributed to a Finals run in 2010. If it doesn’t work, you cut him and you lose nothing. The Celtics are ten deep. They don’t need more bodies to fill minutes on the floor. But maybe Melo is the kind of wildcard that galvanizes the locker room one way or another. Young players play angry because they resent adding a 34-year-old this late in the year. Maybe Melo chills Irving out and they just ball. Instead of using the 15th roster spot as insurance, Danny Ainge could instead take a chance on a low risk, high reward gamble.