TULSA, Okla. — The newest member of the Oklahoma City Thunder could have ended up elsewhere.
It’s no secret Carmelo Anthony pushed for a trade to the Houston Rockets, the Thunder’s Tuesday night opponent in the preseason opener, for much of the offseason. But even amidst the rumors, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni was trying to keep his cool.
“I don’t even think about it. I’m glad with the guys we’ve got,” D’Antoni said. “That’s not being facetious. It’s not in my control…We’re human. We think about possibilities. If we can get that guy, look at this. Then reality sets in. I found out if I go play a little bit more golf and quit thinking about it, I’m better off.”
Anthony played for D’Antoni with the New York Knicks from 2011 to 2012. Their relationship strayed during that time — though Anthony obviously came around on it enough to find Houston a desirable destination.
But the Knicks and Rockets couldn't work out a trade, and now Anthony finds himself as part of a big three that includes reigning MVP Russell Westbrook and four-time All-Star Paul George. It means Anthony will have to move to power forward, a shift he insists he’s excited for today even if he was often hesitant to make it in the past, along with taking a lesser offensive role.
“He’s one of the better players in the game,” D’Antoni said. “He’ll be good.”
The Thunder were hardly the only team to bring in stars this summer. The Minnesota Timberwolves acquired Jimmy Butler. The Cleveland Cavaliers brought in Isaiah Thomas. The Denver Nuggets added Paul Millsap. The Boston Celtics signed Gordon Hayward and traded for Kyrie Irving. The Rockets, even, dealt for nine-time All-Star Chris Paul.
Reigning MVP runner-up James Harden calls it “the way the league is, man.” But the league has never quite seen this many high-caliber players change teams in one offseason.
Paul, meanwhile, has linked up with other talented players before, like when he went to the L.A. Clippers in 2011. It’s a process with which he’s familiar, and he knows other squads will be attempting the same.
“You sort of just figure it out,” he said. “But nothing’s like playing."
Specifically, he’s not worried about the fit of Anthony, his former teammate with Team USA and a man whose game and style is broken down about as much as any other player’s.
“I see Melo in a whole different light than everybody else. He can hoop. He nice, he play,” Paul said. “Whatever Melo you’re going to get is going to be effective. So, yeah, I think everybody’s always trying to put him in a box. Just let him hoop.”
Of course, the Rockets and Thunder are approaching what’s merely preseason game No. 1. Westbrook, who is still recovering from platelet-rich plasma injections in his left knee, will not play. And the Thunder will have to discover ways for their big three to mesh.
Doing so is not just about shoving in Anthony’s obvious talent. It’s about finding ways to transition two guys who have always been first options into a system that includes the man who shoots more than anyone else in the league. Success has to do with personalities as much as it does basketball ability.
So, D’Antoni has a secret, fool-proof coaching strategy to make sure every player buys into any situation.
“You grovel a lot. Show pictures of your kids. Say they need to get to college, stuff like that,” D’Antonio joked before getting to the real stuff. “You treat them like men. Got to get everybody on the same page. It usually happens. You’ll hit a rough spot. You’ll be, ‘Oh shoot.’ That becomes [about] will and determination and the character in the locker room. That’s to be determined. But if players want to work it out, they usually do.”
Fred Katz is the Thunder beat writer for the Norman Transcript and CNHI Oklahoma as well as a host of the OKC Dream Team, a weekly Thunder podcast that runs every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter: @FredKatz.