Carmelo Anthony has finalized his buyout with the Atlanta Hawks, making him a free agent again. His intentions now are to sign with the Houston Rockets.
That being said, the 2018 NBA free agency season has pretty much seen all the big moves it had to offer: LeBron James to Los Angeles, Paul George re-signing with Oklahoma City, the Kawhi Leonard-DeMar DeRozan swap, and now Anthony’s pending spot on the Rockets’ roster.
Melo is under a lot of pressure to perform, though, even if Houston’s offense is a better fit for him than what OKC’s system forced him to be. The 10-time All-Star averaged career-lows pretty much across the board last season, partly because his talents weren’t fully utilized within the Thunder offense and partly because he refused to accept that at 34 and with 15 seasons under his belt, he is not the star he used to be.
Anthony’s name and reputation – already damaged from a failed stint in New York – was only run through the mud even further a season ago. But he’s not the only player facing high expectations next season.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is entering his sixth, and most important, year of his young NBA career.
The “Greek Freak” has shown consistent improvement since being drafted by Milwaukee in 2013. Last season he averaged career highs in points, rebounds and shooting percentage. His 26.9 points per game ranked fifth in the league, while his 10.0 rebounds per game ranked 11th.
But the Bucks lost in the first round of the playoffs in three of the last four seasons, and if it happens again, Antetokounmpo will face the label of an elite talent who fails to elevate his team to success, much like Anthony Davis before his Western Conference Semifinals run last season.
Then there’s Philadelphia’s dynamic duo of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Can they make it back to the playoffs and show up for the big moments?
Will Simmons improve his shot? Can Embiid actually stay healthy? How much further, and faster, can “the Process” progress?
How about Blake Griffin, a rising superstar-turned-yesterday’s news, trying to resurrect his career in Detroit?
Like Embiid, Griffin has a history of injuries – but has shown the ability to flat-out dominate when healthy. Griffin has a reputation for not being a winner, and if he can lead Detroit to real success in the LeBron-less Eastern Conference, the high-flyer could return to the superstar status he so narrowly missed with the Clippers.
Andrew Huang is a sports writer. You can follow him on Twitter @AndrewJHuang or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.