As the Oklahoma City Thunder navigate a historic $310 million payroll and luxury tax bill, the franchise's front office is working through scenarios that will culminate in the inevitable this summer: an ending to the brief Carmelo Anthony partnership, which could deliver the Thunder over $100 million in cost savings.
The massive financial implications of Anthony opting into his $27.9 million contract for the 2018-19 season -- coupled with a mutual understanding that his scaled-back role with the Thunder isn't what he had signed up for -- have dictated that the two sides will part ways sometime this summer, league sources told ESPN.
Anthony's agent, Leon Rose of CAA Sports, has a strong relationship and history with Thunder general manager Sam Presti, and they'll work together on Anthony's exit through a trade, the NBA's stretch provision or a combined buyout and stretch, league sources said.
Anthony, a 10-time NBA All-Star and three-time Olympic gold medalist, would be pursued vigorously among contenders on the free-agent market. The Houston Rockets, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers are among multiple teams expected to express interest in Anthony, sources tell ESPN.
Oklahoma City can use the stretch provision on Anthony's $27.9 million contract to eliminate a staggering $107 million off the team's 2018-19 payroll and tax bill, but the Thunder first plan to pursue trade possibilities with teams looking to acquire a massive expiring deal to free up salary-cap space for July 2019 free agency.
Anthony still holds trade-veto power, but it's likely that any proposed deal would be with a team wanting simply to waive Anthony and allow him into free agency.
The stretch provision would slash $90 million in tax, dropping the Thunder's bill from $150 million to $60 million. The stretch provision spreads Anthony's salary annually onto the Thunder's cap for $9.3 million over three years.
Once Anthony, 34, opted into the final year of his contract, he lost some control over his future. Oklahoma City reached agreement to keep forward Jerami Grant on a three-year, $27 million deal, holding on to a developing 24-year old talent who the organization believes allows them to play faster on offense and better on defense.
After being acquired from the New York Knicks before training camp opened last season, Anthony accepted a new role with OKC that featured changing positions from small forward to power forward. It took time for Anthony to adapt and he never completely found comfort playing as a catch-and-shoot stretch-4.
Anthony hit a career-high 169 3-pointers last season and was credited by the coaching staff for helping provide space for teammates. Though his average of 16.2 points per game was a career low, he provided the Thunder a stable and consistent third scorer behind Russell Westbrook and Paul George.
Things came to a head in the Thunder's postseason series against the Jazz with Anthony's role being reduced throughout the series. In Game 5, as the Thunder made a spectacular comeback with him on the bench, Anthony demonstrably pleaded with assistant coach Maurice Cheeks to go in the game. In Game 6, Anthony played only 26 minutes, including just three in the fourth quarter. Anthony averaged 11.8 points in the series, shooting just .375 from the field and .214 from 3-point range.
Anthony expressed frustration with his role following the season, setting the stage for what is now an inevitable departure.
"I don't think I can be effective as that type of player," Anthony said. "I think I was willing to accept that challenge in that role, but I think I bring a little bit more to the game as far as being more knowledgeable and what I still can do as a basketball player."
Anthony also made it clear he would not be accepting of a bench role.
Even with Anthony's comments after the season, both Presti and coach Billy Donovan praised Anthony throughout the season for his professionalism.
"I think he's being very candid and very honest. I respect that. I respect the fact he's being open about that," Presti said. "Now, we have the same responsibility. We have to be candid and honest with him. One of the things I really like about Carmelo is he's a mature person. You can talk to him. He listens. He's been professional with us within the building. I'm sure there are nights he was frustrated because it's a big transition that he's trying to make -- was trying to make -- this season. ... We don't know exactly how our team is going to look."
Prior to Anthony not exercising his early termination option late in June, the Thunder communicated with Anthony and his representatives about possible plans for next season, which could include an even lesser role.
Anthony waived his no-trade clause to join the Thunder last season with an understanding he'd be playing a new position and a different role, but struggled to find consistency. He said he "accepted" his role in December after calling a meeting with the team in New York, but never was completely happy with it.
And as the Thunder refocus to build around the core of Westbrook, George and Steven Adams, Anthony appears to be the odd man out with his hefty salary and implications that come with it.
"I think for me, my focus would be on kind of figuring out what I want out of the rest of my career, what I want in my future, what am I willing to accept, if I'm willing to accept that at all," Anthony said in April. "I think everybody knows that I've sacrificed kind of damned near everything -- family, moving here by myself, sacrificed my game -- for the sake of the team, and was willing to sacrifice anything and everything in order for this situation to work out.
"So, it's something I really have to think about -- if I really want to be this type of player, finish out my career as this type of player, knowing that I have so much left in the tank and I bring so much to the game of basketball."