It’s hard to defend Carmelo Anthony anymore.
I still tried though. Even after he, and the rest of the Oklahoma City Thunder, ruined my most recent column about the potential of Carmelo reviving his legacy with a deep postseason by losing to the Utah Jazz in six games- I still tried.
I was debating Carmelo’s merits at a party with a couple of old Syracuse buds the night after the Thunder were eliminated. Mind you I hadn’t yet seen his Saturday exit Interview with the media.
Josh argued at the party that Carmelo is not a winner, could never be a winner, and wasn’t a true superstar because he couldn’t put a team on his back and lead them to a conference finals. Not just now of course, but at any point in his career.
Rich and I countered that he did just that in Denver, even though he had Chauncey Billups and Kenyon Martin to help, and that the losing in New York wasn’t all on him. We argued that there were only maybe 5 players in the league who could almost single-handedly will a team to an NBA Championship in the last decade, but that on the right team Carmelo as the lead dog could have won a title.
We went back and forth for a while, and while his stink bomb in the first-round loss signified the end of Carmelo’s days of being a productive NBA starter, I still believed there was a next chapter for good ‘ole Melo.
That Saturday night, I still loved Carmelo, the person. No matter what, he showed up for work, had a smile on his face, always put on a good show, and despite being viewed as selfish on the court, by all accounts he was a good locker room guy. Not to mention how well he handled the debacle of the Phil Jackson era in Gotham.
Believe me, it wasn’t easy defending the play of a guy who went 179 straight minutes without an assist. That’s not a typo. Carmelo played five straight games, and a half of another without making one play that led to a teammate scoring. It’s not like he was lighting the net up himself, shooting just 37.5% from the field in the series. The worst of Carmelo’s play was on full display. A 33-year old ball stopper who doesn’t play defense, doesn’t keep himself in the best of shape, and doesn’t realize he isn’t the best player in the world anymore (not that he ever was besides in his own head).
But, I was willing to accept all of that. Even if Carmelo was no longer the player he once was, I still defended him on Saturday night because I imagined him transitioning into the next phase of his career, as a scorer off the bench. He is going to make $28 million next year, so I envisioned him staying in OKC, as there is no way is opting out and he is untradeable, and maybe becoming a viable Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
Sure he’d be overpaid, and in a reduced role, but he could age gracefully, add to a Hall of Fame career, and ride off into the sunset like other great scorers that couldn’t carry their teams to victory. Maybe he’d catch on somewhere and win a title as veteran bench guy, much like Tracy McGrady did in San Antonio.
Then I watched the exit interview when I woke up Sunday morning.
“I think the player that they wanted me to be and needed me to be was for the sake of this season,” Anthony said. “Should I say, because it was just so — like I said, everything was just thrown together, and it wasn’t anything that was planned out. It wasn’t no strategy to me being here, me being a part of the actual system and what type of player and things like that.”
“As far as being effective as that type of player,” Anthony added, “I don’t think I can be effective as that type of player. 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.”
And then there was the coup de gras. “I’m not sacrificing no bench role,” Anthony said. “That’s out the question.”
Wow. He has no clue.
With one exit interview the selfish player on the court became selfish on and off. It’s one thing to be a ball hog and take a lot of shots. A lot of great NBA players, both starters and reserves are tasked with putting up shots and providing offense, but they accept their roles and do it in the minutes allotted to them.
Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams have made careers out of it. Vince Carter, Paul Pierce, McGrady, and even Dwayne Wade this year transitioned to the bench as injuries and father time won out.
The fact that Carmelo refuses to come off the bench, let alone everything else he said, just proves he has no interest in winning and sadly makes me agree with my buddy Josh. He only cares about himself and has no interest in winning. It’s not like he’s a young guy playing for a contract.
He will be 34 and is already guaranteed $28 million next year. If he wants to make anything the year after that and still be in the league, he’ll have to change his tune.
It will be interesting to see what happens next. As I already mentioned, there is no trade market for him. He could decide not to opt into his final year and sacrifice $28 million to go make $7million somewhere else. But what’s the point of that? Let’s say he does so to go to a team with a chance to win the Championship. It’s not like he’ll start there. So he’d sacrifice millions to be a bench player somewhere else instead of OKC?
Or, would he rather make less and play for a crappy team so he can relive his Knicks days of taking 30 shots a game, but going home at the end of April?
I like the idea of Carmelo wanting to fight and being confident in himself. But I’d rather he take the challenge of accepting his declining skills, and fight to be the best bench player in the NBA. Pretending you are something you are not never works.
My guess is this eventually gets swept under the rug and Carmelo returns to OKC in a bench role next season. Or maybe he gets to start, because Paul George leaves. Either way, it won’t matter. The damage is done and unless he changes his attitude quick, the end of Carmelo Anthony’s NBA career is closer than we, and he, would have imagined.