Full disclosure: I’m a lifelong Los Angeles Lakers fan. I’m also a Syracuse fan. I was in New Orleans when Carmelo Anthony led the Orange to the NCAA National Title. So, while I may not be the most objective person to write this article, I am also the most qualified, having watched way too many hours of Lakers and Carmelo basketball over my lifetime.
It’s important to understand that is not 2003 Carmelo. It’s not 2010 Carmelo. It’s not even 2018 Carmelo. None of those Carmelos, from the talented scorer in the earlier years to the older, forced-out-of-the-league Melo, would have worked alongside LeBron James. It doesn’t matter how good of friends they are.
There’s a reason why LeBron didn’t throw Anthony a lifeline when the Rockets cut him and he was out of the league for over a year. He wouldn’t have fit alongside LeBron’s playmaking ability because he wasn’t ready to relinquish control of the ball.
A lifetime 34.7 percent 3-point shooter before 2019, Carmelo wasn’t ready to be the recipient of LeBron’s sniper-like passes. Spotting up in the corner would not have suited that Carmelo Anthony. He didn’t believe his prime had passed.
But now, in 2021, after a two-year stint in Portland, Melo showed LeBron that he’s ready to be one of his wingmen.
During his tenure in Portland, Carmelo proved he could accept a lesser role and come off the bench. He proved he’d concede touches to the team’s younger stars. And most importantly, he proved he could excel in that role, upping his 3-point shooting to 40 percent over those two seasons.
Portland wasn’t good enough to compete for a championship, but for the first time in his career, you couldn’t put the blame on Carmelo. His 27 points without Damian Lillard playing in Game 5 of the 2020 first round almost kept them in the series against the eventual champion, the Lakers. Now, he joins a team that is primed for a championship run, and the pressure isn’t on him at all.
That’s why I think Carmelo is the perfect fit for this year’s Lakers. He wants a ring. He has said so publicly and knows this is his last chance. Well, at least as an actual contributor. He could hang around and win one while on the bench, a la Tracy McGrady in San Antonio, but if he gets it this year, it will be as a 20 minute per night contributor. Not the same as being at his apex, but still a meaningful addition to his already stellar legacy.
And here comes the bias: I think he’ll do a lot more than just contribute. Look at this team. LeBron is the alpha. Anthony Davis is alpha B. Russell Westbrook is the third best player!? A triple double machine and former MVP is your third best player. Then you have young guys like Malik Monk and Kendrick Nunn. Mix in some vets like Dwight Howard and Trevor Ariza and this is the perfectly built team for the regular season and the playoffs.
Some nights the older guys will carry the load. Others they can relax and let the young guys do the work. Barring major injuries, come playoff time, the old and the young will blend into an unstoppable tandem. Only the Brooklyn Nets and its Big Three compete.
So where does Carmelo fit? Right in the middle. He’s not the star he was, but he’s not a benchwarmer. He’ll get his 20 minutes, some nights more, some nights less. He’ll average 10-15 ppg. Again, some nights more, some nights less. He’ll spot up and receive wide open looks as defenses are worried about Westbrook, LeBron, and Davis, or while they collapse on the young guys driving like Monk and Dunn.
Whether running with the starters or the bench, Carmelo will get his looks, and he will knock them down.
And mark my words, there will be one or two of those games too. You know, the ones where he forgets he is 37. And maybe LeBron isn’t playing, or Davis is injured, or Westbrook is 0-15. And here he comes. Old school Carmelo. He’ll put up a 12-for-20 shooting night, with five 3s mixed in for a solid 30+ point outing, with the three-fingers pointing to the head gesture added in for good measure.
I cannot wait for one of those nights.