At an Unhappy Crossroads

It seems like Carmelo Anthony’s tenure as a New York Knick may be coming to an end.

The Knicks are in the midst of another losing season, their fourth in a row. Their roster is aging, filled with former All-Stars and first-round picks whose careers (and joints) have seen better days. Among the old-timers is a young developing star in Kristaps Porzingis, the 21-year-old Latvian big man the Knicks are hoping will turn into their version of Dirk. Phil Jackson meanwhile is calling the shots, and doesn’t seem to have near the same savvy for running an organisation as he did for coaching.

As you can imagine, Melo, their star, once again seems to be clashing with the front office, and it’s starting to look like the best thing for the Knicks to do would be to get rid of their veterans, rebuild, and start fresh.

With all of this floating around, there is a decent chance Melo waives his no-trade clause and allows the team to move him out of New York, the city where he was born, and the place he has called home for the past six years. If this were to take place, it would put an end to another disappointing era in Knicks history and close the window on Anthony’s aspirations of bringing a championship to the Knicks for the first time in more than four decades.

There’s also a chance Melo will stay put. If this is the case, we may see him play out the rest of his contract or even career on a bad Knicks team.

The thing is, neither of these would be a happy ending for Melo. Now 32, in the twilight of his prime with no NBA title, Anthony’s future is uncertain, and at a point where many of us wouldn’t have thought it would be at this stage in his career.

Anthony is no doubt one of the most talented players of his generation. He’s a six-foot-eight scoring machine, and he has been ever since he set foot on an NBA court. He was a star in high school, already on the national scene while filling it up for prep powerhouse Oak Hill Academy. As a baby-faced freshman at Syracuse, he led the Orange to their first-ever national title in what might’ve been the greatest freshman season in NCAA history.

He was the third pick and one of the best players from one of the best draft classes of all time in ’03. As it stands now, 13-and-a-half years in, the man boasts career averages of 24.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. He’s a 10-time All-Star, a six-time All-NBA recipient and the last guy you’d want to be isoed with at the top of the key. Let’s also not forget that he’s a three-time Olympic gold medalist, the most for any male basketball player in history.

He’s one seriously talented dude, from his jab steps, to his pump fakes, to his overpowering strength or his sweet, sweet jumper. Melo can fill it up, make you look foolish, take your lunch money at the same time and look good while doing it. But the thing with Melo is, it’s never been his ability that’s been brought into question. It’s the other aspects of his game that people have doubted.

Leadership, selflessness, commitment to defence and working within the parameters of a team. These are the things that people have questioned about Melo. George Karl sure did. In his candid autobiography titled Furious George, which came out in January, Karl called Anthony a “conundrum” and essentially said that while he was an amazing offensive player, he was selfish. Karl, who coached Anthony in Denver, also had harsh words for his lack of commitment to defence.

It should be mentioned that Karl also attributed Anthony’s supposed lack of maturity to the fact that he didn’t have a father, a statement that was clearly stepping over the line and received a lot of backlash.

While George Karl is not and never has been the most adored guy around the NBA, he’s not alone in some of his criticisms of Anthony. Fair or unfair, for most of his career, people have questioned his defensive energy, his unselfishness and his commitment to team basketball. When they do, the first thing they point to is his teams’ success.

Melo has had a terrific individual career, but his teams’ success hasn’t matched. It hasn’t lived up to the level of his talent. While many of his fellow draft classmen have won multiple championships, he’s still yet to hoist the Larry O’Brien.

He’s missed the playoffs the last three years and is on track to miss them a fourth. He’s only ever been out of the first round twice and made it to the conference finals just once. Naturally, as a superstar and franchise player, Melo is always going to take the bulk of the blame for this. But at the same time, he’s never had the kind of support around him that some of his All-Star peers have.

The best teammates he’s ever had are Allen Iverson and Chauncey Billups, both of whom were out of their primes when they played with Melo. The best teams he’s ever played on are a reasonably talented ’08-09 Nuggets team that he took to the Western Conference finals, and the overachieving ’12-13 Knicks team filled with rejuvenated veterans that was eventually upset in the second round by a tough Pacers squad. Melo earned MVP consideration that season.

So is the stigma he is often labeled with fair? Or correct? On one hand he hasn’t had the best talent around him throughout his career. On the other, he’s the star, he’s the franchise, and it’s on him to make his teammates better and get it done. It’s kind of an enigma. But that’s what Anthony’s career has been in many ways. Regardless, from a winning standpoint, Melo is far from where he and his fans would have wanted and expected a player of his calibre to be. And now he finds himself involved in heavy trade rumours once again.

Prior to being traded from Denver to New York back in 2011, there were months of rumours and speculation about a potential deal. The media dubbed it the “Melo Drama” as the saga went on for seven-odd months before the trade was eventually done. Melo wanted to play in a big market, ideally New York, and he wanted to be the franchise player. He got his wish. The Nuggets traded him to the Knicks along with Billups for a number of talented players like Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, and Anthony was the man in New York. Now it’s happening again. Trade talks, rumours, distractions. But this time it’s different.

See, back then, Melo wanted to be dealt, and he made it happen. This time, it’s clearly not what he wants. Or at least, it’s not what he wanted. This time it’s his team that seems like it wants to move on from him. Not the other way around. He does have the no-trade clause in his contract, however it’s been reported that he will waive it for the right situation. But it wasn’t until rumours became more and more prominent that Melo started to consider it an option.

It’s no secret that he wanted to finish his career as a Knick. He could’ve signed elsewhere in 2014 and joined a team that was ready to compete for a title. But he didn’t. He re-signed with the Knicks, because he wanted to finish what he started. The unfortunate thing is, it may have already finished whether he likes it or not. The Knicks won’t be ready to contend while Melo’s still capable of being a key contributor, and if he allows a deal to be done, the chapter closes then and there.

Carmelo Anthony is a bit of a conundrum, but not necessarily in the way that George Karl meant it. All in all, his career has been kind of strange.

It hasn’t necessarily been disappointing. Anthony came in as an out-of-this-world scoring juggernaut and, fourteen years later, he’s still that. He was a star from day one, he’s grown and expanded his game, he’s more than lived up to the hype and he’s made a lot of defenders look really bad. He’s hit big shots, he’s packed-out arenas and he’s captivated fans (Is there anything better than when he holds up three fingers and smacks himself in the forehead three times after draining a big triple?). He’s sold jerseys, he’s made All-Star teams and All-NBA teams too. He’s done all of that. But he hasn’t won. At least not to the level that people thought he would. Not to the level that he wanted.

He wanted to win a championship for the Knicks, but that window may have already closed. So the real conundrum is “Who is Carmelo Anthony?” The awe-inspiring superstar scoring factory or the franchise player whose team success has never lived up to that of his own? Those are just two options, but there’s probably a thousand different ways that people will remember him. That’s the conundrum. That’s the enigma that is him and his career.

All this being said, his career is not over and neither is his story. Regardless of where he and the Knicks go from this point, here’s hoping Anthony can find himself in a happy situation, and in a position where he can compete for that ever-elusive championship.

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