Carmelo Anthony is getting his NBA swan song
We don’t know what the great Carmelo Anthony experiment of 2019-20 (well, hopefully ’20) is all about just yet, but there are a few things it almost certainly is not.
Anthony joining the Portland Trail Blazers after a full year out of pro basketball and teaming with two bona fide stars in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum is not the formation of the latest NBA “Big Three”; it isn’t being made with a primary purpose of getting last season’s Western Conference finalists back to the same stage, or even further.
And Anthony’s signing — on a non-guaranteed contract — wasn’t made with the expectation that he will reemerge as the force of yesteryear and enjoy a spectacular career renaissance at the age of 35.
The good news, for Portland and for the 10-time All-Star himself, is that he seems to know all this already, and is taking it for what it is.
“This happened at a point in my life where I do have a lot of clarity and understanding of different situations and just life,” Anthony said in a video released on his YouTube channel on Monday night. “My approach is totally different.”
The timing of the video appeared to point towards what has been widely speculated: namely, that Anthony would link up with Portland on its current road trip and suit up for the first time for Tuesday’s visit to the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Blazers could use a pick-me-up after a sluggish 5-9 start to a campaign where, in the stacked West, no team can really afford to fall behind. Lillard and McCollum are two of the most explosive players in the league, but their efforts have been hampered by a swath of untimely injuries.
"I am so happy for Carmelo Anthony. He was about to suffer the most embarrassing, humiliating end to a perennial All-Star's career we've ever seen. For all of his issues, he's still Melo. There's still some magic to him." — @RealSkipBayless pic.twitter.com/y0UrgTh3bN
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) November 15, 2019
Center Jusuf Nurkic remains out with a serious leg injury sustained at the end of last season. Zach Collins is rehabbing his shoulder, while the timeline on Pau Gasol’s Blazers debut remains vague.
The optimistic hope is that Anthony offers a potential solution, coming off a series of embarrassing slights. He suffered through a tortured 2017-18 season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, in a spot where the chemistry just didn’t work.
Then, last season, it took just 10 games with the Houston Rockets to figure out that things wouldn’t pan out there either. He was traded to the Chicago Bulls, and later waived. Until now, no one picked him up. Barring some minor miracle, this will likely be his final roll of the NBA dice.
“The best-case scenario is that Carmelo goes there and averages 13-15 points per game off the bench and helps them get back in the playoff race,” FOX’s NBA insider Chris Broussard told me in a telephone conversation. “Worst case is that it doesn’t work and they cut him.
“He can be a stretch forward. They need front court scoring. He can open some driving lanes. But he isn’t going to be a star there. Maybe for a night or two he’s going to go off and score big, but that’s not how this is going to be. At this point, it’s just getting back in the hunt. People who are expecting a lot out of this and the old Carmelo: it’s not going to happen.”
The way the league is set up tactically now essentially precludes the defensively-limited Anthony from being a key component of the Blazers’ strategy. The truth is, however, that a return to being an elite, team-leading player is not required for this to be considered a success for Portland.
Anthony has long been considered part of modern NBA royalty, coming into the league on the back of taking Syracuse to a national title as a freshman, joining the exalted draft class that also featured LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and performing on four Olympic teams.
"Carmelo Anthony is one of five players in the history of basketball to average at least 20 points a game for the first 14 years of his career. Those other guys you might know — Kareem, Shaq, Michael and LeBron. … I'm just happy for my guy, Carmelo." — @getnickwright pic.twitter.com/C2sc0B0cms
— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) November 15, 2019
But he’s not getting paid at a salary cap-sucking level anymore, and the Blazers can move him off the roster at any stage if things aren’t working out. A measure of effectiveness, some veteran leadership and some situational productivity would mean this move could legitimately be regarded as a positive.
And while a backup role might sting for Anthony, this is his only chance. Anthony is regarded as a throwback to how NBA basketball was previously played: a deadly offensive force not to be messed with when it was time to launch a mid-range jump shot.
That particular shot has dwindled in popularity as the Golden State Warriors helped usher in a pop-a-shot era, where the three became (and remains) the new two. Defensive frailty is forgiven far less than it once was, weakening his usefulness.
The Blazers have made sense as a destination for a while for a multitude of reasons, headed by the reality that the team’s two cornerstone players both want Anthony there. Lillard publicly advocated for Anthony to be given the chance to return to the NBA during his long and frustrating time on the outs.
“I’m all for it,” Lillard told reporters. “We’re in a position where we have got a lot of guys hurt. He can do something to help us with his size, his ability to space the floor and ability to shoot. Another option to throw somebody the ball that can score in isolation situations. And his experience … he’s a good player regardless of the last few years and he can do things to help our team. He’s a Hall of Fame player, and he can still play.”
According to Lillard, Anthony is “excited.” The Blazers are hopeful. Truthfully, the rest of the league is skeptical.
But the early part of any NBA season is all about its juiciest narratives, and this is a particularly compelling one. Anthony is no longer one of the league’s most dominant stars (and those days are gone for good), but he remains one of its most interesting.
Carmelo Anthony has finally found a landing spot in Portland, but will it work out?@Chris_Broussard reacts to the deal and breaks down what Melo will have to do to get the most out of the move. pic.twitter.com/1VYVOTID9d
— The Association on FOX (@TheAssociation) November 15, 2019