Knicks, Carmelo Anthony, should split amicably
When the New York Knicks brought Carmelo Anthony to New York City back in 2011, the team thought it had finally added some stability on and off the court to the public relations nightmare it had been for more than a decade.
Anthony was the Knicks’ biggest superstar since Patrick Ewing departed the team in 2000. He was also one of the faces of the league and was expected to be the positive face of a franchise that had never quite recovered from the negative stigma created by Isaiah Thomas and Stephon Marbury.
Yet, neither goal ever seemed within their grasp. The returns have been less than stellar on both accounts, with both the team and Melo having only modest successes and a lot of disappointment to show for it.
The saga has reached its boiling point during this abysmal, tailspin of a 2015-16 season for the Knicks and it may be the final chance for Anthony to play as the face of any franchise. It’s potentially his last few moments as a Knick before he moves on from this legacy-altering, five-year trek in New York and apprehensively hands off the realms of the team to rookie-phenom Kristaps Porzingis.
If this is in fact the sad last hurrah for Melo in New York, it’s time to think about this relationship for what it is and has been.
Since Anthony made it clear in 2010 that he wanted to go to New York and forced the Denver Nuggets to trade him against the team’s wishes, it was clear his legacy would forever be defined by what he did in the Big Apple. That’s a challenge he’s always embraced, even when the fans and media haven’t embraced him back.
As the face of the franchise always does, he’s taking the brunt of the blame for his disappointing Knicks tenure and his legacy will likely suffer for his inability to elevate one of the league’s landmark franchises, fair or not.
The fact is, Anthony was at times selfish and at times hard to root for. But for years, he may have been the single most unstoppable scorer in the league, and he couldn’t and wouldn’t change for anyone. He was a ball-dominant, isolation-heavy superstar. There have been many before him and will be many after him. Whether these players get a reputation as selfish, or great, usually depends on the success of the team leaning on them.
That he never found that success on the Knicks is as much on the organization as it is on him. They made him their focal point. They committed to building around him, yet they never gave him the supporting cast to succeed any more than modestly.
The closest Anthony ever came to championship contention as a Knick was in 2012-13 when New York exceeded expectations. Anthony won the scoring title and the team won 54 games and claimed the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. It was a three-point bombing, small-ball anomaly that featured Anthony at power forward.
They won a playoff series – the Knicks’ first since the 90s – but lost in the semifinals when most of the shooters, especially the streaky J.R. Smith, went cold.
That team seemed like it was built to Anthony’s ideal, with Tyson Chandler bringing toughness and a presence inside without needing the ball to thrive, a bunch of three-point shooters who could catch and shoot when the defense was focusing on Anthony and Smith leading the second unit.
But it wasn’t enough. The second most reliable scorer on that team was Smith, who’s never belonged in the same sentence with the word reliable. Chandler was great for what he was, but he was a top-notch role player, not a franchise cornerstone.
Sometimes, it did seem as if Athony was plenty content as the unquestioned No. 1 guy on a very good team, rather than as a stakeholder of the spotlight on a great one. There have always been murmurs that he didn’t want to share the spotlight when he was in his prime. It’s never been confirmed, but many people believe he played a big part in chasing Jeremy Lin out of town. Him and Amar’e Stoudemire never seemed to mesh together in limited reps, either.
Would he have been willing or able to adjust his style of play had the Knicks given him a proper sidekick? We’ll never know for sure, but that goes on the organization as much as it does Anthony.
It’s time for the Knicks and Anthony to acknowledge they share equal blame in their failures, and they should part ways amicably this summer before both the future of the Knicks and Anthony’s career go spiraling downward, and the resent between the two can never be undone.
It seems obvious to say now, but the asset-less Knicks need to get something for Anthony while they still can, and he needs to go take his talents and newfound grittiness to a team that has a chance to make use of it and change the current state of his legacy as a me-first guy who could never win, before the ink dries forever.
Because no matter how bad he wants it, his chance to do it in New York is officially over. It has been for a while now.
Knicks fans have to at the very least appreciate the good intentions and loyalty of Melo. He has been unwavering in his pursuit of ending the Knicks run of futility. When things have gotten truly rotten in the past two years, he could have asked for a trade and nobody would have held it against him, but he seems almost obsessed with turning the Knicks around, even as the clock ticks on his prime.
Not only has Anthony not asked for a trade, he doesn’t even seem as if he would be willing to waive his no-trade clause. He hasn’t been anything less than supportive of Porzingis, who has stolen some of his spotlight and pushed the clock back on the team as contenders back far enough that it seems inevitable he’ll never be a part of it. In fact, this year, he’s played the most unselfish ball of his career. He’s finally evolving into more of a team-first guy as the last stage of his career kicks into gear.
Maybe he’s always been a team-first guy willing to make sacrifice, and he’s been misunderstood. Or maybe it’s just too little, too late, from a guy who’s always wanted to be the lead singer more than he wanted to be part of a great band.
Either way, the Knicks and Anthony have continually shot themselves and each other in the foot for five years now and that’s long enough.
This offseason, the Knicks and Melo have to say, “let’s break up and still be friends.” Knicks fans can remember him fondly for his good intentions and mild successes, and give him a standing ovation when he one day makes his return to Madison Square Garden.
He gets an ‘A’ for effort, and that’s more than this franchise has been able to say in a while.
Michael Akelson is a sports staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.