By Matt Straub
It’s been quite a week for Carmelo Anthony. First, he broke the scoring record at the current Madison Square Garden and made himself the topic of conversation around the league from Los Angeles, where Kobe Bryant gave a cryptic interview about Anthony’s impending free agency, to Chicago, where the latest round of rumors has him headed to the Bulls next season to fill the team’s hole at the three and be Derrick Rose’s sidekick.
The ensuing debates and discussion reminded me of why I have such a love-hate relationship with Anthony, and it has nothing to do with the fact he’s a Knick and I’m a Celtics fan. It’s because he can be so good but his talents and personality don’t lend themselves to winning.
Think about his biggest problem in New York: his game doesn’t mesh with Amare Stoudemire. Now, part of that is the fault of Knicks’ management, which didn’t listen to any of the statistical or strategic breakdowns out there which showed the worst possible companion for Amare’s game was Anthony, but doesn’t part of the blame have to go to Anthony? He’s a scoring machine, but has never seemed to be able to change his game to fit into his NBA teams better.
This is especially frustrating because I’ve seen him do it. This is a guy who has volunteered to be part of USA Basketball since his college days, then became a rebounder and a captain on the 2008 “Redeem Team” which made it cool to be part of Olympic basketball again. He scored more than his share of points, but he became a team guy who did what was needed. More importantly, he wanted to be part of the solution. The reason USA Basketball had gone to hell was because the players from the previous generation started worrying more about their place on the team than the team itself. Anthony proved he can be a team guy when it mattered to him.
Whether or not Anthony should have had to tailor his game to fit in with Amare with the Knicks is a different argument. The point is, he could have. Amare is a shell of himself now, so the discussion probably has become moot, but there was a time when they could have made it work. If he were someone like Allen Iverson, who didn’t have another aspect to his game, I would understand. But there are times when I look at Anthony and think of what he could be more than what he is.
And yet, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want Anthony to have to change. The part of me who watched the highlights of Anthony’s 62-point performance in awe of Anthony’s pure scoring ability just wanted him to keep shooting. When Anthony is on, he can score in a million different ways, from jump shooting to drives to moves he doesn’t get enough credit for possessing when he takes on smaller defenders. I was thrilled he brought attention to another Knicks scoring legend, Bernard King. My biggest hope from all of this was some young basketball fan saw some King highlights this week and learned more about him. He, like Anthony, was one of the great scorers in history.
There is something to be said for scoring prowess. I’ve been equally awed by getting to see Kevin Durant in person. But players like King, Anthony and Durant have something in common. They don’t win very much. Michael Jordan, while I think his place in history is much more debatable than others do, could do much more than score. So could Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and now LeBron James. Which leads to the interesting question: what do the Knicks do with Anthony, whose free agency is coming quickly?
The Knicks’ future is tied to Anthony since they have very little draft options for the foreseeable future. They can either trade him and try to convince another big start to play with the young assets they get, or they can keep Anthony and try to convince him to play with a second star and give up some of his scoring in order to help the team. The Celtics talked Paul Pierce into giving up numbers for wins. If Anthony looks at Pierce and realizes how much that one championship raised Pierce’s stature, he might be willing to recruit a star and become the secondary scorer Pierce was to Kevin Garnett’s leadership.
That’s where Bryant’s interview comes in. It turns out Anthony might have to rehab his current image first. The fact Bryant said he won’t recruit Anthony to come to L.A. was taken by some to be a subtle message that he doesn’t want to play with Anthony, which he would never say publicly because the two are friends, speaks volumes about Anthony whether it’s true or not. I believe Bryant and Anthony would fit nicely, like they did at the Olympics, but Anthony’s ideal fit is a player who is willing to feed him the ball and put his own stats aside. Put Rajon Rondo and a secondary spot shooter (a Ray Allen type) with Anthony, and that team could thrive. Going that rout, however, puts all the pressure on Anthony, and would require that team, likely the Knicks, to try and buck the trends by having a pure scorer win the title as the main guy.
Whatever ends up happening with Anthony, he is a remarkably interesting player who creates the kind of debate happening this week. He’s probably better than Bernard King, but whether or not he chooses to do what it takes to be a champion or not remains to be seen.
If nothing else, the rest of his career will be fun to watch, especially when he has nights like he did last week in the Garden and makes us all marvel at what he is for a minute and forget about what he could be.