It’s a good thing for Carmelo Anthony that he’s always been very comfortable following his heart, because if listened to others, he wouldn’t know what to do.
Whether it’s his style of play or if he should have stayed with the New York Knicks this summer, Anthony has never been able to appease an overwhelming majority of NBA fans, even when it comes to those who root for the Knicks.
They say Anthony is too selfish and doesn’t pass enough. Yet when he does begin to make more of a concerted effort to get others involved at times, Anthony is not taking the game over the way one of the league’s best scorers should.
When New York won 54 games and its first division title in 19 years, it was the great veteran leadership from those like Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby that was credited the most.
But when the Knicks missed the playoffs while suffering through a dismal 37-win season last year, Anthony supposedly didn’t do enough to lead (even though, in actuality, he played at a near-MVP level for the majority of the 2012-13 season and wasn’t far off from that for most of last season).
Had he left the Knicks in free agency, Anthony would have been disloyal to New York and crazy to leave so much extra money on the table. Yet when he did ultimately decide to stay put, as he finally did this past weekend, money mattered far more to him that winning.
The truth is, Anthony can’t win, at least in terms of public perception, particularly among the fans and some of the media no matter what he does, until the Knicks finally win.
Is that fair? It wasn’t for Patrick Ewing, who wasn’t fully appreciated by much of Knicks Nation until after he would return to Madison Square Garden with his retired No. 33 already hanging from the Garden rafters.
But we’re in a cynical age when it comes to superstar athletes and big contracts.
Too often, the burden of winning is placed almost solely on the team’s top star with the biggest contract — even when that player is just about doing all that can be done but fails to win due to insufficient support.
No doubt, the Knicks underachieved last season. But given how much New York was exposed last year (even with some key roster changes from the prior year), the differences between that season and what took place the year before said more about the way Anthony — yes he, as much or more than Kidd or Wallace — carried a flawed team to the Knicks’ best season in 13 years two seasons ago.
Those who think otherwise, try to find another primary star around the NBA playing with a No. 2 option like erratic guard J.R. Smith and see how far that team went.
Now that all of the main dominoes have fallen during the madness of the hyperactive 2014 NBA free agency period, the reactions to two free agents in particular re-upping with their respective teams clearly showed once again how Anthony can seemingly do no right until the Knicks become legitimate title contenders.
Shortly after LeBron James announced his homecoming to Cleveland, his ex-teammate Chris Bosh turned down plenty of money — a max contract offer of $88 million over four years — and a far better chance at winning in Houston, for $118 million over five years and a considerably worse opportunity to win in Miami.
The response to that decision barely moved the needle. The notion was that Riley severely overpaid Bosh, perhaps because he feared the rumors of Dwyane Wade looking at his hometown of Chicago as a possible destination immediately after James told Riley he wouldn’t come back to Miami.
Regardless of why Riley felt compelled to overpay so drastically for Bosh, the general consensus was: good for Bosh, he got his money.
Yet when Anthony — a better player over his career, with more upside moving forward — turned down even less money ($75 million over four years) from Chicago than Bosh passed on with Houston, and was reported to re-sign with the Knicks for about the same money ($122 million-$123 million) as Bosh’s $118 million from Miami, the view was far different.
He only came back for the money and winning isn’t that important, many said.
If the greater scrutiny given to Anthony’s decision relative to Bosh’s wasn’t enough, there exists an even greater hypocrisy.
The same Knicks fans who assume that Anthony’s return to New York was merely a money grab and nothing more, are the same ones who have blind faith in new team president Phil Jackson, who for all of his Hall of Fame coaching success, is a rookie executive who is learning on the job in that role.
If those fans believe in Jackson, who in turn believes in Anthony, they’d be hypocritical to think that Anthony didn’t at least in large part stay with the Knicks to buy into Jackson’s vision for building a true title contender with Anthony as a cornerstone.
After all, if Jackson didn’t have that kind of faith in Anthony, he could have stuck to his guns and lowballed the star or tried to trade him.
As for Anthony, he could have taken as much as $129 million. Sure, given all of the money Anthony had already made from NBA contracts and endorsements over his 11-year career, and all that he still stands to make, a $6 million-$7 million dollar hometown discount doesn’t sound like much.
But as Jackson said of Anthony, “He did exactly what we asked him to do — give us a break in the early part of his contract so that when we have some wiggle room next year… we can exploit it.”
That room will come next summer, when the Knicks can add the small amount that Anthony is saving them to the combined $35.4 million in cap space that will be available after the sizable contracts of forwards Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani expire following the upcoming season.
And as Jackson also said, “[Anthony] implied and impressed upon us his desire to win and to be on a competitive team.”
Those aren’t the words of Knicks fans who doubt Anthony’s true motives for remaining in New York. They’re the statements of the new president in whom those fans have already handed over their collective trust.
Perhaps in the end, Anthony — who saw during his days in Denver how tough the Western Conference was back then and how highly competitive it remains today — didn’t want to go through that again in Houston or Dallas, or in Los Angeles, where the Lakers’ task toward rebuilding is even more difficult than the Knicks’ job to do the same.
And maybe when it came right down to it, Anthony had more confidence in Jackson’s brain than the unreliable track record of Derrick Rose‘s knee.
Maybe it means a lot for Anthony — whose two biggest sports role models are Bernard King and Muhammad Ali — to get up off the mat, recover from the only non-playoff season of his career and deliver for New York City what King’s teams never could.
And perhaps the Brooklyn-born Anthony who donated refurbished basketball courts in the same Red Hook area of New York where he first learned the game, couldn’t pry himself away from the type of environment he experienced while taking the Knicks to the playoffs or breaking King’s all-time Knicks Garden record (when he scored a career-high 62 points at MSG last year).
During an interview with Vice Sports last month, Anthony spoke about the energy and excitement being at higher level at the Garden than in Denver or anywhere else.
“The game is different playing in New York,” Anthony said.
Maybe with all of the talk about what winning and money mean to Anthony, and the assumption that his wife Lala would push for moving to Los Angeles to pursue her acting career, that Anthony’s decision was mostly about his keeping his son in a comfortable situation rather than uprooting his family.
That much was pretty clear when Anthony told Vice Sports:
“The average person says Melo should go here, Melo should go there,” he said. “But they don’t take into consideration the family aspect of it … I know how hard it was for me when I moved from New York to Baltimore at a young age.”
This was the first time that Anthony had a chance to test free agency. He owed it to himself and his family to least do his due diligence and go through the free agency process.
However, as he said on his personal website, where he announced on Saturday that he was staying a Knick, Anthony divulged his true feelings about is team, its fans, the Garden and hoping to deliver an NBA title for New York (comments which seem to defy the sometimes popular accusations that winning, above all else, doesn’t drive Anthony enough).
Even that was met with scrutiny, though, in the same way that his contract signing and Bosh’s were viewed through different prisms.
Whereas everyone seemed to fawn over James’ similar announcement two days earlier, on SI.com, as if it was the greatest July document produced since the Declaration of Independence, Anthony’s statement was likewise heartfelt and well-written — yet received far less acclaim.
But just as James did with his essay to Cleveland Cavaliers fans, Anthony offered Knicks fans a very candid and admirable look into his own mindset:
“A few years ago I dreamed of coming back to New York City, the place of my birth, and on February 23, 2011 that became a reality,” he wrote. “This organization has supported me and in return, I want to stay and build here with this city and my team. At this pivotal juncture in my career, I owed it to myself and my family to explore all of the options available to me. Through it all, my heart never wavered.
“I am a New York Knick at heart. I am looking forward to continuing my career in Orange & Blue and to work with Phil Jackson, a champion who builds championship teams. Madison Square Garden is the mecca of basketball and I am surrounded by the greatest fans in the world.”
Maybe after that, it’s time for the doubting faction of Knicks fans and some of the media to stop seeking ulterior motives for Anthony’s biggest motivation and finally take Anthony at his word.
Yet fair or not, that likely won’t happen unless Jackson can give Anthony the help he has always needed to succeed and Anthony follows through with a trip to the NBA Finals.