Carmelo Anthony's Race Against Time


Long known as one of the NBA's premier scorers, Carmelo Anthony finds himself at an extremely delicate point in his career. 

The lights in Madison Square Garden operate under a different temperature. Beaming from the arena's highest crevices to every conceivable angle barreling downward, they illuminate the iconic blue and orange hardwood as the familiar identity of the world's greatest playground.

Michael Jordan saw playing in New York as a weird aphrodisiac, saving some of his most iconic performances for his annual trips to Broadway. In fact,  the top five scorers in MSG history with a minimum of 10 games played are:

Michael Jordan - 31.8
Kobe Bryant - 30.7
LeBron James - 29.4
Dirk Nowitzki - 27.2
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - 27.0

Notice a trend? Not a single New York Knick. To be fair, accumulating a higher scoring average is easier for a visiting player off the strength that the most he would visit MSG is twice a season. But therein lies an issue. A generation of kids is in college now, throwing their own Thirsty Thursday parties with no knowledge of the Ewing-Mason-Oakley-Riley years. The Knicks are a national franchise with a glorified history, ran by an owner who frustrates his fan base more than he pleases it, but somehow remains the standard bearer for the league's financial empowerment.

In other words, the New York Knicks are the Dallas Cowboys.

For as iconic as The Garden is and always will be, the reality is 4 Pennsylvania Avenue is a little shop of horrors … for the Knicks. Those same kids who grew up Knicks fans only recognize The Garden for the superhuman exploits of Kobe, LeBron, Durant, Curry, Pierce and the glory days of the Big East Tournament. Basically, a worthwhile Knick moment sprinkled here and there, MSG has been the beautiful girl no one wants to settle down with, instead only using her for a quick fling a couple nights of year when in town.

The buck was supposed to stop with Carmelo Anthony. He was supposed to make an honest woman out of The Garden while giving the residents of New York City, too embedded in their tradition to deflect over to Brooklyn's new lovechild (the Nets), their own son to hang their proud, big-city hats on. 'Melo was the headliner. He wanted to play in New York. He was the cutthroat scorer The Big Apple desired and needed. He openly embraced and welcomed the responsibility that came with playing on the world's biggest stage.

Only now, three years after a trade that gutted the Knicks to appease Anthony (and James Dolan), the league's reigning scoring champion sits on a tattered throne in a kingdom falling apart by the seams with each passing hour.


But before moving on, I feel the need to say this about Carmelo.

My running belief for almost a decade now has been "great scorer … and **cricket noises**." If Anthony wasn't posting 30+ a night for Denver/New York, his actual value on the court was, at times, nonexistent. First-Team All-Defense was a pipe dream 100 New York City subway rats could fit in. He'd rebound when motivated, and assists were asking too much from a one-dimensional player (despite that one dimension being pretty damn awesome).

Calling him "overrated" wasn't accurate, but the thought never once crept in my head to refer to buddy as one of the top three or five most dangerous players in the world — excluding every four years when the Olympics came around, of course.

This season, however, the sentiment harmonizes a different tune. Still far from a defensive stalwart, a distinctive hunger from Melo has bled onto the court night in and night out. Or at least it seems like it. The same maddening tendencies from years past loom at times (questionable shot selection, occasional black hole on offense, etc.), but there's desperation.

We saw desperation in Jordan's eyes in '91, Hakeem's in '94 and in LeBron's in '12.

The only difference is Carmelo's desperation is resulting in the absolute worst season of his career. He's second in the league in scoring, a spot behind Kevin Durant and a spot ahead of LeBron (the two best players on the planet). His 30 points (including eight threes) would've earned him MVP of the All-Star Game had Kyrie Irving not one-upped him with 31 points and 14 assists. And during the month of February, Melo is averaging 32.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists on 47-43-81 shooting splits, including three of his last four games for 42+ points. New York is 3-9.

Monday's waning moments versus the Mavericks ranked as some of the most depressing basketball of the season. Melo's three to tie the game at 108 with less than a minute was poetic. Here was New York's chosen savior dragging a carcass of a team with only a sliver of hope to make it to the playoffs (while Melo has only advanced past the first round twice in his 10-year career, he has never missed the playoffs, something LeBron, Durant, Wade, Kobe, Garnett and Chris Paul cannot say) to a chance to win a game the Knicks desperately needed.

With time evaporating, Dirk's game-winning shot that hit every part of the rim and perhaps even an MSG light innocently fell through the basket to give the Mavs a 110-108 victory.

Anthony was beside himself. He became the real-life representation of this Kevin Hart joke (ironically told during his last standup in The Garden).

Between the ghost of Amar'e Stoudemire's knees' past, Tyson Chandler's early season injury, J.R. Smith known more for shoelace assaults than any game he's played this season, Andrea Bargnani being Andrea Bargnani, Mike Woodson looking lost the majority of the season and Ray Felton allegedly pulling a "cop-killer" gun on his estranged wife that could result in prison time, Carmelo's been handed a deck of cards better served for a VH1 reality show. Besides himself, the brightest spot for the Knicks has been the emergence of rookie Tim Hardaway Jr.

But here's the elephant in the room: Melo (sorta, kinda, maybe) brought a lot of this on himself.

Melo wanted to be in New York. More importantly, Melo wanted to be in New York on his own terms. With a new CBA looming in 2011 and millions of dollars at risk, he put money over winning for one season, which in turn jettisoned his career to the current day in various manners. The Knicks ransacked their 2010-2011 roster in return for Melo and have been playing catchup ever since.

New York Knicks get: Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, Shelden Williams, Renaldo Balkman from the Denver Nuggets plus Corey Brewer from the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Denver Nuggets get: Timofey Mozgov, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Raymond Felton from the Knicks plus New York's first-round pick in 2014 and Golden State's second-round picks in 2012 and 2013 and $3 million from the Knicks.

Minnesota Timberwolves get: Anthony Randolph and Eddy Curry plus $3 million from the New York Knicks.

Shelden Williams is a stay-at-home dad (I think). Renaldo Balkman … moving on. Anthony Carter is more remembered for indirectly helping the Miami Heat win the 2006 title than anything else. Chauncey Billups was amnestied to make room for Tyson Chandler and is currently in Detroit tolling his last playing days as the "mentor" role to the enigmatic Brandon Jennings. Corey Brewer's back on the Timberwolves.

So in essence, the Knicks gave away three quality role players, $6 million in cash to the T-Wolves and Nuggets, a first-round (potential lottery) pick in the most anticipated draft since 2007 … for Carmelo. All this when he could've went to NY with a more reliable supporting cast had he played out his contract (albeit much, much easier said than done).

Couple that with a slew of questionable decisions in the years following his arrival in New York and how everything went to hell in a Roberto Cavalli handbag isn't that difficult to understand.


The truth is this: Carmelo Anthony is in the no-man's-land stage of his NBA career. Still in his prime, basketball mortality is now a realer topic than ever as the obsession to be the last man standing in June becomes tougher and tougher to grasp with each passing season.

Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh are in hot pursuit of their fourth and third rings, respectively. Even Darko Milicic rode the pine to one his rookie season, leaving CA7 as the lone member of the Class of 2003's top five picks sans jewelry. Kobe, despite however the next two years pan out, has five titles and a MVP to his résumé. Durant, it would seem, is next in line to taste championship success whenever Miami's reign of terror ends. The Pacers aren't getting any worse (verdict is still out on them). And somehow, Dwight Howard's been anything but a distraction this season.

Free agency will be tested, but the options of championship success are foggy at best. The Bulls remain an option, but how much faith does a then-30-year-old Anthony place on Derrick Rose's knees? The Rockets option is intriguing on paper, and picks up more steam by the tweet it seems. Imagine having to get a stop on defense with Harden and Melo though. **shutters** The Suns could have cash, but the West has been a royal rumble of heavyweights since Melo was in middle school. The Heat doesn't seem feasible, although watching fans pledge to stop watching the NBA if the "Big 3" became the "Fantastic 4" would worth killing time at work to laugh for. And the Knicks are the Knicks.

The reminder of an unfulfilled self-promise is tormenting. The pain never subsides, especially in sports. Especially in a sport like basketball where success brings an elevated level of demigod status and championships hold so much weight in diagnosing a player's true value to the game, the culture and the generation he helped define (fairly and unfairly).

In 2000, Jay Z pondered the same fate on "This Can't Be Life" alongside Beanie Sigel and Scarface when a rarely paranoid Hov wondered, "Everybody doing them. I'm still scratching on the block like damn/I'ma be a failure/Surrounded by thugs, drugs and drug paraphernalia …"

Carmelo's career isn't a failure by any stretch of the imagination. He'll soon be one of the members of the 20,000-point club. He's even known on a one-name basis (not as popular as "Cher" or "Tupac," but "Carmelo" stands on its own), which has to account for some sense of legacy. The Hall of Fame will come knocking one day, too, because his status in Syracuse basketball history is firmly planted near the program's apex.

But the game is the game. You get in, get what you can and walk away willingly before the game scripts its own ending. Because now, Carmelo Anthony's toughest test isn't an unstoppable freight train in Miami, a near seven-footer in Oklahoma City with unlimited range or a highlight factory in Los Angeles. It's the one opponent no athlete has ever defeated.

Father Time. The bright lights of Madison Square Garden don't make it any easier either.

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