Carmelo Anthony shouldn't be able to surprise us anymore. When he positions himself at the right elbow, calls for the ball, and turns around to face up his defender in triple-threat position, we know what's coming. We've seen it a thousand times before. He brings the ball up and cocks it behind his head, his chin tucking into his chest as his eyes look forward, maybe at the basket, maybe right into his defender's increasingly panicked eyes. Everything slows down; a hush falls over the court. It's tense, but quiet--sleepy, almost. Then, as if jolting awake from a dream, Anthony swings the ball across his body. Everything snaps back into clarity. Jab step, jab step, and he's rising up in the air, his defender always just a startled moment too late to follow him. Swish. The ball slips through the net. Sometimes, that jumper still looks as pretty as it did the first time we saw it cut through the thin Colorado air all those years ago.
Anthony shouldn't be able to surprise us anymore, but sometimes, just by doing the same things he always has, he still does.
The situation around Anthony at Madison Square Garden appears to have reached a breaking point over the past few weeks. First, there were the trade rumors, but then again, it seems like there are always the trade rumors. Each of the past four gloomy years around the Knicks organization has come with a hail of them around mid-January. This year, though, the rumors persisted, getting more specific and plausible with time. A list of teams the organization had spoken to about an Anthony trade emerged, and Anthony began to concede in resigned post-game interviews that if the organization was indeed looking to rebuild, he would waive his infamous no-trade clause and allow them to do so. In the midst of all this, Anthony was still hard at work, stringing together a handful of monster games on a Knicks team that was spinning increasingly out of control.
Now things have turned really sour. Earlier this week, team president Phil Jackson took to Twitter to voice his approval of an article by Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding that argued that Melo is a very talented player that just doesn't care all that much about winning. The face of the front office has turned on him, and now it seems the fans are doing the same. Every time Anthony holds the ball for too long in MSG, the boos rain down from the stands. Even when he does well and receives the adulation of the crowd, the cheers seem hollow and sarcastic. After drawing a foul during a recent game against the Charlotte Hornets, he shook his head at the crowd, wagging his finger at their cheers. I don't want it, he said. I don't want it.
At war with the front office, fielding jeers from the fans, watching an eternally incompetent ownership implode, toiling away desperately on a Knicks team that somehow looks more lost and directionless than it did at any point over the last two miserable seasons--this is no way for Carmelo Anthony's career as a Knick to end. But end it must, for the good of Carmelo Anthony and the franchise. Ever since they drafted Kristaps Porzingis in the summer of 2015, the Knicks have been straddling an awkward line between building a contender around Anthony and rebuilding for a future around Porzingis. Trying to make a bridge between the divergent timelines of their incumbent and emerging stars hasn't worked, and their most recent attempt to construct a win-now roster by trading for Derrick Rose and signing Joakim Noah looks like it might even be hampering Porzingis’ growth. The focus for the Knicks franchise needs to be shifted to creating something sustainable around Porzingis’ revolutionary talents, and it's become apparent that something sustainable will not be a championship contender anytime soon. Porzingis is good, and he'll be great one day, but that day likely won't come until Anthony’s career has shifted well into its twilight.
Porzingis won't be able to carry Carmelo Anthony to the promised land, but that doesn't mean Anthony shouldn't still have the chance to get there himself. It's easy to forget these days, but Anthony really is still a great player. For all of his faults (and he has several), he has always shown flashes of the sort of player he can be when surrounded by talented guys that he trusts. He's a smart passer, a bullying post player, a relentless offensive rebounder, a nightmare in one-on-one situations, a deadly spot-up shooter, and, when he really wants to be, a passable defender at the power forward position. His game has never been reliant on his athleticism, and he looks to have a few more solid years left in him. He deserves to spend these last few years on a good team. More than that, even, basketball fans deserve to see Anthony on a team worthy of his talents.
The Knicks, unfortunately, will not be that team anytime that's too bad--New York loves Anthony, and clearly Anthony loves New York. The hard truth, though, is that when building for the future, sometimes the most important brick is the one you lay when you look someone you love in the eye, shake hands, and say goodbye. The time to build for the future has come, both for the Knicks organization and Carmelo Anthony himself.
New York should be grateful to Carmelo Anthony. He gave the Knicks his best years and tried to make things work through the roughest patch in the franchise's already rough history.
Thanks for the memories, Anthony. It's time to move on.