Carmelo Anthony
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

Carmelo Anthony is unemployable. One of the greatest scorers in NBA history can’t get anyone to give him a shot. How did we get here?

Chip Murphy

James Harden is king of the iso. Last season, he led the league with 1,280 aggravatingly insular possessions and averaged over six seconds per touch. Any team comfortable enough to place isolation play over ball movement should’ve been a perfect fit for Carmelo Anthony. After all, not many teams were left as a fit for him, even at that point.

I’m addicted to Basketball-Reference. I go onto the site with one goal in mind (something about Jamal Crawford) and all of a sudden I have another (Melo situation), so I finally decided that writing about one of these spirals might be a good idea.

My story begins with the 2017 NBA All-Star Game.

The NBA is getting a reboot for the 2019-20 season. The Warriors are not the sole title favorite for the first time since 2015, more than half the league changed teams in a wild $3 billion free agency period, and the other teams from New York and LA were the offseason’s big winners. The league’s been hinting at a franchise overhaul for some time, and nothing sums that up quite like the rosters in the 2017 All-Star Game.

Anthony Davis was a fan favorite when he dropped an All-Star Game record 52 points and won the MVP award on his home court. But all good things come to a slow and painful end in the NBA. When Davis signed with Rich Paul — LeBron James’s agent — the writing was on the wall. The Brow’s in LA now, with James.

After the flurry of moves this summer it shouldn’t surprise you that 16 of the 24 players from this game just two years ago are on now on different teams. To put that in context, only five of the 17 elected starters in the 2017 MLB All-Star game have changed teams. That means nearly 70 percent of the NBA’s biggest stars from two years ago have changed teams while in MLB an even higher percentage remain with the same squad.

John Wall was an All-Star in 2017. People used to vote to see more of that guy. Wall had stans and everything. He was “turns his defense on in the playoffs” guy for like three seasons in a row. Now, Wall’s time in the spotlight is long over. He’s been eclipsed by Bradley Beal as the franchise player, and his $170-million contract has made him a punchline.

Isaiah Thomas is the furthest thing from a joke. The King in the Fourth was on top of the world in 2017 when he dropped 20 points on the league’s biggest stage. He was named All-NBA Second Team and promptly traded for Kyrie Irving. A bevy of injuries forced Thomas out of the spotlight and potentially cost him a max deal. When he starts next season in Washington, it will be his fourth team in three years.

Now that I’ve bored you all with my thoughts on a glorified AAU game where the teams scored a combined 374 points, I’ll cut to the chase. There’s only one player from that game who’s currently a free agent. I’m talking, of course, about Anthony. Who else?

I will always defend Carmelo Anthony. My boss never offered me a $140-million contract with the opportunity to choose my next employer in case things went wrong. None of us can judge him for passing on the Bulls to stay in New York.

Anthony’s name stood out the most to me on the box score. He played 19 minutes, scored 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting and grabbed three rebounds in his 10th and quite possibly his final All-Star game. In a cruel twist of fate, Carmelo Anthony was one of only four players in the game who didn’t record an assist.

The future Hall of Famer (first ballot, don’t @ me) started his previous eight All-Star appearances alongside or against his banana boat crew, but this time around was different. He was only on the team due to Kevin Love’s injury. Anthony was already starting to feel the league’s rejection as the fans, media and even his boss had inexplicably turned on him.

So the guy finally escaped New York but immediately found himself back in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons when he had the nerve to laugh at some reporter who asked him about coming off the bench. Big deal. What would Kobe Bryant have done if somebody asked him about coming off the bench even when he was 37 years old and washed? Probably ripped off Michael Jordan again and punched the guy in the face.

When Melo went to Oklahoma City, they wanted him to be a spot-up shooter. They wanted Olympic Melo, so that’s what he gave them. He was in the top 15 in catch and shoot three-point makes and takes, nailing 141 of 378 attempts. Those 378 attempts were more than Carmelo Anthony had attempted in the previous two seasons combined.

Per Basketball-Reference, Anthony’s shots at the rim decreased with each season and his number of three-point shots went up. The trade out of New York just meant that Melo had to accept the unacceptable: He was getting old and his offense needed to change accordingly. There wasn’t a need for lousy isolation possessions just because he was Melo. He wasn’t the first option anymore.

New York Knicks

The strategy worked. Per NBA Stats, Carmelo Anthony had 245 isolation possessions in 2017-18. In the two seasons prior, he had 391 and 393 respectively. Playing with Russell Westbrook is part of that, but Anthony was willing to change his game.

The one area I’m going to knock him is his passing. Again, playing with Westbrook who gets so many assists definitely factors into things, but a couple of stats from the 2017-18 season were outstanding. Anthony was one of two players to log more than 2,500 minutes and dish out less than 105 assists. To add some ugly context to this one, Enes Kanter had two more assists than Anthony in almost 700 fewer minutes.

Still, it wasn’t the end of the world. If you told OKC they’d get 16 and 6 from Anthony before the season I think they would’ve taken it. Melo’s touches were downplaying with superior talents like Westbrook and Paul George, and he settled into a shooter’s role.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t make those shots when they needed him the most. Carmelo Anthony shot 6 of 28 on threes in OKC’s devastating playoff loss to Utah. Just like that, it was over for Melo in OKC. Not that he ever wanted to be in Oklahoma. Anthony always wanted to go to Houston and play with his boy Chris Paul and the greatest scorer in nerd history James Harden.

Before he was traded to Oklahoma City, he did everything he could to force his way to Houston. The Rockets didn’t have the assets to get the deal done. Who knows how different Melo’s career may have been if he’d ended up in Houston at the start of the Chris Paul-James Harden era.

(Era doesn’t feel like the right term for a duo that lasted two seasons. Guns N’ Roses broke up after three albums, and it tarnished their entire legacy. Chris Paul is Axl, and James Harden is Slash in this scenario. Maybe in 25 years, they’ll both realize how stupid they were.)

When the Rockets came a game from doing the impossible and knocking off the Warriors, the Melo fit became even more perfect. This wasn’t just a Banana Boat reunion, Anthony would’ve been the missing piece for a championship run. It all made sense.

If you’ve been living under a rock for the last five years, then you’d probably be freaked out by the way the Houston Rockets play basketball. Houston’s offense is explicitly designed for threes, layups and free throws.

That was never Melo’s game. He wasn’t known for attacking the rim, and his free throw rate was falling dramatically. Anthony finished top five in the league in mid-range attempts in five of the last six seasons. In 2016-17, he took more mid-range shots by himself (665) than Houston did as a team (579).

The most significant worry about his game in Houston was that he’d take too many of those shots for the team’s Moreyball system. But Melo was taking a crash course for Houston Rockets basketball while in OKC.

Before the 2017-18 season, Anthony’s career three-point attempt rate was below 20 percent. With the Thunder, over 40 percent of his shots were from behind the arc. His mid-range game would need to take a huge adjustment, but Anthony was firing threes at the highest rate of his career.

Anthony’s role in Houston was expected to be similar to his role in OKC with one massive difference: he would come off the bench. The 34-year-old had started every single game of his career before last season. He was able to laugh off that reporter’s question in OKC, but Melo had no leverage in Houston.

Mike D’Antoni and Daryl Morey wanted him to come off the bench, so once again Melo did his job. He dropped 28 points in Brooklyn to help snap a four-game losing streak and 17 the next night in Chicago to establish Houston’s first winning streak of the young season. Ten days later—with Houston owning a disappointing 4-6 record—Morey issued a statement saying the Rockets and Anthony were parting ways.

The Rockets were giving up on Melo after 10 games, and in my opinion, the 10 games total is exceptionally misleading. Allow me to explain.

Anthony, Paul and Harden only appeared together in five games. After all that work to team those three guys up, Anthony shared the court with Harden and Paul for a total of 37 minutes and 76 possessions.

Anthony told ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith that Morey informed him “his services were no longer needed.” The services of a guy who can give you 15 points a night without breaking a sweat are no longer needed, huh? Hmm. That doesn’t feel right.

There are three sides to every story: your side, my side and the truth. I’m betting Morey’s telling of how that conversation went down is a little different. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. We may never know the full story about what happened between Melo and Morey, and Harden and Paul.

It was shocking the team decided to move on from Anthony so quickly, but it’s not the first time that Morey has been quick on the trigger. The general manager fired Kevin McHale after 11 games in November 2015. That was a shocking move because just sixth months prior McHale was coaching the same team in the Western Conference Finals. Still, McHale coached that team for three seasons before getting canned. Melo barely lasted three weeks.

In the last two seasons, Anthony combined for 190 threes and 500 rebounds in fewer than 3,000 minutes. The only active NBA players who did that were Kevin Love and Danilo Gallinari. Both of them will make more than $20 million in salary during the upcoming season.

Seeing Gallinari’s name come up in the finder tool is classic Melo. Of course, the guy he was traded for eight years ago has outlasted him in the league. Melo can’t catch a break. I promise not to go off on a Danilo Gallinari tangent, but that needed to be said. Back to business.

Anthony played in 1,054 games before he got to Houston. He logged almost 38,000 minutes and reached the 25,000 point milestone that only other 22 players in league history have accomplished. None of them were run out of the league before their 35th birthday.

Right now, one of the greatest scorers of all time is being judged for a forgettable 10 games, a squandered 294 minutes and a wasted 134 points, rather than the phenomenal accomplishments and tremendous character he’s shown throughout his character. The haters want you to think employing Melo will hurt team chemistry, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The league has completely turned on Anthony. Teams want him to prove that he’s willing to accept their idea of a reduced role, but they aren’t ready to give him the opportunity. Meanwhile, known problem child Dwight Howard is getting his umpteenth chance to poison a locker room.

 

Former Rockets first-round pick Royce White speculated that Carmelo Anthony was being blackballed by the league and even called out LeBron for not signing him to the Lakers. The truth is that LeBron could’ve had Melo in Cleveland years ago via trade, and if he didn’t want him then, why would he want him now?

But don’t feel sorry for Melo. Be pissed off for him because he doesn’t deserve this. Even the staunchest Melo detractor can’t argue he’s good enough to be on an NBA roster right now.

The question remains: If Melo doesn’t fit in Houston—a team that appeared tailor-made for his skill set–where does he fit in today’s NBA? He only makes sense for a contender, and most of those teams typically don’t look to make dramatic changes in season.

But Melo can’t go out like this. His final game can’t be a 1-for-11 shooting night with two points and his final act can’t be a humbling interview with Stephen A.

I have to cling to the hope that one team will come to their senses. One general manager is going to wise up and go against the status quo by negotiating with the “unemployable” Carmelo Anthony.

It can’t end with him signing a one-day contract so he can retire as a Knick. He shouldn’t even be thinking about retirement yet. In the name of Jamal Crawford, I demand that all bucket-getters should always have a place in the league.

It all comes full circle!

I started down this path because they were showing Wizards’ Michael Jordan’s 50-point game on “Hardwood Classics” and I wanted to double-check if he still had the record as the oldest player to score 50 points in an NBA game.

Somehow I got from Jamal Crawford breaking MJ’s record to the criminal mistreatment of Carmelo Anthony. (Yes, I remember calling Daryl Morey a felon. I have issues.)

That is my life and to be honest, I’m getting sick of it. At least the man is ready to scrimmage with his former team, per Ian Begley of SNY.

Did we really need the “don’t read too much into it” comment?

Somebody sign my guy already so I can have a little peace.

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