Carmelo Anthony denial of his regression summons memories of Iverson

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 27: Carmelo Anthony (L) and Kyrie Irving #37 of the United States laugh as they attend a practice session at the 2018 USA Basketball Men's National Team minicamp at the Mendenhall Center at UNLV on July 27, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 27: Carmelo Anthony (L) and Kyrie Irving #37 of the United States laugh as they attend a practice session at the 2018 USA Basketball Men's National Team minicamp at the Mendenhall Center at UNLV on July 27, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

Following the trade of Carmelo Anthony the star’s comments on poor fit highlight his inability to accept his own regression.

From the minute the OKC Thunder made the trade to bring Carmelo Anthony to the OKC Thunder most of the TI staff weren’t optimistic. Sure, it was entertaining, especially with summer hoodie Melo all the rage and opining on the OK3.  There were optimists who felt if Melo was willing to play the type of ball which made him the most decorated Olympic basketball team member it could pay dividends. Yet, ultimately, that’s all it was a fun exercise in what could have been.

With the experiment over it’s time for refection. Anthony deserves credit for never once displaying his dissatisfaction throughout the season. In fact, it wasn’t until Game 5 of the Thunder’s first round series that anyone suspected he might not be anything other than happy.

Anthony took heat for reacting to not getting back on the floor for most of the 25 point comeback win. He was vilified for his playoff defense and his inability to hold his tongue in the exit interviews. When he took to social media to rub in the fact he opted in to his $27.9 million payday he was unceremoniously roasted for it.

Fit wasn’t there:

Yet, instead of being angry at Carmelo Anthony perhaps OKC fans should be giving the forward a break.  Examination of the facts warrants at minimum some empathy. Diving into his recent comments offers perspective on why the 15 year veteran left OKC unfulfilled. Anthony spoke to ESPN’s Jemele Hill shedding light (for the first time) on his opinion why things went south in OKC.

"“At the end of the day, it wasn’t a good fit,” he said. “I think last year — and I haven’t talked about this before — everything was just so rushed, going to the team for media day and the day before training camp. Them guys already had something in place, and then I come along in the 25th hour like, ‘Oh, s—, Melo, just come on and join us. Like, you can figure it out since you’ve been around the game for a long time.’ That’s why it was so inconsistent. At times I had to figure it out on my own, rather than somebody over there or people over there helping me.”"

Melo is 100 percent right — he was not a good fit with the Thunder. It’s often said players will resort to their natural instincts under pressure. It’s for this reason youngsters are pushed to develop good fundamentals and habits early. It’s also why younger players are more desirable additions.

With 15 years under his belt asking Melo to change his iso skills to primarily spot up for catch and shoot actions was likely too much of a stretch. Forgetting his abysmal defense, it can’t be said Melo didn’t try.

Trade benefited everyone:

With his Hawks trade the best result occurred for all parties. The Thunder dramatically cut their luxury tax and removed a player who didn’t fit the system. Most importantly, this was achieved without having to waive Anthony and pay for an empty asset over the next three years.

As for Anthony, he gets the best of all worlds too. His $27.9 million contract will be paid in full by the Hawks. This comes with the added bonus of freedom. To that end, Melo can isolate which squad’s system is best suited to him, pick the role he’ll play and do so at the destination of his desires.

Melo’s reservations:

Anthony is annoyed by the heat and criticism generated from one poor season. Yet, in truth his regression over the past few seasons was progressive. This wasn’t a sudden shock, nor was it an unfair assessment of his skills. Despite protestations to the contrary Melo has been hit by something he can’t control – aging.

Well known analyst and former NBA player Charles Barkley favorite saying is fitting in this instance. When it comes to basketball, no one beats father time. ‘

Some can point to his draft class and good friend LeBron James who is defying those odds. But, James is the exception, not the norm. Undoubtedly the 34 year old Anthony can still score and contribute. That fact was never in question.

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At issue is the role Carmelo Anthony should be playing at this stage of his career. Run through the teams and scan the players who produce off the bench. Melo could dominate most teams off the bench. Depending on the squad he could be surrounded by defensive specialists. He might not be a top 15 player any longer, but surely his skillset and scoring prowess would place him in the upper tier if not at the very top of the reserves list.

Houston – we have a problem:

Unfortunately, Anthony refuses to consider the reserve option, feeling it is beneath his abilities. Assuming he lands on the Rockets this could prove as a deterrent for Houston. They’ve already lost two key defensive contributors with Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute leaving.

"“I know how to play this game of basketball,” he said. “I’ve been playing it for a long time. When I feel like I’m ready to take that role, then I’ll take that role. Only I know when it’s best for me to take that role. I’m not going to do that in a situation where I still know my capabilities and what I can do. And at the end of the day, the people who really matter know my capabilities and what I can still do. You start getting to the media and debates, it’s going to always be kind of back-and-forth.”"

The core starters are Chris Paul, James Harden and Clint Capela. Presumably the Rockets intend to put Anthony in one of the forward roles, but if he has issues guarding fours then threes are out of the question. In essence his presence in the starting rotation for Houston would put extreme pressure on recently re-signed Capela and whoever is inserted to play the other forward role.

The Iverson comparison:

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Carmelo isn’t the first player to struggle with accepting his diminishing skillset. And, arguably for  superstars the regression is harder. Their entire lives centered around being “the man” as the primary scorer and delivering wins in the clutch.

Much like the natural progression of growing up basketball emulates this. Players enter the league relying on talent and athleticism. Each successive year the game slows down for them. What naturally transpires as the player relies more heavily on thinking the game and using their wiles to score as opposed to pure athleticism.

The problem for Melo is he happens to be aging in an era where the game has sped up. Complicating matters is this generation relies on ball movement and perimeter shooting more than ever. None of these elements are cornerstones of Melo’s game. Rather, Anthony is an isolation ball player who prefers the midrange.

The player who comes to mind is Allen Iverson who was an MVP and superstar. Iverson spent his first 12 seasons in Philadelphia as their star. When he was traded to Denver it sent shock waves through the Association. Sadly, his regression was swift and in many circles it was felt he still had plenty to offer, if only he would move to the bench. At issue was his refusal to move to the bench.

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Denver traded Iverson to Detroit which was the beginning of the end. Following portions of three seasons as a Nugget AI was traded to Detroit. Iverson played 50 games (of 54) as a starter, but bristled at suggestions of coming off this bench. This led to his trade to Memphis where he played just three games prior to a trade back to his NBA home in Philly where he finished his career. Had Iverson been able to overcome his reservations it’s likely his career would’ve been extended potentially another three to five seasons.

Notably, the fall off of Iverson’s game was swift beginning around his 13th season. Melo may be producing still, but the similarities are palpable. Like Iverson, Anthony refuses to see how he could extend his career and still be a valuable producer off the bench.

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The question moving forward is whether Carmelo Anthony will be able to come to terms with accepting this role. For the OKC Thunder they’re happy to not have that issue to deal with. Moreover, if Anthony ends up signing with the Rockets the move may serve to help OKC move ahead of Houston.

Let’s see how it plays out.