By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
Recently, 10-time NBA all-star and current “free agent,” Carmelo Anthony made a high profile appearance on First Take in a one-on-one interview with Stephen A. Smith that was unique in its candidness and variety of topics.
Discussing essentially the entire breadth of Anthony’s career, including his failed tenures with Oklahoma City and Houston and how his quick bouncing off of both those rosters lead to him not being on an NBA roster today in spite of his relative health and skill level as an offensive player.
Elsewhere in the interview some “what ifs” were approached as Melo was faced with questions regarding why he chose the Knicks over the Bulls in the summer of 2014 and why couldn’t he ever form a Big 3 with any of his influential friends in the league.
Within the discussion with Smith, Melo stated that he had his fair share of “why not me?” moments in regards to his friends LeBron James, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade making deep playoff runs and winning championships while he never had a team put around him to be in those playoff situations.
Melo’s willingness and attempt to create a winning legacy in New York during his prime years came with a price he in the end was not willing to pay. It is that price, not his talent, that has taken him to an unfamiliar place of unemployment within the NBA at at a time where his abilities no longer transcend.
Legacies in the NBA are built mostly on definitive success on the court, from earning awards to racking up All-Star appearances to dominating playoff success. And those successes and honors make the difference in taking elite player clear into to the Hall of Fame. But in the building of any NBA legacy, one’s efforts are amplified to the highest degree if one’s resume includes championship success.
Anthony is one of the few players that will go down as one of the greatest players of this generation, still deserves to play a prominent role on a NBA team and will finish his Hall of Fame career without a championship, but the idea that he did not have the team his friends had or could not have that type of team to play on is simply false.
When it comes to winning championships in today’s league, with the exception of the Toronto Raptors, you have to have multiple superstars and some form of a successful front office/coaching staff to bring multiple championships to your franchise, and quite frankly it is a narrative that King James started in 2010, when he choose to team up with Wade and Chris Bosh to create the first free agent-built Big 3 in history. We all know that the Heatles ended up winning two championships in four straight trips to the Finals, but in regards to Melo, he could have followed those same footsteps his friends did and teamed up with Derrick Rose in Chicago.
Chicago was a primary destination for Melo during his 2014 free agency period and the Bulls had the best set-up compared to the hometown Knicks. The Bulls had previous MVP Derrick Rose — still recovering from his second knee-surgery but maintaining a playoff standard behind the play of Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah and newcomer Jimmy Butler.
Previous coach of the year winner Tom Thibodeau set a tone effort-wise but he may have already been laying the tracks in his scuffles with management that led him out of town. Still, Thibs was by far the most successful coach for the franchise post-Phil Jackson, taking the Bulls to the playoffs in each of his five seasons, including an Eastern Conference Finals appearance, he would have likely been the best and most exacting coach Melo would have ever had.
From a roster perspective, the Bulls had All-Star caliber talent with an established winning culture. Though Thibs was fired in 2015, the talent compiled was still enough for them to make the playoffs the following season with a coach in Fred Hoiberg who was not at all ready to lead a professional team in the playoffs.
The Bulls had their issues several years ago, but at the moment the franchise looked way more secure and stable than the Knicks who were in a looping identity crisis and strapped more the kind of money that could draw elite talent given Melo’s max contract requirements.
From ’14 on the Knicks never made the playoffs again and have more and more indignities on and off the court leading up to their failed recruitment of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in this current summer. A native-born New Yorker, Anthony let his loyalty to NYC’s most beloved franchise sink him through a wasted run that featured only one playoff appearance that only got him to the second round of the Eastern Conference.
Chicago wasn’t Melo’s home and the Bulls didn’t offer any more of a specific draw to him than any other franchise but they offered everything Melo could have ever wanted competitively at that time, and that wasn’t enough.
Had Anthony went to the Bulls or to another title contender before New York unceremoniously dumped him, he could have had that championship by now and his over legacy would be amplified in ways that he may never experience at this point. Melo chose loyalty with an appealing but unstable hometown franchise, a bold choice that for many could be applauded but it cost him too much time and opportunity.
Melo is willing at this point to put in the work to change a narrative that he allowed to trap him into a career that while successful, doesn’t measure up to the contemporaries he once thought he could out-do on the court. At this point they, and the NBA as a whole, has moved on. That’s the unfortunate reality that Melo now has to accept.
Joshua M. Hicks is a Senior Writer for WARR Media