D.A.: Carmelo's Long, Strange Career Comes To Its Final Act In Houston

Houston would give Carmelo Anthony his best shot at an NBA title, but will he accept a lesser role?

Damon Amendolara
July 24, 2018 - 12:49 pm

USA Today Images

Carmelo Anthony resides in a strange, vexing place. For college basketball fans, he was a winner. He was the ultimate alpha dog, a player who can put a team on his back and lead it to the promised land. For NBA fans, he is a loser. He is the ultimate prima donna, a self-centered diva who cannot elevate his squad to the next level. For USA basketball fans, he is the ultimate teammate. He is a lovable co-pilot, willing to do anything to help the team win gold. 

So which is the real Melo? 

The answer is he is all of these things. Fifteen years ago, Anthony took Syracuse on an amazing March run, averaging 22 points and 10 rebounds per game as a freshman. In the tournament, he was devastating when it mattered most. He went for 20-10 against Oklahoma in the Elite 8, 33-14 over Texas in the Final Four, and 20-10 plus 7 assists in the championship game versus Kansas. He was named Most Outstanding Player of the tourney and, with that victim list, he should've been the Big 12 Player of the Year. His number hangs in the Carrier Dome. His name adorns the SU practice facility. He will forever be a legend on the Hill. 

His career has been anything but clutch since. Melo has never played beyond the conference finals (and only did that once, with the Nuggets nearly a decade ago). Incredibly, he has gotten out of the first round of the playoffs only twice ever. He has been the best player on mediocre or poor teams his entire career. He has been a dynamic, voluminous scorer (averaging 20+ ppg every season except last), and wildly popular (10 All-Star games, 6 All-NBA teams). But he has also been a punchline. 

Will that change in Houston, where he will likely sign as a free agent after his buyout from OKC? He has his best chance ever at a title. Houston came within a Chris Paul injury from knocking off the Warriors, and still have the nucleus to challenge for a Finals appearance. The loss of Trevor Ariza opened up a perfect slot for Melo, a place to potentially start, yet not be forced to carry the offense. He can take advantage of the space opened by James Harden and Paul, saving his aging legs to space the floor and shoot from the arc. If he can still lift and fire, Anthony will get his shots. 

But it will take a repressing of the ego. It will take Melo understanding he is no longer the epicenter of the team. It will take him realizing he is not "the man." For years, Melo desperately sought that role and clashed with those who asked him to evolve. George Karl and Mike D'Antoni saw what happens when Melo no longer wants to listen. Phil Jackson was a nightmare in New York, and Anthony seemed to relish in proving the Zen Master wrong. He publicly dismissed the idea of coming off the bench with the Thunder. This is not a man who bends easily. 

Somehow with the Olympic team, though, he did. He earned three gold medals (and another bronze) as a vital piece of Team USA. Perhaps when seeing the insane talent around him it became obvious to defer to Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. He did what the team necessitated. He scored when needed. He came off the bench when asked. He fit into the roster, and fit has never been a Melo strong suit. 

This is one final, tremendous opportunity for Melo to rewrite some of his own narrative. Twenty-three years ago, Clyde Drexler was a future Hall of Famer who was known best for "not being Michael Jordan." But Glide was traded to Houston, and reignited a second straight championship run for the Rockets. He did not have to be the face of the franchise, that was Hakweem Olajuwon's job. He did not have to be the focal point of the offense. He did not have to be the glue guy in the locker room. He just needed to fit in, score when asked, and give the roster another option. 

We don't remember Drexler for being torched by Jordan, or loser of two Finals as the best player on the Blazers. We remember him as a champion, because often we only focus on the most recent event. Anthony can be the modern day Drexler, right down to the same zip code. Winner? Loser? Great teammate? Awful teammate? Carmelo can decide how this story ends, but it takes fitting in, and only he controls whether he wants to. 

Damon Amendolara, known by his fans as D.A., hosts “The D.A. Show,” from 9:00AM-12:00PM, ET, across the country on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. “The D.A. Show” is known for its unique perspective on sports, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, colorful listener interaction, and candid interviews with athletes and coaches. Amendolara also appears regularly on NFL Network as part of the “NFL Top 10” documentary film series, CBS television and SNY TV. He is a Syracuse University grad and native of Warwick, N.Y.