The funny thing about Carmelo Anthony is that he is not a particularly dynamic human being. I spent two full days with Carmelo back in March 2011, right after the Knicks traded for him, for a big feature for New York magazine and I can tell you that he has a pretty sleepy vibe. He has always been promoted as a superstar, and he's certainly had the talent of a superstar, and he is perpetually marketed as a superstar, but he doesn't really act like a superstar. Every time I've ever talked to him, he's always relaxed and calm and frankly a little bit bewildered by all the attention that comes his way. Remember that All-Star Game in 2011 when the only storyline was "where is Carmelo going to get traded?" "I don't want that kind of attention no more," he told me back then. "That was too much." There hasn't been a whole lot of attention paid to Carmelo Anthony in the years since.
But I don't think he likes it. I know that's a strange thing to say about someone who demanded to be traded to New York, who has the celebrity TV show wife, who once negotiated himself on "Saturday Night Live," who once starred in a Chinese movie with Dwight Howard about … something.
But Carmelo has never looked truly comfortable being the center of attention. We all thought he did, back when he was leading Syracuse to the national championship, with that electric smile and signature headband. And when you look back at it, it sort of looks like the one happy time in his public life. (He has said that he didn't want to leave school, that he was "having the time of my life up there.") Look at when he has been happiest. College, where he could just be a guy at a party school, and on the Olympic teams, when he could just chill out at the 3-point line and drain shot after shot while the other guys did the dirty work and drew all the headlines.
Look at the end of that video. That's joy. We haven't seen that sort of joy from Carmelo on the court in a long, long time.
Because everyone told Carmelo he was a superstar, and he certainly looked like a superstar, he felt obliged to try to act like one. And that decision -- and the continued doubling down on that decision -- has led Carmelo to right now, which is without question the darkest time of his career. Think about where Carmelo Anthony is right now. He is:
- The "leader" of a team that is seven games under .500 and full of in-fighting and turmoil.
- Seen as the reason for all that turmoil.
- Actively being shopped around to any team that will take him.
- Being refused by every team.
Seriously: No one wants to trade for Carmelo Anthony. Part of it is his contract, of course, but it's not just that. Carmelo is seen as too much trouble. The Celtics, a team that theoretically could be a fit and could use that second scorer (without Carmelo's inefficiency and defensive lapses), has made it abundantly clear they want nothing to do with him. The Cavaliers, where you know Carmelo would love to go play with LeBron James and try to win that championship, won't give up Kevin Love (smartly) and don't have anything else to give the Knicks other than the sort of roster flotsam (Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith) that the Knicks once had surrounding Carmelo themselves. The Clippers, another Carmelo landing spot with potential, won't give up any of their quality players … and still the Knicks are sort of interested! Finding any other potential fit for Carmelo, from the Knicks perspective, is nearly impossible. I mean, look how meager the market is for Carmelo:
Knicks tweeps: How do you feel about Jae Crowder, a future 1st and some extra cap room?- Andy Glockner (@AndyGlockner) January 27, 2017
Curious about response.
And while I as a Knicks fan wouldn't take that … I stopped and thought about it for a second. That's what it has come to. The Knicks went from building around Carmelo to desperately trying to ship him off for anything.
This is more Phil Jackson's fault than anyone else. Many Knicks fans -- and just about every outside observer -- doubted the wisdom of trying to build around Carmelo, and Jackson would have been one of the few people with the credibility (at the time, anyway) to make such a daring move. But he hedged, and gave Carmelo not just a max contact but also a no-trade clause. Carmelo hasn't been a bad player since then -- the guy is still averaging 22.7 points per game this year, after all -- but since then, two big things have happened:
1. The Knicks drafted Kristaps Porzingis, the sort of player you actually build your franchise around in the year 2017.
2. They signed Derrick Rose and (even worse) Joakim Noah, two past-their-prime players in a quixotic attempt to "contend" this season
Both of those things are directly attributable to Phil Jackson, and both of them are reasons to trade Carmelo Anthony. But that's the rub: It is now too late. (The irony is that the Cavs might have traded Love for Anthony last year. Not now.) Jackson is the one who created this mess. Carmelo simply signed the contract.
But that contract, and that constant need for Carmelo to be The Superstar, means this will all land on his head anyway. And this is why Carmelo hasn't been happy since college. In Denver, he had to be the superstar, but then everyone told him it wasn't enough to be a superstar in Denver, he had to be one in New York. So then he forced himself to New York, and now that it's not working there -- and the Knicks have a bigger superstar -- everyone wants him to go somewhere else. But there is nowhere else to go. In a perfect world, I have no doubt that Carmelo would love to go play with LeBron in Cleveland, to just sit back and drain 3-pointers while LeBron knocks everybody around underneath. But that's no longer an option either. And staying in New York is seeming increasingly untenable, particularly now that the Knicks are falling further and further out of the playoff race.
Carmelo Anthony is a Hall of Famer. (This is undebatable, by the way: He's 31st on the all-time scoring list, and every player above him, and about 10-15 players below him, is either in the Hall of Fame or clearly going to be.) He is one of the most popular players in the sport: Even now, with all this mess, he has one of the top 15-selling jerseys in the sport, if not on his own team any longer. (Though, man, buying a Carmelo Anthony Knicks jersey right now seems like a bad investment.) And this is how a Hall of Famer ends up when he's starting to hit the downside of his career: On a losing team, unwanted by the entire NBA, unable to escape his current situation.
Carmelo Anthony, deep down, would have loved to be a second or third star, just a slasher scorer, a superman version of Jamal Crawford, a scoring Scottie Pippen. Had he been cast in that way, had he won title in the Pippen role, we would all love him and think him a champion. But people always wanted, demanded Carmelo to be a superstar. And now that he's not one anymore … no one wants him at all.