Carmelo Anthony turns 30 in May and presumably has several more years of his prime left, which means he'll stay rich and famous at the steep cost of chasing faint championship dreams with the Knicks.
He's free to walk this summer, free to leave the charms of the big city and its social advantages and five-star restaurants that'll keep the kitchen open after games for him, but of course he won't do that. He has too much invested in a city that isn't blaming him for the empty nights at the Garden and a city where his wife is busy making entertainment connections. Besides, the job pays well and so it'll be an easy call for Carmelo in July: Take the millions and the magnificent metropolis in the palm of your hand and worry about everything else later.
Can't you see where this journey is headed? Melo is almost destined to become an old gunner desperate for a title and wondering if he'll ever get one before it's too late. Some never sip champagne (Dominique Wilkins, Charles Barkley), while the lucky ones -- most recently Dirk Nowitzki -- finally cash in before the sun sets.
The Knicks have never really fixed themselves after an early-season stumble and are now in serious danger of missing the playoffs, which would be a first for Melo.
"Same thing, different day," he said after the Knicks blew a 17-point lead to the Hawks and two days after they collapsed and lost a 14-point lead in Orlando. Melo scored 44 points against the Magic and followed up with 35 against the Hawks, and it still wasn't enough to carry a team that has an allergic reaction to defense and composure. "It's starting to be tough to handle. It's definitely testing me. We're losing the same way, over and over, and we're not learning from that."
Right now, the Knicks are in shambles, wilting away in a historically dreadful conference, which says plenty about the Knicks. Of their remaining games, they need to win twice as many as they lose just to break even this season. They're actually looking up at the Cavs and the Bobcats in the standings. But here's the really important issue: What does it say about Melo that he's willing to tie his future to James Dolan and this train wreck of a franchise?
It says this: Melo wants money and knows the Knicks have the resources and desire to pay whatever it takes. No crime there; lots of players (or people in general) in his position would do the same and have done the same.
It also says this: He isn't ready to do a LeBron James and take far less than his value in order to hook up with a winner.
What was lost under all the misplaced anger over LeBron's TV special in 2010 -- in hindsight, how silly was it for folks to lose their lunch over that? -- was the fact the game's greatest player left millions on the table to sign in Miami. Even now, LeBron is the ninth-highest paid player. Sure, he's more than made up for it in endorsements, and he's about to sign a meaty contract extension anyway. But the same people who whined about the way he left should also be fair and salute the man for putting championships above salary and risking a PR disaster in the process. That's something few players are willing to do.
Anthony isn't going to follow the LeBron blueprint for the reasons already mentioned, which is fine; to each his own. That said, Melo is putting a lot of faith in an owner who doesn't know how to pick the right people to run the team. And the few times Dolan did get it right (Donnie Walsh and Jeff Van Gundy), he stripped their power and made it easy for them to leave.
Melo is putting lots of faith in a team that doesn't have a single asset other than himself. Look at the roster and you see nothing but decline in almost everyone in the rotation: Raymond Felton, Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert. The Knicks can't get anything of great value from any of them.
Melo is putting lots of faith in a team that's stuck with poisonous contracts for at least the next two years. When the Knicks are finally free of these big deals, and provided they don't add a few other clunkers, Melo will be 32 and carrying mileage; he averages more minutes this season than anyone in the league.
Melo is putting faith in a team that's about to change coaches because there's no way Mike Woodson will survive this. And he's putting faith in a team that doesn't own a first-rounder this summer or in 2016. That's right, no lottery relief will be forthcoming for the Knick should they continue to slide, meaning they'd lose out on the deepest draft in years. Both of those picks went to Denver in the 2011 trade for Melo because he refused to sign that summer with the Knicks as a free agent (which would've meant less money) and allow them to keep their assets.
Melo is putting lots of faith in a franchise that must ace a high percentage of their next several personnel moves just to rebuild itself while Melo is still an All-Star. Again, it's a two-year process at the very least, something that smart teams might -- might -- probably pull off. But this is the Knicks. They recently went 10 years without a playoff win.
At this point, Melo can only hope to do what Nowitzki did in 2011 at 32 when the basketball gods blessed him with a fairytale run with a team that didn't offer an All-Star teammate.
Chandler remembers Nowtizki as being anxious on the verge of desperation, feeling Father Time was working against him and the meter was ticking.
"You could see it when we won the Western Conference finals," Chandler said. "He really didn't embark on the celebration in the locker room. He just had a mindset and focus throughout the entire playoffs. He made all the difference in the world, took advantage of his second opportunity in the Finals."
Nowitzki, a sure Hall of Famer, didn't want to become the next Wilkins or Barkley and leave the game without a ring, and yet he kept composed throughout the playoffs. As great a scorer as he is, Nowitzki allowed others to find their rhythm, and that's why Jason Terry and Jason Kidd and even J.J. Barea found a role, not to mention Chandler.
"He's one of my favorite guys of all time," Chandler said. "He's an unbelievable teammate, one of the most unselfish superstars you'll ever know. Made everyone around him better because of his willingness to do whatever it took to win."
Could Chandler see a similar career path for Melo? He had a curious response.
"They're two different players," said Chandler, who paused before repeating, "two different players."
Anthony signed up for this when he forced his way out of Denver (causing the Knicks to surrender assets in the process) and will sign up for it again this summer. He evidently believes in an owner who'll spend recklessly and in a team that just can't seem to get it right. Mostly, by signing a long-term extension, he'll still have plenty of 28-point scoring averages in his future when and if the Knicks finally figure it out.
"My biggest thing is to just stay composed," he said. "My mentality is no matter what the situation is, we still have a chance. That's just me."