NEW YORK - It's the middle of July. Players have received sizable pay raises and taken substantial pay cuts. Free agents have committed (and in one case, reneged). Star players have forced trades, and rosters have filled. A grand total of salaries exceeding $3.5 billion have been handed out this summer.
It has been a fun summer for many free agents; certainly for most fans. Not so much for Carmelo Anthony.
Anthony hasn't played a basketball game since November, when he was exiled by the Houston Rockets after 10 games, only to be traded three months later then subsequently waived by the Chicago Bulls. Those putrid appearances in Houston may have been the last this league sees of the 10-time All-Star. No team signed him for offensive firepower entering their playoff push, and the reality may be just that: There is no market for Melo, not with his current mindset.
"Scoring 30 meant too much to Melo," his former Knicks and Nuggets teammate, Chauncey Billups, said in a recent appearance on SiriusXM Radio. "He could have games where he had 20 or 22, and he's mad. He might have 36, and we lose the game, and he's in there picking everybody up.
"But I think now, you fast forward the tape, and the reason why he's not in the league - and I think he's still worthy - is he hasn't mentally taken that step back to say, 'OK. I'll come in and play against backups. I'll try to help the team out. I know I won't be able to close, but I just want to help.' Well, he's not there yet."
Anthony has had one of the rockiest falls from grace for a player of his caliber. It was only 2013 when he averaged 29 points per game (his best with the Knicks), a season that preceded his record-setting 62-point performance at Madison Square Garden. But as the Knicks became a losing franchise, the flaws in his game only became more pronounced.
No longer was he considered the superior scorer who was once considered the greatest player in Olympic basketball history. The perception of Anthony was one of a ball-stopper, a black hole of a basketball player whose go-to jab-step into 18-foot shot grew more inefficient by the season.
Melo struggled to adapt to an NBA that had become obsessed with the three-point shot in offensive systems predicated on ball and player movement. His mid-range antics drew boos from the same fans who once cheered him. He was unceremoniously traded from New York by one of the greatest head coaches (yet worst executives) of all-time, who said the Knicks and Melo could not win with one another.
The Knicks dealt Anthony to the Thunder for pennies on the dollar: Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a second-round pick. Or maybe it was fair value - Anthony never meshed with Russell Westbrook and Paul George, and the catch-and-shoot skills he so often displayed for Team USA didn't clear bag-check in Oklahoma City. The Thunder lost in the first round of the playoffs then immediately traded him to Atlanta, who bought his contract out and allowed him to enter free agency.
That's how Anthony got to the Rockets, where he was supposed to be a third wheel with James Harden and Chris Paul. He had 22-, 24- and 28-point games, but Houston sacrificed two defense-first wings (Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute) for a defense-optional volume scorer. They later chose to emphasize defense, and Anthony became the scapegoat for Houston's 1-5 start.
Melo shot 1-of-11 in his final game as Houston went 4-6 in their first 10 games. They removed him from the equation and won 18 of their next 30 games.
No team has touched Anthony since. Not the Lakers, who opted to punt a postseason push to focus on players they ended up trading for Anthony Davis. Not the Trail Blazers, who signed Kanter. Not the Nets, who desperately needed help at the four, but chose to stay with their combination of rookie Rodions Kurucs and veteran Jared Dudley. Not even the Golden State Warriors, who could have broken basketball had they added yet another star.
Free agency is here, and there may be a home for Anthony. The Miami Heat make sense. They acquired Jimmy Butler and have vaulted themselves into win-right-now mode. The 76ers could also be an option as a team that could use an offensive spark off the bench. So could the Los Angeles Lakers - Anthony could be a low-risk, high-reward signing that may make a difference when the playoffs roll around.
But Anthony needs to prove he's able to adapt, and do this date, he's been unable to conform to league trends. He has to accept that he is no longer the All-Star scorer offenses can be built around. Instead, he must settle into a role as supplemental fire on a playoff contender.
There are also reports of both Amar'e Stoudemire and Monta Ellis working out for teams in hopes of making an NBA return. The only workouts we've seen from Carmelo Anthony are on Instagram at Chris Brickley's gym in New York City. Even those workouts are uncontested threes and mid-range post-up work.
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