Is this it for Melo?
‘You’re not going to get better in two weeks, you’re going to get older in two weeks. It’s a young guy’s league.’
HOUSTON – Two former Houston Rockets hung out near the locker rooms after their old team routed the Golden State Warriors 107-86 on Thursday night. One was Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady, the other was former defensive player of the year Marcus Camby. Both have differing opinion on the future of Carmelo Anthony, the 10-time All-Star with the street cred whose career is at a crossroads.
McGrady recently said on ESPN’s The Jump that Anthony should retire. But Camby begged to differ.
“He has a couple great years left,” Camby said. “I personally feel he got a bad rap on things. Coming here to Houston was a tough offense to play in when you’re not a spot-up 3-point shooter. I hope he continues to play.”
The Rockets bid farewell to Anthony on Thursday by announcing he would not be returning to the team. A source said the Rockets will likely waive the 10-time All-Star soon if his agent, Leon Rose, can’t locate a team that is interested in Anthony.
Anthony, who has a career scoring average of 24 points per game, scored two points on 1-of-11 shooting in his last game as a Rocket on Nov. 8. Could it be Melo’s last game ever?
“It’s whatever he decides,” former NBA guard and current Houston Rockets player development coach John Lucas told The Undefeated. “His legacy is intact. What I shared with him was knowledge from the view of an older player. Do I sell my soul to continue to play a game that may not love me the way I love it still?”
Anthony has the 19th-most points in NBA history (25,551) and is third among active players. Picked two spots behind LeBron James in the 2003 draft, Anthony has been a lightning rod since his cornrow days in Denver Nuggets powder blue. His scoring mentality throughout the years, in particular, has often been a topic of debate.
Still, Anthony’s resume stacks up with Rockets stars Chris Paul and 2018 NBA MVP James Harden. It just didn’t work in Houston after so much fanfare over his arrival.
A source said the Rockets were worried Anthony was a bad fit as far back as their voluntary camp in the Bahamas in late August. The Rockets already had the necessary scorers in Harden, Paul and Eric Gordon. What they needed was a spot-up 3-point shooter who could get back on defense. In short, the Rockets needed Trevor Ariza, who departed for the riches offered by the Phoenix Suns as a free agent last summer. Out of sync offensively and being picked on by foes defensively since Melo arrived, Houston knew it had a problem.
“It was like a cloud,” one Rockets source said. “It wasn’t a fit. [coach] Mike [D’Antoni] was put into a bad spot.”
D’Antoni said it was hard to part with a star who has never been waived before.
“We all wanted it to work. It just didn’t happen,” D’Antoni said. “And you feel bad for it, but to say, ‘Now we gotta do our jobs, and we gotta make some hard decisions.’ And the one thing I just didn’t ever want to disrespect was him or his career, going in the Hall of Fame. And you try to do the best thing and you don’t make all the right decisions for sure. But he was great, and we tried to make it work, it just didn’t work out.”
Rockets center Nene was Anthony’s teammate with the Denver Nuggets when Anthony was a rookie. A longtime starter and the only remaining active player from the 2002 NBA draft, Nene said he adapted to a backup role as a necessity to keep his NBA career alive.
For Anthony to revive his NBA career, Nene believes his former colleague has to change his game.
“Melo has always been a great player, legendary, a Hall of Famer,” Nene said. “But it’s like having a beautiful picture that is supposed to be a puzzle. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the picture is if the puzzle doesn’t fit. Melo is still a great player. He just didn’t fit here. It’s hard.
“He can still play in this league. I can only speak for myself and what happened with me. It’s all the same. When you’ve been in the league, you have to understand that time goes. Things change and you got to change yourself. A lot of older players like Vince Carter change themselves and accept new [styles]. I accepted a new [style], too.”
Several NBA stars such as James and Dwyane Wade wondered if Anthony was the Rockets’ scapegoat for the team’s poor start. But for anyone listening, the Rockets coaches and executives strongly state that Anthony was professional and willing to accept any role.
On Nov. 9, the decision to let Anthony go had been made. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey met with Anthony that day in San Antonio to give him the bad news, a source said. Anthony took the news like a “punch in the gut,” but remained professional, a source said.
Before departing from the Rockets for good, Anthony spoke to Lucas, who has mentored NBA players for decades. Lucas had even told his son, Minnesota Timberwolves assistant coach John Lucas III, that it was time for him to retire at age 34 from the NBA because he wasn’t good enough anymore. Lucas said he had a heart-to-heart conversation with Anthony about the keys to succeeding in the NBA as an elder statesman.
“The ego of wanting and ego with the game is hard,” Lucas said.
Perhaps it was for the best. Could you really see Anthony getting consistent DNP-CDs? Could you see Anthony playing just five minutes? That would have been the case had he stayed. It was bad enough that he lost his spot in the rotation to an undrafted two-way player in Gary Clark. Moreover, Anthony was asked to come off the bench after starting the first 1,054 games of his career.
The Rockets believed that if the popular star got DNPs and low minutes, it could have resulted in a distracting media fascination daily, a source said. Sources added that D’Antoni felt pressure to play the six-time All-NBA selection just because of his superstar status.
The Rockets are 3-1 since moving on from Anthony.
“He has such a big shadow, a big name that gets a bad rap,” Lucas said of Anthony. “It’s not him. It’s his aura. He could have accepted any role. But thing is, when you get to be an older pro, you get caught up in the business of basketball and the game of basketball.
“So, when your career starts to wind down, i.e., Karl Malone, i.e., Gary Payton, i.e., a lot of greats who begin to move around, you figure out how important that it is. You’re not going to get better in two weeks, you’re going to get older in two weeks. It’s a young guy’s league.”
If another opportunity does arise for Anthony, he needs to ask himself if it’s worth it. It is hard to fit into a new team a month into the season or even later. And don’t forget his struggles with the Oklahoma City Thunder last season, too. One Western Conference team executive said don’t be surprised if a team doesn’t show interest in Anthony until after the trade deadline on Feb. 7, 2019.
Others are more optimistic.
Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green believes there is an NBA team out there for his old USA Basketball teammate that will be a better fit. Anthony previously turned down the Miami Heat and also the Portland Trail Blazers twice, sources said. As for Green’s Warriors, a source said the two-time defending champs have no interest despite having a roster spot open.
“Of course, he can still play in this league,” Green said. “There is no doubt in my mind.
“He’s still Melo.”
And that’s the heart of the matter.