In 2011, when Denver Nuggets superstar forward Carmelo Anthony demanded a trade to the middling New York Knicks in the early months of the season, New Yorkers rejoiced. Despite Anthony’s display of immaturity toward the Nuggets, it appeared that the stage was set for a huge turnaround, led by the imminent peak of Anthony’s superstardom in the Big Apple.
Today, just under three years since Carmelo first donned a Knicks uniform, Knicks fans are starting to brace for a predictably selfish departure. Anthony has made it clear that he will opt of out his contract at the end of the season, choosing to test the free agency waters instead.
“I want to be a free agent,” Anthony told ESPN,“I think everybody in the NBA dreams to be a free agent at least one time in their career. … It’s like if I’m in the gym and I have all the coaches, GMs come into the gym and just evaluate everything I do. So yes, I want that experience.”
As disappointing as this news was to hear just weeks before the start of a new season, especially one in which the New York Knicks have arguably improved as a team since last year’s second round playoff exit, any true Knicks fan is not surprised by this revelation. This Carmelo Anthony is the player fans have simply started to get used to.
Since entering the league as the third pick in the famous 2003 NBA Draft that has since produced eight different NBA All-Stars, including LeBron James, Anthony was naturally going to be held to higher standards than most other players. As a rookie, he joined a Nuggets team that had won just 17 games the year prior, and was was expected to bring the franchise back to relevance and then, eventually, to uncharted levels of greatness. For seven and a half years, Anthony did everything he could to turn this hope into a reality, posting Hall-of-Fame level numbers, especially on the offensive end of the floor. However, the Nuggets struggled to make any waves in the playoffs, suffering six first-round exits in Anthony’s first seven seasons. Despite being responsible for a giant portion of the team’s success, Anthony, received the majority of the blame. He had to do more. He had to do better.
For some players, this challenge is desirable—a chance to bring a team to glory, building something out of nothing until the job is complete. But not for Carmelo Anthony.
With his first potential free-agency period set for the end of his seventh season in Denver, Anthony demanded a trade just a few months into the new campaign, refusing to wait until the end of the year when the Knicks would have cleared cap room and realistically signed him anyway. Carmelo’s happiness came first and, following a trade that sent a large portion of the Knicks’ young assets to the Nuggets, Anthony, along with fellow star Amar’e Stoudemire, prepared for a long future with the Knicks. Or so we thought.
In his first half-season with the team, Anthony helped spark the Knicks to a playoff berth, where they were promptly swept by an admittedly better Boston Celtics team. In next year’s playoffs, the Knicks unluckily drew a Miami Heat team that rolled over them in the first round of the playoffs. Last season, the Knicks assembled their best team in the Carmelo-era, managed to win a playoff series, before being sent home by the upstart Indiana Pacers.
Three playoff appearances, three early exits, and Carmelo finds himself in 2013 with a few looming decisions. He will play out this season and realistically be his dominant self on the court, but it has also become clear that Anthony is preparing the fan base for his possible departure. He may stay, but if he does not, the shocking suddenness of the Denver situation will not be repeated. Carmelo is turning 30 in May and sees the window of his prime beginning to close, and with the Knicks financially unable to properly surround him with assets, ironically because of the disastrous 2010 trade he forced, he has started to prep the league for his availability.
But what Carmelo must realize is that he is the problem. His “me-first” attitude and his inability to understand the long-term effects of his statements and decisions may leave him championship-less when his career ends. And the scary thing is, Carmelo might not care. Until he starts seeking the dream of every true superstar, the dream of winning an NBA title, instead of the dream of testing free-agency and leaving reeling franchises in his wake, Carmelo Anthony’s career will be remembered as nothing but a missed opportunity.