At his introductory news conference in Oklahoma City, Carmelo Anthony was asked about potentially coming off the bench for the Thunder, something he had never done in the NBA to that point. Anthony dismissed the question before the reporter could finish, saying “Who me?” The room filled with laughter, and Anthony moved on without a second thought.
After the Thunder’s 2018 first-round exit, Anthony answered the same question, but no one laughed. “I’m not sacrificing no bench role,” he said.
That offseason, he was traded by the Thunder, waived by the Hawks and signed by the Rockets. Anthony lasted just 10 games in Houston, unexpectedly ending his tenure with a 1-of-11 shooting night against his old Thunder teammates on Nov. 8, 2018.
One year and 11 days later, Anthony is preparing to return to the court as a member of the Trail Blazers. He will wear No. 00, per the team’s release announcing the signing, and it’s a fitting choice. With a respectable showing in Portland, each zero can help erase the previous two stops in his Hall of Fame career.
To be clear, Anthony is not coming to save a 5-9 Blazers team, one that has lost seven of its last 10 games entering Tuesday night’s contest against the Pelicans. This can be viewed as a desperation deal. The Blazers are down Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins to injury in the frontcourt, so coach Terry Stotts has been forced to throw forwards like journeyman Anthony Tolliver and rookie Nassir Little into the starting lineup. It would be unreasonable to believe a 35-year-old who is well past his prime can suddenly change the playoff picture in a rugged Western Conference.
But there’s reason for optimism: Desperation is one hell of a motivator. Unlike when he suddenly went into exile with the Rockets, Anthony knows this could be the final chapter of his legacy. He is signed to a one-year contract worth $2.15 million, only if he remains on the roster beyond his guarantee date in January, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania — similar to the deal Dwight Howard signed with the Lakers.
“I just look at that opportunity, that team, and say, ‘Look, this is what I can bring to the team, this is where I can help,'” Anthony said in a video explaining his decision to join the Trail Blazers. “It will only work if all parties see it the same way. What happened before is the past. I can’t dwell on that. I learn from that.
“This happened at a point in time in my life where I do have a lot of clarity and understanding of different situations and just life and my approach is totally different.”
Anthony isn’t going to fix a bottom-10 defense. He won’t turn Hassan Whiteside into a dynamic pick-and-roll man, or Kent Bazemore into a sharpshooter. Portland’s problems go well beyond the mythical idea of “Olympic Melo.” At most, Anthony will be a true role player, a release valve for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum as they draw plenty of attention on the offensive end.
Here’s the thing: Simply doing that might be enough for Melo to eventually leave the game in a positive light. The “where I can help” attitude and willingness to take a step back would certainly be a better final image than one of a player incapable of recognizing his limitations or sacrificing for the team. (That label hasn’t always been fair to Anthony, by the way).
Throw in the occasional jab step here and a pull-up jumper there — again, occasional — and Anthony can remind fans why he was such a captivating star with the Nuggets and Knicks. It might not be a full tour a la Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki, but the Trail Blazers gave Anthony an opportunity to rewrite his ending, and potentially leave on his own terms.
He would be wise to make the most of it.