|Anthony, at 27 years old, still has time to reshape his legacy. (Getty Images)|
Carmelo Anthony was supposed to be more than this. He was never going to be LeBron James, no, but he was supposed to be Paul Pierce, if not better. Maybe as good as Elgin Baylor. A Hall of Famer -- that's who Carmelo Anthony was supposed to be.
Instead, he's a bigger World B. Free. A shorter Glenn Robinson. A healthier Bernard King. He's a scorer, and a great scorer at that. But only a scorer -- a guy who shoots a ton, scores a lot, and thinks he's done enough.
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You haven't, Carmelo.
Carmelo Anthony was supposed to be a transcendent talent -- is still considered by some a transcendent talent -- but he's not. Or at least, not yet. That's the good news about this story, that Carmelo is only 27 years old, still young enough to reshape his image, tweak his game, become the great player we thought he was rather than the great scorer he's content to be.
Great scorers come, and they go. Mitch Richmond, Vince Carter, Mark Aguirre -- great scorers, all near or above 20,000 career points. That's Hall of Fame territory, or used to be. But as the game evolved and 20,000 points became more of a rough guideline than a hard rule, guys like Richmond and Tom Chambers and even 25,000-point scorer Reggie Miller (for now) are left standing outside the Hall's door.
Because more is required than scoring.
And all Carmelo does is score.
But again, there is good news here. After toiling for 7 1/2 years in Denver, surrounded by average NBA talent and unable to carry it beyond its limitations -- as great players do, like LeBron in Cleveland, Allen Iverson in Philadelphia, Jason Kidd in New Jersey -- Carmelo now has the chance to do something special in New York. He has the right coach, the right point guard and a high-scoring frontcourt mate to distract the defense.
Carmelo doesn't have the talent around him that Kobe has had in Los Angeles or LeBron now has in Miami, but he has enough to do something special. Understand, "special" doesn't have to mean an NBA title. A championship isn't an "or else" proposition for greatness. It can be used to separate one great from another, to separate Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant from LeBron James, but a ring isn't a requirement for greatness. Charles Barkley? Greatness. Karl Malone? Greatness. Dominique Wilkins, Allen Iverson, Artis Gilmore? Greatness.
But how about winning a playoff series, huh 'Melo? Denver reached the playoffs in all seven of his full seasons in Denver, and made it out of the first round only once. I'd say Carmelo is in danger of becoming another Kevin Garnett, pre-Celtics, but that wouldn't be fair to Garnett -- who scored, rebounded, assisted, defended, hustled, led.
Carmelo does only one of those, which is why he's such a disappointment as an NBA player. Not a bust, because he has more than 15,000 career points and should zoom past 20,000, maybe enter Reggie Miller territory at 25,000. A player like that isn't a bust, or even close to it.
But overrated? Sure, Carmelo is overrated. He is routinely considered one of the 10 or maybe even five best players in the world, yet he has finished better than 13th in MVP voting only once, topping out at sixth in 2010. He doesn't get many assists for a guy who dominates the ball, doesn't rebound at a high level (career average: 6.3 per game), doesn't shoot well from 3-point range (32 percent) or even all that well from the floor overall (45.6 percent). And until this season, at coach Mike D'Antoni's insistence, he's never pretended to care about defense.
What does Carmelo do well? He shoots a lot. He does that as well as anyone in the league. So I'm writing this story out of frustration, not only with Carmelo but with the idea that he has lived up to his promise coming out of Syracuse or even up to his reputation now. I'm frustrated that he has been known for years as a special player.
Because he hasn't been.
But this is his chance, this franchise and this collection of talent and maybe even this season. The Heat and Bulls are clearly the class of the Eastern Conference, but after that it's wide open. The Knicks' bad start, pre-Jeremy Lin, will relegate them to an unfortunate playoff seed and perhaps even a first-round date with the Heat or Bulls. Which would be disastrous.
So maybe it doesn't happen this year. Maybe the Knicks' chance at doing something special -- and Carmelo's chance at being someone special -- will come next year. Whenever it comes, he'd better grab it or risk going down in history as another guy who sure did like him some offense but couldn't be bothered to play defense. Another guy who posed and preened and even sucker-punched like so many NBA players, but didn't work and sacrifice and lead like so many greats.
Carmelo Anthony is at a career crossroads. It's a place lots of players would love to be, within reach of becoming something special.
But it's ridiculous that Carmelo's here at all. He was supposed to be more than this, and he's just ... not.