Carmelo Anthony has not played in an NBA game in almost nine months. The first month of free agency has come and gone without him landing on a new team. The New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets have unceremoniously dumped him in the past two years. To many players, this would be a signal to retire.
But in a wide-ranging interview on ESPN's "First Take," Anthony fought back. He revealed that he wants to keep playing in the NBA, saying "I love the game too much to get away from it." That is not limited to a one-year retirement tour either, as his trainer Chris Brickley. "I've never even thought about a farewell tour," Anthony explained. "I've thought about this being my last year, but that was at the time I was really emotionally vulnerable at that point in time. Now I feel like I still could play, I know I still could play, my peers know I still could play."
While Anthony did not say so explicitly, the implication was that he feels he deserves more than a send-off. He says he believes he can still help an NBA team, and that he can do so over multiple years. He is even willing to accept a lesser role if that's what it takes to do so. "I don't think it's about basketball anymore." Anthony said, "I think it's about me as a person willing to accept certain roles on a basketball team. Am I willing to accept a certain role on a basketball team? Yes. I'd gotten to a point in Houston where I had to accept that role, and I was just getting into accepting that role."
That sort of change wasn't something he was prepared for in Oklahoma City, claiming "I had to accept a role I wasn't willing to accept at that point and time." His Rockets stint, in his eyes, was marred by poor communication.
"I wasn't willing to accept that role of coming off the bench in Houston because that never was relayed to me. It was 'you are the piece that we need to get us over the hump and win a championship.' I went in with that mentality. 'We need Melo to come in here and get us over this.' I watched the previous year. I saw where I can plug myself in there, and I really believed that we were gonna do that. But when I get there, it was something totally different. The dialogue started getting less and less. There was no more conversation. It was just doing it, and then I got to react to the things that are being done."
Anthony's discomfort with a bench role was justified. He started every NBA game that he played in prior to joining the Rockets, so he has only come off of the bench eight times in his entire career. Still, it should be noted that Anthony changed his playing style significantly to suit the Rockets and the Thunder. In the first 14 years of his career, only 17.8 percent of Anthony's field goal attempts were three-pointers. But as he shifted into his fabled "Olympic 'Melo" role with the Rockets and Thunder, that figure rose significantly. As a full-time starter for the Thunder, 40.6 percent of his shot attempts came from behind the three-point line. In Houston, that number jumped to 52.9 percent.
Anthony may not have adjusted flawlessly to that new reality. His shooting numbers were below-average in both seasons, and his defense didn't improve enough to justify his smaller offensive load, but Anthony at least tried to fit in with better teams.
That will serve him if he gets a chance to accomplish what he is setting out to accomplish moving forward. "The ultimate goal is to win a championship," Anthony revealed, claiming it to be the reason he landed with the Thunder and Rockets. "It's the only thing left for me to do is win a championship." In that vein, Anthony admitted that his representatives had reached out to contending teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers while reports have indicated that the Knicksto New York at one point during the offseason.
But he is also realistic. "I want to play and I want to go and win a championship, but I also want to play. I want to get back out there on the court. I miss the game. I was away from the game for damn near a whole season. I got the opportunity to step back and grow as a person, and I deserve another shot."
The question Anthony will need to answer to teams interested in signing him is how much the latter will impact the former. Anthony says that he is willing to come off the bench. Does that mean that he expects to be treated like Andre Iguodala or Louis Williams, star sixth men who close games for their teams? Or is he willing to accept a true bench role, one that comes with inconsistent playing time based on matchups?
If it is the former, Anthony is going to have a hard time finding work. If it is the latter? He may be able to drum up some interest in his services. And if it is neither? "I think I would be at peace," Anthony said. He wants to keep playing. He wants to do everything in his power to prove that he still belongs in the NBA. But he knows that the situation is out of his hands at this point. Anthony said his piece. Only time will tell if any teams were willing to listen.