Carmelo Anthony trade to Thunder means last chance to make good on his greatness

NEW YORK -- This is the last straw, Carmelo Anthony. You either prove you are about more than yourself -- that winning, playing well with talent and turning opportunities into success defines who you are as a basketball player -- or that you're not.

And never will be.

The initial, knee-jerk reaction will be what a bold and big move Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti pulled off in reportedly trading Enes Kanter, Greg McDermott and a second-round draft pick to the Knicks for Melo. And praise, in a limited fashion and wait-and-see approach, certainly should come Presti's way.

Melo is a true talent, and the strange brew of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Anthony -- in Oklahoma City of all places -- could be a strange elixir in a daunting Western Conference.

Could be.

But it could also go a very different direction.

Because it's also true that Anthony is a ball stopper nearing the end of his so-called greatness, one with a peculiar kind of ego that in the past has limited his ability to put winning ahead of his own success. In turn, that could as much drive Westbrook and George away next summer as serve as a binding agent to keep them in OKC, playing for the same coach Kevin Durant just ripped on social media.

There will also be an interesting and immediate mode of comparison for all of those trying to find -- in a star's surprise sojourn to the heartland -- a narrative about Melo finally equipped with talent worthy of his skills: The coming rise of Kristaps Porzingis.

The Knicks are Porzginis' team now. Derrick Rose is a Cleveland Cavalier. Anthony will be making it work, or not, with Russ and P.G. Phil Jackson is gone. The distractions are gone with them, and if Porzingis can turn the fresh start into a stardom-coming-out party, it will say as much about his former teammate as about himself.

You should always be careful what you ask for. One of the great fallacies is that people change, and one of the great mistakes people make is that they can change. Some do. Most do not.

The career of Carmelo Anthony, and the fair reading of how he did or did not properly utilize and make good on his ridiculous basketball talents, will be cemented over the next NBA season. To date it has been a vast letdown. This is the last chance to change that fact, to shut up the doubters and naysayers like me, and to make good on his greatness.

The Thunder, on paper, have three star players in a league that requires a clustering of awesome talent simply to compete. But how does Billy Donovan ensure that his triumvirate is happy together when Westbrook didn't see fit to get Durant the ball often enough and is coming off an MVP, triple-double, record-setting season where he was a lone-wolf devouring records and box scores? When George, he of the throw-his-teammates-under-the-bus-in-the-playoffs schtick, likes to ask for the last shot but has never hit a buzzer beater -- and now says he wants to supplant his, err, new teammate as the next MVP? And when Melo is not exactly Mr. Facilitator?

I get why Presti pulled the trigger. It's go big or go home -- find greatness for OKC after K.D. or, eventually, face the reality that Durant's departure really began when Presti shipped James Harden to Houston. Remember: Part of that was a salary cap/luxury tax issue, and in 2017-18 the Thunder will approach a nearly $30 million luxury tax penalty. To have Russ-P.G.-Melo instead of K.D.-Russ-Harden. That's a mistake, one with profound consequences for the future of the Thunder.

So Presti had to gamble. But he's betting on a long shot. He's betting on the idea that Melo will change, that he can play second fiddle, or third fiddle, and that even if he does, Russ, P.G. and he can trust each other quickly enough to share the ball and win games without worrying about individual stats and the need to have the ball in their hands most of the time.

That Melo is the missing piece to keep Westbrook in OKC, even though he uss has yet to sign his extension; to induce George to buy into a role where he's not the first option; to win enough games in the Western Conference and be competitive enough in the postseason to sell the idea to all of them that the pastures aren't actually greener in the land of the purple and gold, or elsewhere; and to be a good enough basketball player in a very different situation to be worthy of the possible drama and downsides of his ball-stopping past.

That's a lot to bet on Carmelo Anthony. But at least Presti can rely on this: It's also Melo's last chance to prove his talent rather than his ego -- properly aligned with the right players -- has always been the thing that defines him as a basketball player.

National Columnist

Bill Reiter began his career as a newspaper journalist before becoming a national columnist at CBS Sports. He currently hosts a national CBS Sports radio show from New York City from 6 to 10 p.m. ET called... Full Bio

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