By Jemele Hill
Last month, Carmelo Anthony posted a picture of himself on Instagram sipping a glass of red wine, looking as if he was living his best life. The caption read: “MOOD. All critics can DUCK SICK.”
Not exactly subtle.
“Yes, duck sick,” he said, laughing. “And there’s more of that coming.”
Anthony has spent a considerable portion of his career in a vortex of criticism, but in this next stage, Melo could potentially undo some of the damage that’s been done in the past year to his already complicated legacy.
Hours after a three-team trade that sent Anthony to the Atlanta Hawks became official, he sounded like someone who had gone through the multiple stages of grief and had finally landed at acceptance.
”To get bought out, to get waived, you were looked at like you’re done,” said Anthony, who was in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to attend a private Nike event. “Now, it’s just almost like the norm. If something doesn’t work, go ahead and get a buyout or go ahead and get traded. That’s the new norm in our society in basketball. I had to get over that. I had a conversation with my wife and family. I said to them, ‘I’m not taking no buyout, I’m not getting waived.’ And they said, ‘At the end of the day, nobody is going to know that. You have to do what you have to do. It’s going to be a blip on your radar. It’s on to the next chapter.’ It took me a while to get to that point where I’m like, OK, I’m going to accept it.”
The Hawks won’t even be a sentence in Anthony’s biography. The team is expected to waive him, and once he clears waivers he’ll be an unrestricted free agent.
All signs point toward Anthony signing with the Houston Rockets, which presents Anthony with one of the most intriguing opportunities of his career.
“Obviously we’re just trying to figure it out,” Anthony said. “Everybody knows about the trade to Atlanta. I think everything is trying to get cleared right now. I’ll let the people do what they do. I just sit back, and when the time comes and the call gets made, we’ll make that move.”
Melo is at a fascinating crossroads. He is 34 years old and coming off arguably his worst season, with career lows in overall field goal percentage and 3-point shooting.
Now the player who has had a reputation for only caring about his money and his touches could be playing for a team that will be considered a championship contender. And for the veteran’s minimum.
Make no mistake, Melo will still get the $27.9 million the Oklahoma City Thunder owe him — if you’ve learned anything from his career, then you know he doesn’t leave money on the table — but Melo has never entered an NBA season with this many people writing him off. Forget about Hoodie Melo or Olympic Melo. We might meet Pissed Off Melo, should he go to Houston.
“I was more hurt because a lot of people just take the last six months,” he said. “That’s what you start to become. That becomes your story. For me, out of all the work I put in the NBA — wins, losses, points scored, whatever — to be judged off of six months of a year overshadowed 15 years of what you’ve accomplished. That’s the hurtful part.”
When the New York Knicks traded Anthony to Oklahoma City last September, there was a lot of intrigue about what Russell Westbrook, Anthony and Paul George (whom the Thunder acquired the summer before Melo’s arrival) could accomplish together.
But the universe had other plans.
Anthony’s stint with the Thunder was just short of disastrous. They were ousted by a feisty Utah Jazz team in the first round of the playoffs. And while Westbrook was peppered with his customary criticism, Melo was who everyone pointed to as the real problem.
Of course, Anthony strongly disputes that.
“At the end of the day, it wasn’t a good fit,” he said. “I think last year — and I haven’t talked about this before — everything was just so rushed, going to the team for media day and the day before training camp. Them guys already had something in place, and then I come along in the 25th hour like, ‘Oh, s—, Melo, just come on and join us. Like, you can figure it out since you’ve been around the game for a long time.’ That’s why it was so inconsistent. At times I had to figure it out on my own, rather than somebody over there or people over there helping me.”
Anthony is adamant that falling below expectations and the awkwardness of their union never created any issues among him, George and Westbrook.
“Honestly, it was never any tension,” Anthony said. “We did everything together. We sat down every single game and talked. Before games, we talked. Our relationship went deeper than anybody would ever know.”
One of the moments that stood out from the Thunder’s tumultuous season was Anthony laughing when he was asked if he’d ever consider coming off the bench. For some, that was just the latest evidence of Melo’s selfishness.
But Pissed Off Melo has a message for you.
“I know how to play this game of basketball,” he said. “I’ve been playing it for a long time. When I feel like I’m ready to take that role, then I’ll take that role. Only I know when it’s best for me to take that role. I’m not going to do that in a situation where I still know my capabilities and what I can do. And at the end of the day, the people who really matter know my capabilities and what I can still do. You start getting to the media and debates, it’s going to always be kind of back-and-forth.”
Opportunities to compete for championships in the NBA are rare, especially at this stage in Anthony’s career. He has been building quite the legacy off the court by establishing himself as an extraordinary and powerful voice for social justice issues.
But Anthony’s on-court legacy is not as easy to digest. He’s scored a lot of points in his career (25,417) and made a lot of money (nearly $230 million), but there is a certain losing stench that has followed him, and it became more pronounced in Oklahoma City. And while the Rockets are by no means a lock to win it all, should Anthony join the team, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be playing meaningful postseason minutes next season. As Anthony knows firsthand, sometimes a season is all you need to change opinions.
“I think winning … rewrites everything,” he said. “It settles everything. I also look back at this past year. When we were winning, the story was written already. When we started losing, the story is written. It’s almost premeditated. I’m playing ball. I’m happy. I’m excited about what’s to come, wherever that may be.”