There were cheers, loud cheers, for Carmelo Anthony during player introductions at Madison Square Garden for those keeping score of such things.
It wasn’t nearly as memorable as Pat Riley blowing kisses to the angry mob or as touching as Patrick Ewing having his name chanted during warm-ups, but it was a nice gesture nonetheless, especially the classy video tribute courtesy of the Knicks. This is one thing the club and its fans always get right.
Anthony got the positive ovation but not the positive result. In fact, Anthony was upstaged by Michael Beasley of all people as the Knicks, minus Kristaps Porzingis, defeated Oklahoma City 111-96.
The night after a triple overtime win in Philadelphia, Anthony failed to score in the second half and was booed when he was replaced for good with 1.4 seconds left. He is the enemy now, after all. A tired enemy at that.
Anthony finished with 12 points on 5-for-18 shooting and was shut out the last 28 minutes. Beasley, the self-described “Carmelo on the left side of the floor,” scored 30.
Those final second jeers for Anthony are the fallout from the suddenly surging Knicks failing to reach the playoffs the last four seasons even though Anthony’s knee injury and Phil Jackson creating a dysfunctional working environment didn’t help matters.
Still, Anthony did lead the franchise to their lone playoff series victory over the last 17 years. That same season, 2012-13, Anthony also finished third in the MVP voting. Once upon a time, Melo was on that level.
But not anymore.
If Dwyane Wade, a three-time NBA champion and certain Hall of Fame guard, can accept a bench role so can Carmelo Anthony.
(Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
The day has arrived for Anthony to recognize his physical limitations, realize that his on-court partnership with Russell Westbrook and Paul George isn’t working and that he would best serve the Oklahoma City Thunder and his own career by moving to the bench.
If Anthony and OKC were smart, Saturday would mark the last time Anthony is introduced with the Thunder starting lineup for the foreseeable future. If Dwyane Wade can accept that role in Cleveland, Anthony can graciously do the same in Oklahoma City.
Carmelo, 33, is perfect as a sixth man because moving him out of the starting five would give the Thunder a proven scorer off their thin bench and make things less complicated for Westbrook, last year’s MVP. Twenty-four hours after Westbrook, Anthony and George played 52, 47 and 45 minutes respectively, Billy Donovan needed his bench to provide a spark, especially with Steven Adams sidelined with a concussion.
The Thunder reserves scored 34 points, but it wasn’t enough to keep pace with the Knicks. Also, Anthony’s legs were shot on the third game in four nights. Beasley, Courtney Lee, Doug McDermott and even Ron Baker were more effective than Anthony. This could have been a lot worse had Porzingis not been sidelined with a knee injury.
Anthony’s former team is 16-13 while the Thunder fell to 14-15 with a lineup featuring three All Stars who all need the ball to be effective. Thunder GM Sam Presti would trade Anthony for Enes Kanter and McDermott today if he could.
“When I watch OKC play their offense is ‘I’ll go, you go then you go,’” said one NBA scout. “They’re still figuring it out. But Carmelo coming off the bench makes sense. Billy doesn’t have many options off the bench as it is.”
Another scout who has watched the Thunder extensively believes that their early season struggles can be traced to George’s inconsistent performances, not necessarily Anthony.
(Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
“Carmelo is what he is at this point in his career,” the scout said. “Paul George is a superstar who isn’t playing like one. There are ways to manage the minutes for all of them. One way is to put Melo on the bench.”
The topic of moving Carmelo to the bench has been broached before, but when Anthony is asked about the possibility he usually laughs or looks at the reporter as if to say “you must be crazy. That will never happen.”
That’s why you wait until after Melo’s big night at Madison Square Garden to make the move. This won’t be an easy conversation for Donovan, but if Anthony is all about winning and extending his career he will understand the benefits of moving to the bench — after he gets over the initial blow to his ego.
Embracing a back-up role doesn’t mean Anthony won’t be on the floor in the fourth quarter. It doesn’t mean he won’t get his shots. It just gives OKC better balance.
In fact, Anthony wouldn’t even be the first member of the famed banana boat crew to accept his NBA mortality and slide into a role that is beneficial for the team and the player. Wade has thrived coming off the bench for the Cavs this season. It keeps his minutes at a reasonable number and still allows him to play with LeBron James at crucial moments.
If Wade, a three-time NBA champion and certain Hall of Fame guard, can accept the role, so can Anthony.