The Houston Rockets are in a unique position this season.
With stories circulating that Carmelo Anthony’s time with the Houston Rockets will “soon be ending”, and few – if any – teams in need of his services, it’s an appropriate time to look back on the career and legacy of the man they call ‘Melo’.
When the idea for a story pops into your head, you usually have a pretty sold grasp of the general theme, and then set about writing the actual narrative.
The original idea for this particular story was centred on Melo’s legacy and how complicated it was.
Yet as I spent more time pondering the topic, it became clear that perhaps the opposite was true: Melo’s legacy isn’t complicated at all.
Melo will be remembered as someone who loved getting buckets. An elite-level scorer, who could have got more out of his career, but was relatively content with points and dollar bills.
That’s it. That’s his legacy.
Many will disagree, some vehemently. However, anything other than the above pithy statement will be a fairly difficult case to construct.
That’s not to say Melo’s career was a failure. Far from it.
He will undoubtedly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He was named an All Star 12 times. He’ll finish with over 25k career NBA points, currently good enough for 19th all time. He won a National College Championship with Syracuse, took home three Olympic gold medals, and is the United States’ all-time leading scorer. His highlights packages – showing his incredible skill on the offensive end – will remain impressive in perpetuity.
That’s just a small sample of his many accomplishments.
No matter what the future holds – and signing with another team to see out the twilight of his career is still on the cards – Melo will finish with an illustrious and distinguished basketball resume.
By now, I’m sure you’re fully aware a ‘but’ is coming, so here it is…
But, one also can’t shake the feeling that Melo somewhat underachieved, or could have done more.
At the top of that list is looking after himself a bit better. In an era where many athletes spend millions ensuring their greatest asset for employment – their bodies – are looked after to ensure their careers are maximised and lengthened, Melo was never really a member of that crowd.
Bizarrely, for a man routinely described as ‘strong, tall and athletic’, it was rare anyone proclaimed Melo to be in great shape. It may sound unfair, but he always seemed to be carrying a few extra pounds. That has an accumulative effect over the course of your career, and once you turn 30, the impact really starts to be felt.
As does ‘enjoying’ life.
Melo relished playing in New York, but let’s just say he relished living in New York as well. He wouldn’t be the first person to be intoxicated by the Big Apple’s bright lights, constant energy, and the fact it’s the City that Never Sleeps (you can add me to the list of those guilty as charged of that offence).
Great restaurants, great bars, great parties – New York is an amazing city where enjoying a good time occurs seamlessly. Which is great fun, but perhaps not always entirely conducive to being an elite athlete.
Additionally, like general fitness, it can really start to be a factor at the end of your career; which can occur quite suddenly when you haven’t looked after yourself. Exhibit A: Allen Iverson.
It wasn’t just Melo’s fitness which saw his dedication to winning questioned either.
He forced a trade from Denver to New York in 2011, which saw him land in his preferred location, but at the expense of the Knicks ‘ceiling’, as they had to gut their team of talent and assets. If he had simply signed as a free agent with New York a few months later, the team would have been in a much better position to challenge for a championship.
He also re-signed with New York for a max contract, despite being wooed by the Chicago Bulls, whom at the time were much closer to reaching the NBA Finals. Quite simply, Melo chose money over winning. In fact, he has pocketed over $232 million in his career.
To be clear, there is no judgement from me for that. All power to any individual, in any field, getting paid as much as they possibly can. Yet if we’re talking about Melo’s basketball career, rather than earnings, it’s only fair to mention his free agency choices, because they do shape his legacy.
On the court, Melo often seemed to belong to a different era; one where offensively-talented small forwards roamed the league, scoring at will. Along with giving points up at will. Dominique Wilkins, Mark Aguirre, Bernard King, Alex English, and other gunners from the ’80s actually feel like they would be more natural contemporaries for Melo.
Which is actually frustrating, because he was better than just a one-dimensional scorer.
While playing for the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals against the Lakers in 2009, young Melo showed an impressive dedication to defense; hustling through screens, battling for position down low, and actually trying. Sadly, it was an aberration, not the standard.
Likewise, a memorable monster playoff triple-double against the Celtics while he was a Knick highlighted his all-round game, which could hurt you in a number of ways.
But all too often, he reverted to a ball-stopping, jab-stabbing, isolation scorer from mid-range, while his teammates watched.
It’s no coincidence that arguably Melo’s best season was 2012-13, when he even stole an MVP vote off LeBron James, preventing him from being the unanimous winner. That still irks me, but I digress.
That season, Melo was surrounded by players – including Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler – that were not scorers, and therefore he was required to put the ball in the hoop. That was always when he was happiest, and he responded by leading the league in scoring, and getting the Knicks to the second round of the playoffs.
Another team for which he played extremely well for was the United States. ‘Olympic Melo’ was simply asked to shoot and little else, and he excelled at it. There was hope that he could continue in that type of role as his career wound down.
However, in both Oklahoma City and Houston, Melo has been unable to transition into a reliable, short-burst scorer that many – himself included – actually thought he might be over-qualified for.
He simply hasn’t been efficient enough shooting the ball to offset his porous defense; which as he has aged, has become even worse than the ‘bad’ he was throughout his career. Melo struggles to defend on the perimeter against players with even average speed or handles now, and with few traditional power forwards in the game, he can’t even use his strength to defend down low, because few players post-up anymore.
Which has all contributed to a swift end to his Rockets career – just ten games – and questions on whether another team will even take a chance on him, now that his stints with the Knicks, Thunder, Hawks (trivia question alert!) and Rockets have all ended somewhat ugly.
It could very well be an inglorious end to a great career, and sadly the overall legacy of Carmelo Anthony will ultimately be a little disappointing.