DAR Sports: The Legacy of Carmelo Anthony

By @TrueGodImmortal

When you think of the greatest players of this era, you tend to think names like Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade, Kawhi Leonard (to some), and a few others. Those names have something in common. A majority of them have a NBA Championship or a NBA Finals appearance under their belt. One of the best players In the game that has never seen a NBA Finals or a championship is Carmelo Anthony. While Melo at one point in his career was looked at as one of the best players in the game, and he still could very well on a list of the best today, his window to reach a NBA Finals or gain a championship is closing. Very fast. Entering his 14th season in the NBA, Melo has a fighting chance at having a competitive playoff team, as long as the injury bug doesn't strike. While a Finals appearance seems unlikely, it's entirely possible in a few scenarios. Currently, Carmelo is leading the US Men's Basketball team in the Rio Olympics, as he's the biggest veteran and most experienced star on the team. While Melo takes flack for a number of reasons, as of this writing, the US team has gone 5-0, though their last three games have been a bit too close for comfort. Melo is going for his 3rd Gold Medal and he is now the highest Olympic scorer of all time for the US Men's team.

However, what does this do for the legacy of Carmelo in the long run? When we talk about Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, and all of the greatest players of all time, do we really talk about their Gold Medal and Olympic victories? The most we hear about with Jordan is his run on the Dream Team. That's mostly it, but with Melo, his greatest achievement seems to come from that. The Olympics. Gold Medals are still markers of success, but in this sport, you're measured by a number of things, none of which are Olympic medals. If you win a scoring title, which Melo has, that's a great accomplishment. It shows your ability to be a dominant player offensively and how you can be a leader on the floor in some ways. There's the conversation that if you win a MVP award, you've solidified yourself as a great in the grand scheme of things. Melo doesn't have a MVP award, though I'd assume he was at least in consideration for this award during what I think is his best season of 2009, when he led the Denver Nuggets to the 2nd seed in the West. Outside of that, Melo was never truly seen as a big time MVP candidate during his Nuggets days over a Lebron or even Kobe during that time period. One could argue that he deserved a 2nd or 3rd place MVP vote during the 2012-2013 season when he led the Knicks to the 2nd seed in the East with some lackluster pieces around him. While there's a case for him there, Melo in the playoffs is nothing to rave about. Having only reached one NBA Conference Finals, he's struggled for a number of years to make it out of the first round and now it's a hassle for him to even get to the playoffs.

Is that about to change? Is the addition of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee, and some other formidable players enough to motivate the leader within Melo to lead this team to a promised land? Or is it too little, too late? Well, to be fair, one has to look back at Carmelo and the rest of his career, from high school and on to truly see what type of year he could be about to experience. In basketball, it's almost a foregone conclusion USUALLY who the main two teams will be on the season. The last 2 seasons have been clearly the Warriors and Cavaliers with a little bit of a challenge from the Spurs, Thunder, and if you want to include them as a threat, the Raptors. With the Pacers looking good, the Celtics gaining more good players, the Bulls possibly having a form of a big 3 (if you count Rondo in that), the East seems to be a bit more competitive than in the last few years. Who knows if Melo can lead this new Knicks team to the Finals, let alone to the playoffs? Well, let's look at the track record of the man who is currently the all time leading scorer in Olympic basketball play for the US.

Melo was a force in the high school days. From my hometown of West Baltimore as well, Melo saw some of the same trappings and dead ends that I witnessed. His gift out was his basketball skills. He had went to Towson Catholic and dazzled the world, earning huge honors such as being named Baltimore County Player of the Year, Baltimore Catholic League Player of the Year, and more. After an amazing showcase in his senior year at the school he transferred to, Oak Hill Academy, Melo began to garner much more attention as time went by and he showcased his skills in other exhibitions. Melo was a dominant scorer and touted by some big colleges, but decided early on to go to Syracuse. After that decision, it was basically off to the races for Melo and he didn't look back. See, what might have affected Melo is the lack of playing time in college to continue honing his game and learning how to win through the Syracuse system. Now, we all know in his freshman year that Melo achieved the greatest honor of his career so far, but maybe he needed one more or two more years in the Syracuse system to really make his game more well-rounded.

At Syracuse, Melo had an amazing first year. His scoring, rebounding, and just ability to control the tone of the game was something special to observe and watch, and he would win the honor of Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA tournament after leading Syracuse over Kansas. He set himself up to go into the NBA Draft and seemed like a surefire top 3 pick in the draft. He was looked at as the best college basketball player at the time in just his freshman year and with that title being bestowed on him, he was selected 3rd by the Denver Nuggets in the draft. His run in Denver was something special, despite no Finals appearances and only one Conference Finals appearance. He won some division titles with the Nuggets, had some amazing seasons statistically, and his rookie season is still one of my personal favorites.

In his rookie year, I think we expected Lebron to be the front runner to win Rookie of The Year, but Carmelo was in the running for sure, and to be completely honest, it could have gone either way. Carmelo was the rookie of the month for the Western Conference every month of his rookie season, a rare feat that we don't see regularly. Though Carmelo didn't win, his strong showing got him into the 2nd place spot for rookie of the year that season. His Denver years saw him turn around a Nuggets team that went 17-65 just the year prior before he was drafted. He made the Nuggets into a an actual threat and viable team in the playoffs, despite not being able to lead them to the promised land, so to speak. It was when he got traded to the Knicks however that you felt you saw a side of Melo as a leader that he didn't exhibit to the fullest in Denver.

While I feel his best years were personally in Denver, Melo seemed to become slightly more well rounded as a player and made more happen with less pieces in his time as a Knick, at least in the beginning. His first full season saw Jeremy Lin emerge as the star for the Knicks after some amazing performances. Melo wasn't necessarily taking a backseat, but it was just that Lin had stolen the hearts of the Knicks fans with his surprise performances and consistent play. Melo would once again run into his dreaded first round demon again, after exorcising it in 2009. The Knicks were a playoff team, but couldn't make it out the first round, similar to the Nuggets who had Melo as their leader and star player also prior. So what does that say about Melo? After showcasing that he could score, that he could be the team leader during the regular season and lead his teams to the playoffs, he just wasn't able to lead them to a playoff series victory. The old problems continued with a new team. The Knicks had some injuries and that might have hurt their chances as well, but the facts remain.

However, in 2012-2013, everything seemingly changed. Melo was renewed and seemed hungrier than ever. Despite some struggles, Melo was leading the Knicks and allowed them to reach the playoffs as expected, but this was the season that Melo asserted himself by winning the Scoring Title. After being named an All Star multiple times, Melo would finally have some semblance of a solo accolade to claim as his own. This season would be seen as his overall best, and leading the Knicks to the playoffs, he attempted to get the Knicks their first playoff series win in years and get out the first round again. He accomplished that feat over the Celtics and the Knicks made it to the Eastern Conference Semifinals and put up a good fight against the Pacers before losing in a 6 game series. Melo just couldn't do it. He didn't have much of a great team around him in all honesty, and it showed very much so in the following season. Melo played great on the offensive side, but his defense showed signs of lacking and the rest of the team didn't really show up. It fell on Melo and he couldn't hold the team up and he would miss the playoffs for the first time in his career, causing his leadership and overall abilities into question. It was on that season fallout that Melo flirted with the idea of joining another team, and the Bulls seemed to be the biggest option for him going forward, a move that would have certainly seem him go to the playoffs again and possibly contend for a championship.

With a growing Jimmy Butler and more healthy than usual Derrick Rose, the Bulls gave the Cavs a heavy challenge in the 2015 playoffs and took a 2-1 lead against them before falling in 6. One would argue that with Melo on the team, perhaps the Bulls would have went straight to the Finals since the competition was pretty thin (if Melo stayed healthy) However, Melo foolishly (in some eyes) picked money over championship contention and re-signed with the Knicks for 5 years for a whopping 130 million dollars. His first season on the new contract would see Melo battle with injury and was ruled out for the rest of the season. He was still voted as an All Star that season, but he would go to get surgery and not be back until the season that just finished. This season saw Melo yet again being an offensive juggernaut, but that didn't matter because the Knicks missed the playoffs yet again. In half of the seasons he'd been with the Knicks, Melo missed the playoffs, something that never happened in Denver. Perhaps coming to NY was a bad idea? Or maybe Melo was no longer in his prime and he couldn't lead the team to the promised land now. First, in Denver, the criticism was that he couldn't win the big one. Now he was having trouble even getting to the playoffs. So, as this season approaches, with a whole new roster almost, does this mean Melo and the Knicks return to playoff glory and set their sights on finally overcoming that hump?

Yes and no. I have heard the criticism for Melo playing in the Rio Olympics, but I respect it. As the veteran of the team, it's the role he needs to truly adapt to in order to lead the Knicks the right way. The Knicks are Melo's team regardless. In order for him to truly get to where he needs to be, maybe that extra experience in the Olympics is it. Though the USA has lost the dominance it started with, they're still winning and pulling out victories and that's the toughness and attitude that Melo and the Knicks need going into this upcoming season. Win by any means and any cost. If they can employ that, then they might be onto something and if they all play consistent, then they are certainly a playoff team (a lower seed). However, where does this leave Melo and his legacy?

He has no Finals appearances, and while some of our favorite players to watch didn't either, it is a mark on his legacy. He is on the path to winning a third gold medal, which is a feat that no other player has accomplished, but that's not enough to make up for the lack of a MVP award and championship. As much as it seems like Melo has accomplished very little, he's actually accomplished a lot, but he's missed out considerably. So if he doesn't gain a championship, what is his legacy to be overall? He's a scoring machine, an offensive beast, but perhaps he's not a leader. Perhaps he isn't a top tier leader that can get to the NBA Finals and win a title. Guess like Iverson, Malone, Barkley, and more never won a title, but they at least made the Finals once or multiple times. Melo has done neither. He says himself if he looked back on his career and he never won a championship that he would still be satisfied, but if he is to leave a long lasting mark on the game, a Finals appearance is necessary. A championship should be his goal. Will the Knicks get there before the end of Melo's career in a couple of seasons? Doubtful, but if Melo steps up and becomes the leader he has the ability to be, we could be looking at a Cavs vs Knicks Conference Finals and a possible shot at immortality for Melo. When it's all said and done, the legacy of Melo is within his hands. Is it too late? Only time will tell.



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