After now having watched four of the other Top Five picks of the 2003 NBA draft claim championship rings, Anthony finds himself where he has never been before—alone.
There is no ring-less LeBron James to fall back on, no docket of no-name athletes to hide behind; Anthony is on the team he pined for, alongside a well-known supporting cast and free of an offensive system that proved poisonous to his production.
So, now what?
Reality begins to sink in.
Since joining the Knicks, Anthony has had a glorified target on his back. Under his watch, New York has failed to establish itself as a legitimate title contender, instead experiencing a series of ups and downs one would expect from a lottery-bound team.
And he knows it.
Prior to his latest postseason failure, 'Melo himself acknowledged to ESPN's Stephen A. Smith on many occasions that "it's fair" to question if he is ready to rise to the occasion.
And you know what? Anthony is correct, it is "fair" to question his validity as a superstar, to doubt his ability to lead a championship cause. It's more than fair, in fact.
Because after eight first-round postseason exits in nine tries, there's nowhere left for the star forward to seek refuge.
Up until now, Anthony has been sheltered by circumstantial actualities. In Denver, not only was he in a smaller, more hospitable market, but he was The Man, the star who led the team to seven straight playoff appearances after they suffered through a decade's worth of playoff-less basketball.
Then he came to New York, where the lights were brighter, the stage was bigger and the basketball pundits were ruthless. But even then, Anthony was able to avoid the full-fledged wrath of his environment.
At first, he had less than half a season to become acclimated to a new system and slew of new faces. Next, there was a lockout that prevented a much-needed training camp. And last, but certainly not least, there wasn't a single piece of hardware on any one of LeBron's 10 fingers.
Now, though, Anthony is operating without a safety net. He has an entire training camp to mesh with Amar'e Stoudemire and company and is now operating outside the confines of a movement-heavy, Mike D'Antoni offense.
Oh, and that guy LeBron? He's officially been fitted for his first championship ring.
Which leaves Anthony on his own, and the ramifications of such a state have already begun to take effect.
Once considered a borderline top-10 athlete, Anthony plummeted fives spots to No. 17 in ESPN's 2012 NBA Player Rankings. Now, there is plenty to gripe about there, valid arguments—many of which Bleacher Report's own Stephen Babb addresses—that imply Anthony deserves to be ranked higher.
But does he? Does he deserve to be in the top 15 or even top 10? Perhaps he does, but it's a legitimate question nonetheless. After all, Anthony has never finished the regular season with a top-10 PER, he has no MVP awards to his name, no All-NBA-first-team honors to his credit and no championship rings on his fingers. Hell, he's never even seen the light of the Finals.
The absences of such accomplishments count for something. And when you're making a case for yourself as a superstar, as a fixture amongst the Association's elite, they mean everything.
Subsequently, the next stage of Anthony's career begins now, or rather, it began as soon as LeBron hoisted the Larry O'Brien Trophy into the air. The burden on his shoulders has never been heavier, the need to prove himself has never been greater and the lack of measurable success has never meant more.
Let's not kid ourselves and pretend Dwight Howard is under as much pressure. Despite his childish antics, we all know what he meant to the Magic's dynamic, and it doesn't hurt that he came within reach of a championship himself.
And let's not attempt to overplay the absences of championship notches under other stars' belts. Steve Nash is an MVP fixture, Kevin Love is just starting out and Kevin Durant has come closer in five years than Anthony has in nine.
No, the hottest seat in the NBA right now belongs to 'Melo. Because as appeasing as it may be to hear Anthony say all the right things, even he himself admits that, right now, it's just "talk."
And this is no longer the time for talking. James' championship attainment was 'Melo's final call to action, the last alert in a long line of wake-up calls.
Because to be considered a true superstar, one much distinguish himself from the rest of the league through results, tangible achievements and undeniable success.
Which, somewhat ironically, is something Anthony can take solace in. He wouldn't be universally criticized if he didn't have what it takes to put such criticism, such doubters to bed; we've witnessed his ceiling for efficiency, his seldom displayed court vision and his rarely prevalent defensive prowess.
Simply put, we've come to expect more from Anthony because we know he can do better.
But, thus far, 'Melo has only managed to separate himself from the pack not because of what he's done, but because of what he hasn't.
And until he reverses this reality—or we give up on his ability to—more so than any other star in the league, Anthony will remain a victim, a captive of his own potential.
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