In doing so, he's given his New York Knicks their highest playoff hopes in more than a decade.
But as he gets ready to lead his team to battle on March 13 with another potential playoff powerhouse (Anthony's former team, the Denver Nuggets), it's remarkable to consider just how far the player that intertwined the fates of these franchises has come over the last three seasons.
A Promising Start
Anthony parlayed his lone season of collegiate hoops—a masterful showing culminating in an NCAA championship for his Syracuse Orange—into becoming the third pick of the 2003 NBA draft, landing with the Denver Nuggets.
He wasted little time making his presence felt, earning All-Rookie First Team honors behind his 21 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. He helped transform a 17-65 Nuggets team to a 43-win playoff club that year.
From there, he went on to guide the Nuggets to six more postseason appearances in his next six full years with the franchise. Although five of those postseason runs ended in the first round, one of them (2009) saw Anthony and newcomer Chauncey Billups will the team to a Western Conference Finals appearance.
The Beginning of the End
Even with Denver's relative success and Anthony's unquestionable "alpha-dog" status, things started unraveling over the summer of 2010.
Sources began grumbling over the star's desire to continue his career elsewhere, even when faced with an offer of a three-year, $65 million contract extension (via ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher).
Anthony's July wedding in Manhattan proved to be an unlikely setting to get the rumor mill working. But toasts from Chris Paul, Amar'e Stoudemire and Anthony's brother, Robert, were centered around the rising star trading the serenity of the Rocky Mountains for the bright lights of the Big Apple.
With a slew of potential free agents littering the Nuggets' roster and head coach George Karl's second bout with cancer in mind (via Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports), Anthony opted to keep his signature off the dotted line of Denver's contract offer.
The next four months saw a frenetic media charge around the Nuggets, with a rush to pen the next will-they-or-won't-they story in the increasingly uncomfortable "Melodrama."
A Midseason Change of Address
Despite Karl's best efforts, the Nuggets began to sputter near the 2011 trade deadline. With trade talks reaching a fever pitch, Denver stumbled to a 3-7 stretch over the final days of January and the first few weeks of February.
Anthony had long made his preference of a big market known, holding nothing back in his lavish praise of the country's biggest one: New York City. With that contract extension still unsigned, teams hesitated to throw major assets at the Nuggets without any future guarantees from the soon-to-be free agent.
If first-year Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri was still wet behind the ears, he somehow managed to keep his side of the negotiation table moisture-free. Despite having been backed into a Knicks-or-nowhere corner by Anthony, Ujiri was destined to get as close as he could to equal value in return for his All-Star.
When the Knicks balked at including key players in any potential trade, Ujiri started shopping elsewhere. He reportedly worked out an offer from the then-New Jersey Nets that would have landed the Nuggets rookie Derrick Favors, three other players and a mind-boggling four first-round draft picks (via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports).
Feeling his prized piece slipping from his grasp, Knicks owner James Dolan personally reached out to Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke for a more hands-on approach in the negotiations (via Frank Isola of the New York Daily News).
Dolan's involvement in the trade talks took on new life when the Knicks suddenly upped their ante after reportedly presenting the Nuggets with their final offer in the closing days of the trade season.
On Feb. 22, 2011, Anthony was finally traded to the Knicks as part of a blockbuster three-team, 13-player deal that dropped five players and three draft picks in Denver (via Ken Berger of CBSSports.com).
Things Aren't Always Greener
Despite trading away three of their starting five, the Knicks' trade heist was met with overwhelming praise. Of the five ESPN writers assigned to Anthony-trade reaction pieces that day (Michael Wilbon, Ian O'Connor, Stephen A. Smith, Chris Sheridan and J.A. Adande), only Adande favored the Nuggets' side of the exchange.
When New York won just seven of its next 19 games after the massive roster shakeup, the media started playing the blame game. Then-Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni took his share of criticism, but it was also team president Donnie Walsh's responsibility to stop the bleeding and fill the vacancies that tend to deflate a club after trading away so many valuable components (via CBS New York).
Anthony managed to largely avoid the scrutiny, but couldn't avoid another first-round playoff exit—this one a four-game sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics that saw Stoudemire sidelined with back problems.
The next season wouldn't be nearly as forgiving to Anthony's reputation.
Criticisms Rain Down
Perhaps taking a page from the New York Yankees' book, the Knicks opened the vault in an attempt to guarantee success for the 2011-12 season. They added veteran center Tyson Chandler (who was fresh off a championship run with the Dallas Mavericks), hoping to land the defensive complement to their potent offense.
When the league broke a prolonged lockout with a frenetic, condensed, 66-game season, the Knicks didn't appear to get the memo. New York dropped four of its first six games and held just an 8-15 record on Feb. 3, 2012. Anthony and Stoudemire failed to find any chemistry.
When Anthony was sidelined with a groin injury and the unlikeliest of heroes (current Houston Rockets guard Jeremy Lin) pushed the club back into relevance, a disaster seemed to be averted.
But when the Knicks' success disappeared after Anthony's return, New York's biggest star found himself under the microscope. Unable to successfully blend the talents of Lin, Anthony and Stoudemire together, D'Antoni abruptly resigned in March (via ESPN.com).
But a "deteriorating" Anthony-D'Antoni relationship (via Marc Berman of the New York Post) led many to speculate that Anthony was the key factor in D'Antoni's decision (via Frank Isola of the New York Daily News).
The heavy ball demands of both Lin and Anthony (along with yet another postseason injury to Stoudemire, this one self-inflicted according to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports) proved impossible for interim coach Mike Woodson to navigate. While Woodson inspired an 18-6 regular-season mark to secure a playoff berth, he couldn't muster more than one win in a first-round playoff series with the eventual champions, the Miami Heat.
A Season of Redemption
For as poor as the first season-plus of Anthony's Knicks career was, the 2012-13 season has been impressive—both in terms of team success and Anthony's resurgent reputation.
With Lin out of the equation and Stoudemire sidelined for the majority of the first half of the season, Anthony was finally the unquestioned focal point of New York's offensive attack. Not surprisingly, he has thrived in that role, posting a blistering 27.9 points per game through the team's first 51 games.
But the career 24.9-points scorer wasn't going to redefine his career on the offensive end. Frankly, he didn't need to. Whether inspired by the no-nonsense approach of Woodson, or the collection of defensive-minded veterans like Chandler and Jason Kidd, Anthony finally extended the same level of intensity to both ends of the floor.
The result has been nothing short of masterful: a 38-23 record for the Knicks (second in the Eastern Conference), a career-best 22.9 player efficiency rating (via Basketball-Reference.com) and Anthony's name a mainstay in MVP discussions.
What this means for Anthony's lasting legacy will likely come down to his ability to guide the Knicks to the kind of postseason success that has largely eluded the team and its biggest star in recent seasons.
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