Anthony's New York Knicks are set to face Paul's Los Angeles Clippers in L.A. on March 17. According to ESPNNewYork.com, the Knicks are preparing as if Melo will not be in the lineup after having fluid drained from his right knee on March 14.
New York was heading in the wrong direction before Anthony's knee stiffened up on him. The Knicks have been a .500 team over their last 40 games after jumping out to an 18-5 start.
The Clippers, on the other hand, are holding steady at 45-21, tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for the third seed in the superior Western Conference. CP3 is the main reason why.
Two years ago, the Clippers went 32-50 before acquiring Paul at the start of the 2011-12 season. They had made it to the playoffs once in the 14 seasons prior to his arrival.
The moment Paul stepped into the Clippers' locker room, L.A. was a completely different team. It went 40-26 in the lockout-shortened campaign and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. This year, the Celtics are boasting a .686 winning percentage.
Paul is a phenomenal basketball player. He controls the tempo of game, has quick hands, is a brilliant passer and is capable of creating his own shot from anywhere on the floor.
However, it is his determination and leadership skills that took the Clippers to a new level. Paul is a fierce competitor in the Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant mold and sets an example by playing each possession. He expects the same from his teammates and holds them accountable if they do not provide a similar effort.
Paul's optimism broke through the dark cloud hanging over the Clipper franchise. When he or his team struggles, his words and body language remain positive, encouraging his troops to turn things around.
Coaches can only provide so many inspirational speeches and tongue-lashings before the players tune them out. They need allies in the locker room to help deliver their message. When the best player on a team, like Paul, leads through his words and by example, the rest of the players follow.
Kevin Garnett is another example of a player who changed the culture of a franchise. KG was not the only new face in the Celtics locker room at the start the 2007-08 season. Boston also traded for Ray Allen in the summer of 2007.
However, it was Garnett's intensity that set the Celtics on course for a championship in 2008 after going 24-58 the prior year. He sublimated his offensive game for the betterment of the team and focused instead on making the Celtics an elite defensive unit.
Carmelo Anthony has made the Knicks a better team since arriving in New York over two years ago. Despite their recent struggles, the Knicks are in first place in the Atlantic Division and the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
Yet, Carmelo's influence has not gone beyond Xs and Os. He piles up points and often creates shots for his teammates, but he does not inspire them.
Melo has mastered the clichés. "I'm willing to do whatever it takes to win." "I believe we can win a championship." "I'm going to focus on areas of my game other than scoring."
He has shown flashes of being the leader the Knicks so desperately need. For example, his efforts early in the season were influential in creating a tough, defensive mindset for New York.
In the Knicks' first game, Melo did not apologize after inadvertently smacking his friend LeBron James in the face. A few nights later, he dove into the stands while attempting to save a ball against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Yet, Anthony has not consistently done everything in his power to mold the Knicks into a great team. The defensive intensity he exhibited early in the season disappeared. His teammates followed suit. He is not inclined, nor does he have standing given his own efforts, to hold other players accountable.
Anthony possesses a burning desire to win, though he does not utilize it as effectively as he could. When the Knicks are losing he becomes withdrawn, rather than trying to instill confidence in his teammates. He fights to bring the Knicks back by launching more shots, when he should be lifting the team up by sharing the basketball and forcing defensive stops.
Carmelo wants to be the man but is not willing to accept the responsibility and sacrifice that comes with it. He has appeared more comfortable, and at times played his best basketball, when he is just one of the guys—a role he appeared to assume on the 2008 and 2012 Gold Medal Olympic teams.
If there is a player on the Knicks who has changed the culture of the franchise, it is Tyson Chandler. He dismisses the accolades that come with scoring in favor of covering for teammates on defense and rebounding the ball. The Knicks center is also not afraid to get in another player's ear if necessary.
However, as valuable as Chandler's leadership is to the Knicks, it only goes so far if Anthony is not on board. Carmelo is the face of the franchise. He is the one other players look to. New York will not be a championship contender until Anthony takes ownership of this team and its direction.