Championships change everything in the NBA.
Villains become heroes. Dark horses become favorites. Unknowns become notorious. And Carmelo Anthonys become, well, the opposite of Carmelo Anthony.
Titles have eluded 'Melo like rebounds do Andrea Bargnani. Making the playoffs 10 years running has been impressive; failing to get out of the first round more than twice has not.
Because he's looped into the same class as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, 'Melo is lampooned for the absence of a ring. He fled the Denver Nuggets, not unlike the way LeBron did the Cleveland Cavaliers, willing his way to the New York Knicks in search of something better. In hopes of a winning championships.
Unlike LeBron, he hasn't procured that title. What he has found in New York is more of the same—skeptics and a supporting cast that hasn't been quite good enough.
This coming year, 'Melo thinks the Knicks are good enough. Or, at the very least, better than they were last year.
"I actually see this team be better than last year’s team," he said at the Bloomberg Sports Summit in New York, as quoted by the New York Post's Marc Berman. "I won’t get into all the details [why]. But we feel that. We feel we have improved as a unit.”
Have they improved enough to win a title?
Anthony's image sure hopes so.
More of a Winner, Less of a Failure
You don't have to be a winner in the NBA to be considered a winner.
Steve Nash and Chris Paul have evaded the criticism Anthony faces on a season-by-season basis, and neither one of them has a ring. Gobs of various factors are at play there, none more important than the fact that Nash has better hair and Paul better commercials than 'Melo does.
In fact, name me one top-20 superstar that receives as much flak as Anthony does. Not attention, but disparagement. Those who have won championships are rightfully immune to such tongue-lashing. They have rings to prove their worth.
Players like Paul, Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard, among others, don't. Yet they're still given more of a pass because time is on their side (Durant), their postseason stats are insane (Paul) or they've been to the NBA Finals (Howard, Durant).
Postseason failures put a bullseye on 'Melo's back. Justified or not, it's gotten difficult to defend now.
Look at how 'Melo's number of postseason berths versus postseason games played stack up against the NBA's current top-10 dignitaries since he entered the league. Rankings were gleaned from Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal, and his most recent superstar big board:
Despite tying Tony Parker for the most playoff appearances over the past decade (10), 'Melo ranks just fourth in games played.
At first glance, that's not terrible. It's not great, but certainly nothing worth Iman Shumpert dismantling his flat top over.
But look how the average length of his postseason excursions compare to everyone else:
'Melo has the most playoff berths of anyone other than Parker yet finishes dead last. Premature playoff eliminations have fueled his persona's demise. It's not that he hasn't won a ring; it's that he's barely won anything in the playoffs at all.
The only way for 'Melo to escape the stigma that's dogged him since before he came to New York now is to snag a ring. Bringing the Knicks a title will inject new life into his career. Suddenly he's not perceived as a loser—he's a winner.
Something he hasn't been considered since college.
What Team Cancer?
There are times when 'Melo is viewed as a cancer, whether it's subtle hints or point-blank castigation.
Never mind that the Nuggets haven't made it out of the first round since 'Melo left; they posted the third-highest winning percentage in franchise history last season (69.5) without him.
Fans booed him upon his return, and cheered as he limped off the court in a blaze of self-inflicted humiliation. And it was more than harbored resentment. It was a slap in the face. A reminder that after he left, they were better off.
Pleas aimed at getting the Knicks to trade 'Melo haven't seized control of their Internet. Prominent hit columns aren't written on a daily basis. But everything about him has been questioned. His defense, his efficiency, his leadership—everything. Almost as if he's Stephon Marbury.
To separate himself from such persecution, 'Melo has one option: win a championship.
Carrying the Knicks past the first round again won't be enough. Reaching the Eastern Conference Finals won't be enough either. Unconditional support of 'Melo's skill set and ability to make his team better won't exist unless he gets that ring.
Win, and the notion of him as a team cancer or general impediment is history. Lose, and it lives on.
Much like the noticeable void on each one of Anthony's fingers.
Be Like LeBron
To be clear, Anthony isn't LeBron. He never will be. It doesn't matter what he does or how much he wins—he will never be LeBron.
Winning a championship allows him to experience a similar turnaround, though. The Chosen One was vilified for the way he left Cleveland. In the span of one nationally televised decision, he went from a highly touted superstar to a corrupt villain.
Make no mistake, he was still a star. The best player in the NBA, actually. Upon spurning the Cavaliers, however, his future was no longer subjective. Rings became everything. Not a means to advance his legacy. Not a way to strengthen the argument for him as the greatest player of all time. They meant everything.
How can Carmelo Anthony turn himself into a winner?
LeBron left Cleveland to win championships, so he had to win those championships. And Anthony left Denver to take home a title, so if anything is to change, he must take home a title.
Securing a championship automatically erases any previous damage. The way in which he left Denver won't be forgotten, but it will be forgiven. Jokes about his efficiency and defense will be cracked, but they'll lose most of their context.
Anthony will instead be lauded as New York's savior. The player who ended four decades worth of mediocrity for the Knicks. Someone who is better than what he's currently made out to be. Something he's never been at the NBA level.