He's earned a sizable measure of criticism for his postseason failures, but there have always been excuses to defend 'Melo's underachievement.
Early in his career, we said "he's still young." When he joined the Knicks, we said "he's still trying to jell with this team." Later on, we questioned his coach (most notably Mike D'Antoni) and supporting cast.
In 2013-14, there's no more room for an early exit or excuses.
Anthony has shrugged off the pressure throughout the years, but there's no way for him to deflect the blame if New York falls short this season, the last guaranteed year of his current contract. It's time to bring glory back to the Knickerbockers franchise, and he knows it.
The 2012-13 NBA scoring champion has long been an elite performer, serving as an extraordinary offensive weapon and participating on a half-dozen All-Star teams and multiple Olympic gold medal squads.
However, he's only made a deep playoff run once in his 10-year career, while many of his contemporaries have led championship conquests or at least reached the Finals.
A quick look at Anthony's New York playoff history reveals his considerable room for improvement during the postseason.
- He is 7-14 in three playoff runs with the Knicks.
- In nine of the 14 losses, he shot worse than 39 percent from the field.
- In each of his 30-plus point games, he took at least 24 attempts from the field.
- New York scored more than 95 points in just three of the 21 games.
'Melo supporters could point to the fact that Anthony had sub-standard helpers most of the time, but in 2013-14 that won't be a viable apology.
New York has gone "all-in" on its roster construction, retaining its core from the past couple seasons while adding former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani and two-time NBA champ Metta World Peace. The payroll is in excess of $86 million, and it includes All-Star post players Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire, along with budding star Iman Shumpert and proven veterans J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton.
With a healthy Stoudemire operating in the post and shooters such as Bargnani and Smith at the ready, team production should no longer be a major concern.
The Knicks have given 'Melo a fine automobile, and they're counting on him to drive it. Only he can take it into that extra gear and steer it toward the top of the East.
During his final months with the Denver Nuggets, Anthony made clear his strong desire to play in New York. He coveted the major-market scene in order to build his brand, and he wanted a better avenue to a championship.
'Melo knew the pressure and responsibility attached to playing under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, so he realizes that he must deliver. It's not 2011 anymore. The honeymoon is over, and his immediate task is to show New York he can do more than beat a beleaguered Boston Celtics club in the first round.
But challenges like this are occasions for great players to step up and be the man. 'Melo has a chance to improve his legacy by taking the Knicks where they haven't been since the early 1990s.
Even if it results in a Finals loss or conference finals defeat at the hands of the Heat, Anthony will earn a whole new level of respect if he can bring New York to the conference finals and give LeBron James a scare.
In order to take that next step, he must execute a more economical scoring effort. He can't afford to score 35 points via 27 shots. 'Melo needs to strike the balance between carrying the team as a scorer and trusting his high-caliber teammates by being a passer—the balance between being the hero and not trying too hard to be the hero.
The Knicks could finish the regular season anywhere between No. 5 and No. 2 in the East, but where they end up in the postseason depends on Anthony's nightly leadership, production and efficiency.
As a top-10 star (perhaps top five) still in his prime, he must take advantage of an upgraded roster and deliver for the Madison Square Garden faithful.
No excuses, no reservations. Just win.
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