Carmelo Anthony is who he is, and he's not going to change. Ever.
We shouldn't have a problem with that either. If I were to tell you LeBron James was set in his ways after 10 years (he isn't), you'd shrug that off. He's the best in the game and has already improved enough. No harm, no foul. Stay the same, 'Bron. It's all good.
With Anthony, it's maddeningly different. 'Melo's been set in his ways since he entered the NBA. He scores; it's what he does. He also reaches the playoffs like a bat out of hell. Or a frat boy celebrating Thirsty Thursday.
Postseason berths haven't been enough because he hasn't won a title. Shame on you, 'Melo, for not winning. LeBron and Chris Bosh have won twice. Dwyane Wade has three rings. Even Darko Milicic has one. Your draft-day companions have all surpassed you in hardware. Doesn't matter that three of them had to team up for two of their titles. You should be ashamed.
Or should I say, shame on us? Those who don't understand you by now, what you've done and can still do. Shame on them. All of them.
Critics will hate on Anthony for his shortcomings as a player and ring bearer, but that's not going to change anything. Anthony is who he is. Those expecting him to be something he's not are mistaken and, at this point, at fault more than 'Melo himself.
Appreciate The Change He Has Undergone
Something Anthony said at the New York Knicks' Media Day initially left me cheesed off.
"My game is not gonna really change much," he told reporters, per Hoopsworld's Tommy Beer. "My game is pretty much set in stone."
Who says that? After your team was bullied out of the second round of the playoffs? Tsk, tsk.
That was me being a fool, getting caught up in the anti-Anthony movement that's gained far too much steam over the last decade. After some consideration, I, like I do at least once a day and twice on Saturdays, realized I was an idiot.
Anthony has changed as much as he's going to change. That's fine. You know why? Because the current Anthony is great. He's fresh off his first scoring title and accounted for 9.5 of New York's victories last season, his highest total ever.
As for change, well, there's been some. Once a categorically erratic three-point shooter, Anthony has become accustomed to chucking. Before joining the Knicks, he had never jacked up more than 3.3 treys per game. Last season, he let 'er rip from behind the arc over six times, shooting a career-best 37.9 percent in the process.
Embracing the three allows 'Melo to space the floor more than ever before, which makes him more versatile. It allows him to play the part of a stretch forward, too, like he did all of last season. You remember that, don't you? Anthony played out of position all year and took a beating, because that was best for the team.
But there he was, limping into the playoffs, yet he still managed to average 28.8 points a night. It wasn't glamorous, but it got the Knicks to the second round—without Amar'e Stoudemire, for the most part.
I'm sure you remember him. He was the second "superstar" 'Melo came to play with. Injuries limited STAT to just 29 games last season, and it's become apparent he'll never be more than a sporadic contributor off the bench. The Knicks still won 54 games last year. Their depth is to thank, for sure, but so is 'Melo.
Anthony will never be like LeBron. He'll never be an elite defender for more than spurts at a time or emerge as a point forward. He's conditioned to score better than everyone else in the league; he's a scorer. That's his job, and it always has been. At this point, that's never going to change.
New York Knew What It Was Getting
This isn't news. The Knicks didn't bend to the Denver Nuggets' will in 2011 because they thought they were getting a point forward or the second coming of LeBron. They mortgaged their future on this exact version of 'Melo.
Mike D'Antoni tried to morph him into a point forward upon his arrival. During an abbreviated training camp in 2011, the keys of the offense were put in 'Melo's hands, and he liked it.
"For me to have the ball in my hands and to run the offense, I kind of enjoy doing that," Anthony said at the time, per ESPN New York.
Brown-colored substances eventually hit the fan, as over time, it became clear Anthony was no facilitator. He tried to delay his scorer's mentality by bringing the ball up the floor; he really did. But he couldn't. Not like D'Antoni wanted and needed him to.
No need to pick sides or deduce the real cause of D'Antoni's exit; that's not necessary. The Knicks chose 'Melo as he was over D'Antoni, because Magic Mike wanted him to evolve into something he's not.
When looking at why the Knicks fell short last season and the two before that, there's a tendency to put the onus on 'Melo's shoulders. Such is the case when you're a superstar, so there are once again no surprises there.
We can't say 'Melo didn't do enough, though. Anthony was Anthony last season; he was Anthony at his best. He was the Anthony the Knicks are paying for, investing their entire future in.
Chastise the Knicks for a flawed blueprint if that's how you feel. But don't shower Anthony with guilt or contempt because he was doing his job the way he's always done it.
The same way the Knicks have always asked and known he would do it.
Expecting Too Much?
If Anthony had been given all the advantages New York once promised since joining the Knicks, I would be prepared to reject everything we just discussed. Things haven't played out like they were supposed to, though, so I won't.
Look at New York's current roster, and I mean really look at it. The Knicks are still searching for a clear No. 2; they're still without those other stars Anthony came to play with.
Stoudemire, when he's right, is a star. But he's never right. Iman Shumpert could be a star; we don't really know. Knowing Dolan, he may not be around long enough to find out. Others, like J.R. Smith and Andrea Bargnani, are being looked at, but they're reclamation projects, not proven luminaries.
The Knicks know this, hence their promising to let 'Melo handpick his own roster in 2015 when they'll have cap space, according to Hoopsworld's Steve Kyler. That's almost two years from now. Anthony will be coming up on his five-year anniversary if it gets that far. Some plan.
New York is a purported contender, yet it's looking ahead to better days like it were tanking. I can't fault 'Melo for wanting to explore free agency, knowing the Knicks' plans are far from perfect and that their schemes have fallen through in the past.
“I came to New York for a reason,” Anthony told The New York Observer's Rafi Kohan. “I’ve been with you all my life, almost to a fault. I wanted to come here and take on the pressures of playing in New York."
Anthony forced his way to the Knicks for many reasons, the most important of which included forming a superteam immediately, not nearly five years down the road.
Accept 'Melo For 'Melo
Anthony isn't perfect. He's far from it, in fact. But he's not a villain or the source of all New York's disappointments these last two-plus years.
Folks resent Anthony because of how much power he has. Well, it was the Knicks who willingly gave him that power. They set the precedent early on—with D'Antoni's dismissal—that 'Melo being 'Melo was what they wanted.
Now it's what they need. Personally, that makes me uneasy, but not because of Anthony. This roster was built around him, for him, but it's not the one New York promised him. There was supposed to be a healthy Stoudemire, and maybe even a Chris Paul.
Plans changed, and so has 'Melo. Not in every facet of the game or every way possible, but he has changed. He's also the same dominant scorer and polarizing figure he's always been.
We expected more out of his tenure in New York to this point. Some mistake that for demanding more out of 'Melo. In theory, he could do more. That's true of everyone. Like Anthony, no one's perfect.
"So people tend to criticize scorers more than they would passers," said 'Melo's former coach, Jim Boeheim, via Kohan. "You know, why doesn’t he pass more? But that’s not what he does. He’s a scorer. For New York to win, everybody has to play well."
Anthony has played really well. He's played to the best of his abilities and made the most of what the Knicks have given and asked of him. Without him, they're nothing. Lottery bound. That's not how this was drawn up and mapped out. There was supposed to be more around him, not out of him.
Blame for everything that's happened since 2011, and what may happen moving forward cannot be placed on him and him alone. Not when it's the Knicks who have failed him way more than he has them.