Carmelo Anthony could always rely on his unbroken streak of playoff appearances as a defense against critics who panned his shot selection and condemned him as a player who couldn't lead a team to success.
With the New York Knicks officially eliminated from playoff contention April 12—thanks to an Atlanta Hawks win over the Miami Heat—'Melo heads into the most pivotal offseason of his career a little early. It'll be an unfamiliar feeling, sitting at home in mid-April, but one that should give Anthony some extra time to think.
Most likely, he'll start the process by feeling regret. He told Frank Isola of the New York Daily News how badly he wanted to make the postseason back on March 27:
I’ve never had a losing record before. This year has been a very challenging year, mentally, emotionally for me. But I still find ways to just remain positive throughout this situation and try to win basketball games. Throughout all of this, we still have a chance to get in the postseason. That’s most important.
Even the modest goal of securing the eighth seed in a comically weak Eastern Conference was too much for 'Melo and the Knicks. There were major issues preventing success in New York all season, from ill-advised personnel moves to a coach who'd lost his players' ear to, well...everything. So when Anthony invariably catches a hefty share of the blame for the Knicks' playoff absence, keep things in perspective.
Individually, 'Melo had a pretty darn good year. Collectively, the Knicks fell short.
And let's none of us weep for a missed opportunity. We all know how things tend to go when Anthony's teams make the playoffs, and the story usually ends quickly. Per Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated: "In 10 postseason appearances, Anthony’s teams have only advanced past the first round twice, including last year, when the Knicks lost to the Pacers in the conference semifinals."
As 'Melo—soon to be a free agent via an early termination option in his contract—chooses between the handful of career paths before him, you have to think he'll connect this unfamiliar feeling of missing the playoffs with the Knicks.
This past season was unique in Anthony's career. It featured more losing, more media scrutiny and more overall strife—personal and professional—than any in his career. There's still a good chance he returns to the Knicks on a new deal, but he'll only do so if he believes his first playoff absence will also be his last.