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'Melo pays price for financial focus as career wanes

Anthony visits Denver, where he forced a move to the Knicks

POSTED: Mar 8, 2016 11:07 AM ET

By Shaun Powell

BY Shaun Powell

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Despite his personal success, Carmelo Anthony resides on a team likely to miss the playoffs -- again.

On the whole, Carmelo Anthony has led a platinum life after leading Syracuse to a championship. He has two Olympic gold medals, scored tons of points in the NBA, made salaries approaching $200 million, married a beautiful woman, has a healthy son and carries a decent measure of celebrity in New York. Nobody has any reason to feel sorry for 'Melo.

Except last week, there was one such person: 'Melo.

"I do look at my peers," he said, meaning LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, two others who were plucked from that top-heavy 2003 Draft, "and say, `Damn, what am I doing wrong?' I should be there."

LeBron and Wade have, of course, multiple championships -- five combined between them -- in addition to all the tasty side benefits also enjoyed by 'Melo. And once again, we find them looking down on 'Melo, from a literal standpoint. LeBron and the Cavaliers are leading the East and the favorites to reach the NBA Finals, which would be six straight for him. Wade and the Heat are dealing with the uncertain health of Chris Bosh, also from that '03 Draft, but are top five in the East and could reach 50 wins.

Right now, it's kind of a rough patch for me. I'm trying to figure out a way to get out of it. It's been trying, it's been challenging.

– New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony

Meanwhile, 'Melo is stuck on a wayward Knicks team that's destined to miss the playoffs for the third straight season, and there's no realistic chance of a quick fix. For the better part of two decades, the Knicks have squandered millions, wasted Draft picks and bungled more than a few trade as questions about the quality of leadership remain their persistent issue. Without a doubt, the bellyaches of the Knicks go well beyond 'Melo.

And yet: When 'Melo asks what he did "wrong," it's interesting how this bit of retrospective comes on the eve of his once-a-season visit to Denver, where the groundwork for his subsequent path and plight was laid, done with his help and approval. Because when you peel away his pain (so to speak) and reach the root of the matter, 'Melo placed a higher value on money than winning. That's why he's busy playing out another dead season in a career that's officially on the other side of the mountain.

Worst of the Week: Carmelo Anthony

What did Melo do now?

Now, let's be clear: Falling in love with money doesn't make 'Melo evil or even greedy. Most every player craves money, and the more, the better. Playing careers are short, injuries can happen, and nobody looks out for players more than the player himself. So you get what you can while you can, and that's a motto that 'Melo the businessman embraced from the get-go.

When LeBron, Wade and Bosh signed their first NBA extensions as a two-year opt-out, 'Melo signed for an additional year. He wanted to enter the free agent market the year after those three, and his reasoning then: "I wanted the money."

He spent seven-plus seasons in Denver, and the Nuggets were a solid playoff team with a good coach (George Karl) and a smart general manager (Masai Ujiri). But that wasn't enough for 'Melo, who quickly established himself as maybe the best pure scorer at the time in the game, someone who commanded a double team nightly. He wanted to build his brand, and thought the best place for 'Melo, Inc. was New York, where his wife could also advance her TV career. Again, nothing wrong with that. He didn't owe the Nuggets anything. He gave them a chunk of his youth.

But rather than wait until summer and leave as a free agent, Melo demanded the Knicks trade for him in February 2011, before the deadline. That way, he could keep his Bird Rights and sign for the maximum. The difference would've been roughly $20 million. By trading for him, the Knicks had to surrender players they could've kept to surround 'Melo, or used in trades. Those assets: Danilo Gallinari (a scorer who was only 22) and Wilson Chandler (only 23) -- both on team-friendly contracts -- a veteran guard (Raymond Felton) and an athletic, young seven-footer (Timofey Mozgov).

The honeymoon was dreamy, anyway. 'Melo quickly proved why he's made for New York. He has charm, a quick smile, thick skin, never takes anything personally, connects with fans and moves freely among the rich and famous while keeping in touch with his humble beginnings in Brooklyn (before moving to Baltimore). He can handle everything the city offers. New York is lucky to have a rare star who aggressively made his way to the big city instead of plotting a way to get out.

Carmelo On Being A Leader

Carmelo Anthony speaks with TNT's Rachel Nichols about being the leader of the Knicks.

When he arrived, the Knicks already had Amar'e Stoudemire and then made enough moves to create a winner. They reached the 2013 Eastern Conference semifinals, won 54 games and 'Melo finished third in the MVP race. 'Melo was toasted throughout town and was on a popularity level just below then-Yankees star Derek Jeter and Giants quarterback Eli Manning. New York was everything he imagined, and then some. The only thing missing was a ticker-tape down Broadway.

Then injuries sapped all the remaining prime years from Stoudemire, the role players peaked and after his brief and sensational run, the Knicks lost faith in Jeremy Lin. They haven't recovered since.

But 'Melo had an opening. He had free agency two summers ago and could've gone anywhere. The most logical place was Chicago: Big city, healthy Derrick Rose, an emerging Jimmy Butler and a newly signed Pau Gasol. Or maybe Houston with James Harden and Dwight Howard. The Knicks could offer the most money, and so 'Melo made another financial decision, justifying the five-year, $124 million contract on the promise of Phil Jackson's plan.

Today, the Knicks are in shambles with the exception of Kristaps Porzingis, whose height and age makes him more valuable to them than 'Melo. Instead of battling LeBron and Wade for Eastern supremacy, 'Melo is putting up points (at a lower rate) for a losing team a year since knee surgery. He's 31 and technically still an All-Star, but no longer feared or double-teamed as before. He's had four coaches in New York and next fall is expected to get a fifth.

The Knicks have money to spend on free agents, but no A-listers seem anxious to join 'Melo in New York. You wonder if Kevin Durant or other free agents are skeptical about the triangle offense that Jackson insists on using, and worry if Jackson himself will bail when his contract is up in 2017.

The Knicks are two spots up from Philly in the basement of the East, and worse, they don't own their No. 1 pick (which belongs to Toronto). The roster could be completely overhauled next season, most likely with marginal players on short and cheap contracts, like this season, unless Jackson executes a borderline miracle trade with limited assets. Until then, the Knicks have nothing special to play for this season, exactly the kind of position 'Melo didn't see himself in when he arrived six years ago.

"Right now, it's kind of a rough patch for me," 'Melo said the other day. "I'm trying to figure out a way to get out of it. It's been trying, it's been challenging."

Extra Stuff: What's Next for Carmelo?

Carmelo Anthony talks about what's next with Grant Hill.

Strange thing: As he prepares to play the Nuggets on Tuesday (9 ET, NBA League Pass), 'Melo has yet another way to escape a situation. He can twist Jackson's arm for a trade this summer, which could work out for both sides if Jackson can get a haul of players and picks in exchange. 'Melo has respect among his peers and would be warmly welcomed at a number of places, Cleveland among them.

There would be some discomfort for Carmelo Anthony and family in this scenario; they'd have to surrender their beloved New York address. But there's also another way of looking at it: By waving his no trade clause, he'd get a 15-percent salary bump!

Meaning, more cash for the player who can't get enough of it.

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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