Every year at this time, we’re treated to a Christmastime classic in which an aging character trips down memory lane, accompanied by a ghost to gain perspective on the ways in which a life has been lived (and maybe squandered).
The NBA will present its own variation of that iconic story structure this week when Carmelo Anthony, newly reborn with the Portland Trail Blazers, revisits the three most significant stops in his 17-year career during three consecutive games spanning five days.
In rapid succession from Sunday to Thursday, the dusted-off, 10-time All-Star will face or visit Oklahoma City, New York and Denver, the franchises with whom he spent his first 15 seasons. It’s not expected Anthony will be accompanied by any apparitions, just by his new Trail Blazers teammates as he goes team by team through his earliest days in the league. It’s always possible he’ll head out like Ebenezer in a bathrobe or, at least, one of his hoodies.
The first two of these games will be at Portland’s Moda Center, dialing down the nostalgia a bit. But come Thursday, Anthony will return to Denver, where his NBA days began back in 2003, to cap his stroll back in time.
The schedule quirk seems notable enough for us to reflect on and assess his impact at each of the three stops. We’re skipping his sorry sojourn to Houston last fall, where the Rockets kicked Anthony to the curb after just 10 games. And no, we’re not going to count the nominal stints with Atlanta or Chicago, where his contract spent a combined 15 late-career days in 2018 and 2019, respectively, without the one-time scoring champ ever suiting up.
“I think Melo was consistent his entire career,” said former NBA guard Chauncey Billups, a friend and foe who played three seasons with Anthony in Denver and New York. “He was one of the best offensive players I’ve ever seen play. He was a matchup nightmare the whole time – even now, in the later stages, past his prime, he can still have certain nights where he can get going.
“At 35 years old, with 16 or 17 years in the league, you can’t say that about a lot of players. He’s just one of those great scorers like that.”
Consistent across the years? Absolutely. Anthony has been a dangerous shooter and a load to defend when posting up. But he’s had his tweaks. Not only was Anthony different in age and experience at each of his stops, so were the circumstances in which he played.
And of which he’ll be reminded this week.
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Dec. 8: Thunder 108, Blazers 96
Anthony's line: 35 minutes, nine points (4-18 FG), eight rebounds, three steals
Stats: 16.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.3 apg
Shooting: 40.4 FG% / 35.7 3P% / 76.7 FT%
Team’s W-L: 48-34 (.585).
Playoffs: One time in one year, 6 total games, lost in first round
Coaches: Billy Donovan
Anthony added OKC to his list of possible destinations in working out his no-trade clause with the Knicks. But with the deal finally triggering on Sept. 25, 2017, he felt air-dropped into a plan that already was in place. … He rejected suggestions that he come off the bench for the Thunder and in fact started all 78 games in which he appeared. … His 15.0 shots per game were only down about one per quarter from his Nuggets and Knicks hey days.
An 8-12 start spooked everybody, but OKC rallied and had a shot at 50 victories before playing .500 ball over the final three weeks. … The wheels came off at the end, after the Thunder fell into a 1-3 hole in the first round vs. Utah. Anthony averaged 35.7 minutes and 14.3 points on 14.8 FGAs in the series’ first four games. Then he was used for just 25.5 minutes in the final two, averaging 7.0 points on 6.5 shots. … His offensive/defensive ratings were 101/113 during the season, 90/106 in the playoffs.
“I had to tell myself, ‘OK, this is different.’ Russ did things his way here. Paul did things his way in Indiana. I did things my way in New York. We were all solo artists. So now the question is, how do you bring your solo artistry to this band?”
“I've been on teams with bad guys. Bad guys don't interact with teammates. Bad guys don't care about anybody else. He's not that guy. The stuff that was being said about him in New York upset me. I'm glad he's out of that situation.”
--Guard Raymond Felton, a teammate in N.Y. and OKC
“Thunder 'Melo was late in his career, so I throw that out.”
--Clippers coach Doc Rivers
Dec. 9: Blazers 115, Knicks 87
Anthony's line: 24 minutes, 16 points (5-13 FG, 3-4 3pt FG), four rebounds, two steals, one block
Stats: 24.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.2 apg
Shooting: 44.3 FG% / 36.9 3P% / 83.0 FT%
W-L: 221-283 (.438)
Playoffs: Three times in seven years, 21 total games, one series victory
Coaches: Mike D’Antoni, Mike Woodson, Derek Fisher, Jeff Hornacek.
• Two All-NBA berths (2nd team, 2012-13; 3rd team, ’11-12)
• Six All-Star appearances
• 2013 scoring championship (28.7 ppg)
This was the fame-and-money phase of Anthony’s NBA career, playing in New York and maxing out his salary. … He made nearly $150 million in his seven Knicks seasons, and the mega-contract he signed in July 2014 paid him another $52 million after he left town in 2017. … That 2014 summer was Anthony’s best shot at signing with a contender with plenty left in his tank at age 30. But he chose the most dollars possible, re-upping with a team in decline. Phil Jackson’s arrival as team president brought coach Mike Woodson’s firing and friction with Melo.
Individually, Anthony was at the peak of his powers. During his New York stay, he hoisted 19.9 FGAs a night and got busy from the 3-point line (5.0). His share of shots from outside the arc (25.2 percent) doubled from his Denver years (12.1). … These were his best years for rebounds and assists, too. … Anthony had the highest PER (21.8), true shooting (.545) and usage rates (31.7) of any of his stays. … On 3/10/14, Anthony won his last conference player of the week award – until he snagged one last week with Portland.
His best finish in MVP balloting came in 2013, placing third behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant but ahead of Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant. The Knicks went 54-28 and beat Boston in the first round before losing in six games to Indiana in the East semifinals. … Anthony cobbled together offensive/defensive ratings of 109/108. Since leaving New York he’s been under water (104/110). … During this era, his three buddies from the 2003 Draft – LeBron James (seven), Dwyane Wade (four) and Chris Bosh (four) – played in a combined 15 Finals and won a total of six rings.
“In New York, there was so much going on with the organization and the city. It was very tense up there, and you never really get a chance to have stability there. … That was the toughest part for me in New York, having to go in and go to work and still put a smile on my face and still deal with everything and not be as happy. Having the effects of that carry over to being around family and friends, being down so much but still having to be strong. It's pulls at you.”
“We’ve not been able to win with him on the court at this time. I think the direction with our team is that he is a player that would be better off somewhere else and using his talents somewhere where he can win or chase that championship.”
--Former Knicks president Phil Jackson
“Carmelo’s a great player. He can play in any system, whether it’s slowdown – and we did a little bit of that early in the season last year [2016-17] – so he’d have figured out how to fit in. But the team we have now [2017-18], this is the way we’re playing and that’s our focus.”
--Former Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek
“I thought he had less help and more on his shoulders in New York. I thought he had more help and less on his shoulders in Denver. … The Knicks run – they really didn’t have a run – he gets the blame. But when you look at everybody around him, they never were going to win with those teams. And then they fired the coach [Woodson].”
“When people ask me who is one of the toughest players to defend, and I say, Melo, they’re always like ‘Really?’ Man, Melo — he was a fast, fat dude with hops. And can shoot. When he hit you with that first step, it was so quick, and then he’s strong. People need to stop disrespecting Melo.”
--Veteran NBA wing Andre Iguodala
Dec. 12: Nuggets 114, Blazers 99
Anthony's line: 36 minutes, 20 points (8-16 FG), nine rebounds, one assist, two steals, two blocks
Stats: 24.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.1 apg
Shooting: 45.9 FG% / 31.1 3P% / 80.3 FT%
W-L: 360-261 (.580)
Playoffs: Seven times in seven years, 45 total games, 2-7 series record
Coaches: Jeff Bzdelik, George Karl
• Four All-NBA selections (2nd team; 2009-10, 3rd team; ’05-06, ’06-07, ’08-09)
• Four All-Star appearances
• 2004 All-Rookie first team
Drafted on the heels of his NCAA championship turn at Syracuse, Anthony joined a Nuggets team that had gone 17-65 in 2002-03. A year later, they had improved to 43-39. … Denver made the postseason in Anthony’s first season and each one thereafter, until he pushed his way to New York in a February 2011 blockbuster trade. … The Nuggets got to the first round in their first two post-Melo seasons, but then went the way of the Knicks for the next five years.
Anthony averaged 21.0 points as a 19-year-old rookie and pumped it up from there, his 28.9 good for second behind Kobe Bryant (31.6) in 2006-07. … He got to the foul line 7.9 times per game, a knack that declined by 20 percent once in New York and has dipped below 3.0 at each stop since. … If you want to pick nits, Anthony was at his most turnover-prone (3.1), with a 1:1 ratio to assists. … Of the nine head coaches he’s had, he and George Karl were together the longest. Probably his most turbulent times, too.
“Carmelo was a true conundrum for me in the six years I had him. He was the best offensive player I ever coached. He was also a user of people, addicted to the spotlight and very unhappy when he had to share it. He really lit my fuse with his low demand of himself on defense. He had no commitment to the hard, dirty work of stopping the other guy."
--Former Nuggets coach George Karl (in his book, Furious George)
“When he was with the Denver Nuggets, he was unstoppable and unguardable.”
“I always think about ‘What if?’ We were really close in Denver, a couple in-bounds plays from making the Finals [in 2009]. I was at the end of my prime, he was in the middle of his. He continued to get better. I always think about what could have happened if he would have stayed and we could have put other pieces around.
“I really think we could have got it done with that team. We were in position, right there, to be good for quite a while. But things happened. Melo wanted to move on, and he got what he wanted.”
--Chauncey Billups, a teammate in Denver and New York