After A Year Away, Anthony Isn't Taking The Restart For Granted

by Casey Holdahl
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Ever since the NBA shutdown in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, players and fans have been anxiously waiting for the return of basketball. And while there are undoubtedly still concerns about the restart, both in terms of how a resumption of play might spread the virus and potentially take attention away of social justice movements, the majority or players and fans seem to be excited about the prospect of NBA basketball returning when the league gets underway again at the end of July at Walt Disney World in Orlando.

Over four months elapsing between the postponement and resumption of the 2019-20 season has certainly felt like a long wait, but it’s felt even longer for Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony. The way he sees it, the restart in Orlando, which is basically an eight-game playoff for a team in Portland’s position in the standings, is a chance to fulfill the potential that prompted the Trail Blazers’ unsuccessful attempt to acquire the 6-9 forward back in 2018.

“I'm more excited about actually being in the position that I was supposed to be in a couple years ago with this team,” said Anthony during a Zoom interview Tuesday afternoon. “And having those guys around me and being able to bring something to this team that has kind of just been lingering around for so long. Giving them another option on the perimeter, another scoring threat out there, another guy who can make plays for everybody else.”

Part of that enthusiasm could be attributed to Anthony having the opportunity to play small forward, the position he has occupied for almost the entirety of his Hall of Fame career. Signed in November as a replacement for Zach Collins, Anthony has played power forward almost exclusively during his tenure in Portland, but with Trevor Ariza sitting out the restart and Collins returning from injury, Anthony will almost assuredly see time at the three, even if that distinction is of debatable utility in today’s NBA.

“The good thing is I get to go back to my original position, which is playing at the three,” said Anthony. “I’m actually very comfortable at that, I've been doing that my whole life. Over the last couple years is where I started moving, transitioning toward playing the four more. You've got teams going small, so that was to my advantage as well. But I think today in this game, it's positionless. There's no positions no more today, so it doesn't matter when people put an emphasis on you playing the three or you playing the four, like, we out there playing.

“So as far missing Trevor, hell yeah we're gonna miss Trevor, especially in this time because this is where his veteranship and his leadership would have came into play. We all know experience plays a big part in what we're trying to accomplish here, so we're going to miss him from that standpoint. With that said, as far as positions go, there's no more positions in the NBA no more, at all. You just go out there, put a five out there to go and see what happens.”

The Trail Blazers will need Anthony, and the rest of their key contributors, to be at their best in Orlando if they’re to have any chance of either earning the eighth and final playoff spot in the West outright or triggering the play-in tournament between the eighth and ninth-place teams. With so little margin for error, they don’t have the luxury of easing into the restart, something the team has already discussed at length going into a two-week minicamp in Orlando.

“The way that I'm approaching it -- and I'm trying to every everybody else on our team to approach it this way -- is we gotta go right out the gate,” said Anthony. “We don't have time to get loose and get ready and give away the first two games. No, we gotta have a great camp, we gotta have a great three, two-and-a-half weeks or whatever down in Orlando and that first game, we have to go. We got to be ready to go. There's no waiting, laying back and seeing. We gotta have our plan, a clear-cut plan, and we have to be ready to attack straight out the gate.”

While Anthony seems as excited as anyone on the team to resume the season in Orlando, he too has concerns. He wants to make sure that messages pertaining to the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight against police brutality are included in the restart and he’s uncertain how younger players might handle the emotional toll of being away from friends and family for an extended period of time. Even as someone who enjoys time alone, Anthony knows it won’t be easy.

But after sitting out for over a year prior to getting the call from Portland, Anthony isn’t taking any chance to play professional basketball for granted.

“I like our chances,” said Anthony. “I say that not in an arrogant way, but I say that in the way that I believe in the group of guys that we have. We're healthy, guys are ready to play, guys are focused, guys are locked in. This is something that we talk about on a daily basis, how important it is to go down there and be locked in from the jump. Everybody seems like they on the same page, right. They're very aware of what's at stake.

“And for me, to go down there and -- I think we have the hardest uphill battle because of where we at position-wise. We're sitting in ninth right now, we've got to stay within those four games of the eighth spot, so we don't have no time to slack in those eight games going down there. We gotta go, we gotta get it going and then after that, it's like playoffs for us before the playoffs. And for me, as a competitor, that's what excites me, because I know that I gotta turn my switch on and there's no turning off once I get there.”

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