Championships or cheques? The big stage or the bright lights? These are the decisions that have defined Carmelo Anthony’s career. At every point in Anthony’s career he has approached a fork in the road that has come down to these choices, or a similar version of them. For some he’s taken the easy road, and it is these decisions that may come to define his legacy. Or lack there of.
Anthony was the 3rd pick by the Denver Nuggets in the 2003 NBA Draft, in the notorious LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Darko Milicic draft. He led the Nuggets to the NBA Playoffs every year from 2004 to 2010. His team won two division titles and made one conference finals in 2009. Anthony is a nine-time All-Star and has made six All-NBA teams. He holds the scoring record at Madison Square Garden (and a career high) of 62 points, as well as the USA Olympic record of 37 points. Anthony is adored by the New York Knicks fanbase as much as any superstar is by his own team in the entire NBA.
He’s also one of the most complete scorers of the modern era, and may be looked at the same in NBA history. One scoring title, alongside career averages of 25.2ppg, 6.6rpg and 3.1apg. Injuries have begun to slow the Knicks star down, and he has only surpassed 70 games in a season once since 2007/08.
The former Syracuse star is in the second year of a five-year, $124 million contract with his hometown Knicks. Here in lies one of the problem’s with the stars legacy and image. Anthony had the choice in 2014 to leave town and chase success elsewhere. The Knicks were headed into a rebuild and were clearly a long way from a Championship, despite the recent arrival of coaching legend and new Team President Phil Jackson.
Despite their current struggles, Anthony and the Chicago Bulls were an intriguing fit for the player and team. Tom Thibodeau would have been terrific at covering his defensive deficiencies, and he would have provided the Bulls with offense they badly needed. Now that Thibodeau has departed, Anthony would have been the perfect fit in Fred Hoiberg’s desire to space the floor and have a much more free flowing offense than Thibodeau ever ran.
Now it must be said that players shouldn’t ever be begrudged for taking money. NBA players have lifespans that are very short and life beyond their careers carry no guarantees. They make decisions that the rest of the world would make too given the chance. But that doesn’t mean those questions cannot be questioned still. Anthony has made plenty of money, is one of the most marketable stars in the league and could have made up the money in other ventures that he would have lost leaving New York for elsewhere.
This wasn’t the first time Anthony has made a selfish decision in pursuit of money over team success. Rather than waiting until the offseason in 2011 where he could leave Denver as an unrestricted free agent, he requested a trade to the New York Knicks. Instead of arriving for potentially nothing, the Knicks were forced to gut their roster to acquire Anthony and Chauncey Billups (who they later used the amnesty provision on). It’s a trade they have never recovered from to this day.
However this is not a career Anthony cannot salvage on a team level. He has a no trade clause which he may or may not choose to waive this summer in pursuit of a fresh start elsewhere. Anthony and new franchise cornerstone Kristaps Porzingis are on completely different career trajectory. They don’t fit together long term, and it makes sense for Anthony and the Knicks to go separate ways.
The benefit of Anthony waiving his no trade clause? He hasn’t a 15 percent trade kicker inserted into his already massive contract (he receives 15 percent of his remaining contract in the event of a trade). So there’s certainly financial incentive for him to request a new team this offseason.
The star forward would be a superb fit with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers all of whom have the assets to make a deal work. There’s also of course the Bulls, though they lack the pieces to make a deal work. His ability to space the floor as a one man offense whose a terrific stretch four in the modern NBA would be a welcome addition to any of those teams. There’s a chance he could salvage his career yet and make it successful on a team level.
Anthony has earned just under $177 million already in his career, and his current contract will push that easily beyond $250 million before the end of his career (not accounting any future earnings beyond his current deal). It will be a nice consolation sure, but how much will that mean to the player if it equates to no team success? Will he be considered a legend of the game, or a mere mercenary who chased money over success. Time will tell.