No one expected Melo to come back like this.
People love a good underdog story. At this point, it's a tired cliché but it still bears repeating, especially when we're talking about Carmelo Anthony. Of course, at the beginning of Melo's career, he was far from the underdog he is now. In 2003, Melo led the Syracuse Orange to an NCAA National Championship win which made him a hot commodity in that year's NBA draft. Scouts were debating whether or not he should be the number one overall pick although that honor ended up going to his good friend LeBron James. Eventually, Anthony was drafted third overall by the Denver Nuggets and his impact was immediately felt.
While Melo was never able to lead the Nuggets to an NBA Finals, he certainly made that team relevant. His high-flying style of offense made him someone you wanted to see every single night and he would consistently go toe-to-toe with the league's best players. Kobe Bryant was easily his biggest Western Conference rival and would always give the Lakers legend a run for his money. If you were tuning into a Nuggets game, you were watching to see what kind of magic Anthony would cook up that night. With that being said, there were some narratives being thrown around when it came to Carmelo as a teammate. Some pundits and executives around the league saw Melo as a ball hog who couldn't play nice with his teammates. At the time, his talent was too great to ignore and he was allowed to keep playing his game.
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After watching his good friend LeBron link up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, Melo realized it was time to leave Denver and go to a team that could give him a chance to win. In the middle of the 2010-2011 season, Melo was traded to the New York Knicks which had NBA fans everywhere, excited. The Knicks had been an abysmal team for so long and this was their chance to finally bring a superstar on board and have some success. Melo's tenure in New York would prove to be tumultuous, to say the least. His first full season with the team saw him grappling with the idea of being a superstar savior for a struggling franchise. Melo's production that season was amongst the worst of his career as he averaged 22.6 points per game. Meanwhile, the team was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Miami Heat in just five games. This was also the season in which "Linsanity" took the world by storm. Jeremy Lin became the team's point-getter during Melo's absence from injury and it took much of the shine away from the former Nugget. When Melo came back, Lin's production suffered and once again, reports of Melo being a bad teammate began to circulate.
In his seven seasons with the Knicks, he was only able to bring them to the playoffs three times and they only managed to win one series in 2013. While it seemed like Anthony could be the Knicks savior, it just wasn't in the cards. This is not to say he wasn't a good player for them because, in fact, he was. With the Knicks, Melo averaged 24.7 points per game, 3.2 assists per game, and 7.0 rebounds which are all above his career averages. These stats are nearly identical to what he did in Denver and were good enough to get into seven-straight All-Star games.
For the 2017-2018 season, Melo was able to move on from the Knicks and played for the Oklahoma City Thunder although he could never find chemistry with Russell Westbrook and Paul George. This furthered the narratives against him and in the offseason, he signed with the Rockets for the 2018-19 campaign. His tenure with the Rockets lasted a measly 10 games before he was released, never to be heard from again that season, aside from a trade to the Chicago Bulls, who bought out his contract and never played him.
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All of this history is important because it helps paint a picture of how Melo found himself down and out of the league with almost no lifeline in sight. When he was released from the Rockets, many analysts said his career was over. After years of being a supposedly "difficult" teammate who held onto the ball too long, never passed, and played unacceptable defense, it seemed as though teams had seen enough and were ready to write him off as a relic of who played a style of basketball that was obsolete in 2019. Even with all of this slander being espoused, Melo seemed determined as ever to find himself back on a team. Rumors circulated that he could end up with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers while others suggested he could be on his way to Brooklyn. Unfortunately for Melo, none of these teams would return his calls and he had to continue looking elsewhere.
The 2019-20 season started without Melo on a team. After the first couple of weeks, games were played and Anthony's name continued to be mentioned. His odds at landing a contract were looking bleak until seemingly out of nowhere, the Portland Trail Blazers signed Melo to a non-guaranteed contract. There were rumblings a few years ago that Melo could be an option for the Blazers which is something Damian Lillard re-iterated on an episode of the Joe Budden Podcast. With some key players injured, Melo seemed like the perfect addition to a struggling team that desperately needed an offensive jolt. In the blink of an eye, a career that seemed to be over was about be resurrected in the most beautiful way possible.
With his new contract in place, critics were salivating over the idea of having all of their doubts confirmed. It had been an entire year since Melo had last played professional basketball and there was no guarantee that he would be good. In his first game, Melo and the Blazers lost to the struggling New Orleans Pelicans with the 35-year-old scoring just 10 points, four rebounds, and five turnovers. Melo's first three games with the Blazers were losses but the next three after that were huge wins where Anthony demonstrated some fine form. His best performance in that stretch was a 107-103 win against the Chicago Bulls where he scored 23 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, and zero turnovers. He was so dominant during the team's three-game winning streak that he even won Western Conference Player of the Week honors.
For years, the knock against Melo was that he could put up points but it was always to the detriment of his teammates. With the Blazers, this isn't the case. Lillard and CJ McCollum continue to get their buckets as Melo helps round out the offense all while playing a respectable 31 minutes per night. Another critique of Melo was that he holds onto the ball too long and slows down offenses. During his short stint with the Blazers, Melo has been happy to play catch and shoot which has worked out for not just him but the team as well.
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As for Melo's ability to be a good teammate, he's doing just fine in that category too. In a recent interview, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts spoke about Melo's impact on the team and how he's been able to adapt to his new surroundings. Based on these comments, it's clear that the rest of the team likes Melo just fine and the feeling appears to be mutual.
“Melo’s been terrific for us,” Stotts told ESPN. “He’s enjoying the experience. He’s been a breath of fresh air for us that we needed. We put a kind of limit/restriction on the first game or two just because we didn’t want to extend his minutes not knowing what shape he was in. But now he’s playing 32-35 minutes, he played 37 minutes the other night. And for him to be out of NBA basketball for a year and be able to come in and play productive minutes for 35 minutes in an NBA game, to me, was remarkable.”
Thanks to his play on the court, the Blazers recently upgraded his contract so that now, it's fully guaranteed. This means the Blazers like what they see and have real faith in his ability to be a difference-maker for them down the stretch. Melo has made it clear that this won't be his final season and that he's not interested in a farewell tour. If his season in Portland proves to be a success, he has a real chance of getting another contract which could extend his career by at least a year or two. Anthony won't be able to undo the mistakes he's made in the past but if he can just keep up what he's doing, he'll be able to convince a lot of people that he's changed and that's all that truly matters.
In just a few short weeks, Melo has gone from being a washed-up has-been to one of the greatest redemption stories in the history of the NBA. There's still plenty of time for things to go wrong but on the flip side, there is also plenty of time for this comeback to become even sweeter.