It’s become a late-summer staring contest among some of the splashiest, most-followed franchises in the NBA. One of them will sign erstwhile star Carmelo Anthony, who is 35 and has not played since he was set free by the Houston Rockets after 10 games last November.
Anthony is said to be in good shape and his resume as a scorer is sterling. But some feel Anthony won’t play in the NBA again, despite his latest push to find a contract. His representatives are fighting the perception that Anthony can no longer be a functional team player, that his scorer’s mentality and past complaints about his roles make him a net negative for any team with high aspirations.
According to league sources, his representatives are fighting that perception, “aggressively.”
“He has been the scapegoat for a few teams that didn’t play up to their potential,” one source said. “Obviously that is sticking with him. They’re showing teams he can play, but they’re also making the case that the negative reputation stuff is BS, that he is not a team-killer, that other people put blame on him the last few years that he didn’t deserve.”
Carmelo Anthony Portrayed as a 3-Time Scapegoat
The case is two-fold, the sources said. First, there is the idea that Anthony was used as a scapegoat, which began in New York after the 2016-17 season, then for the Oklahoma City Thunder the following year. Last season, it was Anthony who took the fall for the 4-6 start in Houston. He was let go after 13 games and no other team re-signed him.
But Anthony’s camp has been pushing the line that he got more blame than he deserves in each case. The Rockets eventually righted themselves without Anthony, but that did not happen until long after he was gone. After the 4-6 start, Houston went 7-8 in its next 15 games.
Anthony also got the blame when the Thunder won 48 games in 2017-18 and proceeded to get knocked out in the first round of the postseason. But last year’s OKC team did no better, winning 49 games and losing in the first round of the playoffs. The Thunder blew up the Paul George-Russell Westbrook core after that.
Anthony also took the blame when the Knicks went 31-51 in his final year. But, his reps have been pointing out to teams the fact that New York has hardly bounced back since. They were 29-53 without Anthony the following season and won 17 games last year.
Teams Being Told Anthony Can Help With the Media
The second leg of the pitch Anthony is making to teams could prove to be appealing when it comes to those concerned that Anthony would be a locker-room distraction: He’s a good distraction.
“That’s the idea,” the source said. “He’s got a lot of friends in the league, he is liked by other players. He’s got friends in the media. He doesn’t get into trouble off the court, he never has. They’re really disputing this whole idea that he’s a team cancer.”
Anthony does get significant media attention, but he has long had a good relationship with reporters. No matter where he goes, he’ll be asked repeatedly about his role, about how many minutes he’s getting, about whether he’s happy with his teammates and coaches. That will keep the spotlight off other stars.
Anthony is accustomed to handling those questions by now and having him in the locker room surrounded by media after games will be a positive for any of the main contenders to sign him — the Lakers, Clippers or Nets.
With the Lakers, Anthony could share spokesman’s duties with LeBron James and keep media-shy Anthony Davis from garnering unwanted attention.
With the Clippers, reticent star Kawhi Leonard is facing an uncomfortable influx of day-to-day attention. He has NBA Finals media experience, but the media market in L.A. will be more demanding than it was for him in Toronto or San Antonio. Anthony could take off some pressure.
There’s the Nets, too, where Anthony has connections to signees Durant and Kyrie Irving. There’s some reluctance to bring in Anthony and disrupt the culture developed in Brooklyn by coach Kenny Atkinson but adding Irving and Durant has already blown away any notion of maintaining the same culture as before those two arrived.
Having Anthony would reduce the exposure of Irving. The Celtics can attest that having the point guard in front of a gaggle of microphones after each game is a high-wire act that can punish team chemistry. Irving’s comments about his young Celtics teammates created a veterans-vs.-young-players dynamic from which Boston never really recovered.
It’d be better, Anthony’s camp has been saying, for any of these teams to have Anthony do more of the talking.
If he’s on his game, Anthony can chip in as a scorer for a contender. He is a 10-time All-Star and averaged 24.0 points over his career. His issue in finding a team, though, isn’t so much rooted in a lack of ability as it is the negative reputation that precedes him.
As they try to find a fit on a contender, his reps are working hard to counter that reputation.