Carmelo Anthony made his debut last night with the Trail Blazers, scoring 10 points in 24 minutes against the Pelicans en route to a 115-104 loss in New Orleans. But his stat line is sort of beside point; it was just nice to see one of the best players of his era back on the court.
Admittedly, Melo has been out of basketball in recent months largely due to his own actions. His 10-game stint in Houston last season didn’t go well, turning him into a bit of a pariah around the league.
It was the forward’s fourth stop of his career, but the third in three years. As a result, Anthony was developing a reputation as a player who was difficult to get along with, largely due to disagreements about the role he should play.
When he was 28 years old and leading the NBA in scoring, Melo could get away with being a high-maintenance star. He wouldn’t be the only big-name player in that category.
But once he morphed into a 30-something averaging 13.0 to 16.0 points per game, he was no longer worth the hassle. The people who have fallen into this group late in their careers is also a lengthy list.
That said, it always seemed like there was still a place for Anthony in the league. Surely, he could fill a role for a contending team, so long as he and the organization were on the same page as to what he’d bring to the table.
Here’s hoping he’s found that in Portland. The Blazers are scuffling out of the gates, so they need some sort of spark. And Melo has been on the sidelines for roughly a calendar year, so hopefully a slice of humble pie has helped him realize where he’s at in his career.
Unfortunately, that sentiment isn’t the norm in Denver.
It’s understandable that Nuggets fans don’t want to see anything good happen to the Trail Blazers. Last year’s playoff match-up was gasoline on an already smoldering rivalry, creating a tension between the two fan bases that is both great and understandable.
But the ill will toward Melo is strange.
Yes, he left Denver on semi-bad terms, forcing his way to New York via trade during the 2010-11 season. But it’s not as though Anthony quit on the team prior to being sent to the Knicks; he averaged 25.2 points and 7.6 rebounds in the 50 games before the blockbuster deal. And he gave the Nuggets a chance to get something in return, letting them know ahead of time that he wanted to live in the Big Apple, so they wouldn’t see their best player leave for nothing.
People in the Mile High City don’t see it that way, though. They still feel as though Melo betrayed them somehow.
Before Anthony arrived in Denver as a 19-year-old rookie, the Nuggets were coming off a 17-65 season. That was tied for the worst record in the league and extended their streak of non-playoff seasons to eight. The franchise was a total afterthought, both locally and nationally.
During Melo’s seven full seasons with the team, however, Denver made the playoffs every season. In 2009, they advanced all the way to the Western Conference Finals, losing to the eventual-champion Lakers in six games; many will argue that the Nuggets were two inbounds passes away from winning an NBA title that year.
Perhaps as importantly, Anthony gave Denver a star for the first time in ages. His presence on the roster, not to mention his 24.8 points per game in a Nuggets uniform, made the team nationally relevant. An 8:30 tipoff at Pepsi Center as the second half of a ESPN or TNT doubleheader became commonplace.
Given where the Nuggets were before his arrival, both of those developments were monumental achievements. For Denver to advance to within two wins of the NBA Finals was hard to fathom. For people outside of the Mile High City to care about the team was equally hard to comprehend.
Perhaps people have forgotten that fact. Maybe they don’t remember just how down the Nuggets were before Anthony rolled into town, fresh off of winning a national championship at Syracuse.
Most likely, however, it’s just easier to be mad. It’s simpler to hold a grudge. It feels better to laugh at the fact that Melo never reached a pinnacle higher than the one he wanted to escape.
That’s why people throw out Alex English, Dan Issel and David Thompson ahead of Anthony when discussing the best Nugget of all-time. It’s not like those three Hall of Fame players don’t have a seat at the table; they’re definitely in the discussion. But so is Melo.
Did he have his faults? Sure.
He didn’t like to play defense. But as someone who watched both English and Issel play hundreds of games, neither did those two big-time scorers.
He also had interests that extended beyond Denver. But he didn’t leave as much unfinished business in town as Thompson did when his career was derailed by off-the-court issues.
If perfection is the bar, then be prepared to be disappointed a lot. No athlete is going to live up to that standard.
But in terms of winning games, playing an entertaining brand of basketball and getting the city in the national conversation, Anthony couldn’t have been better during his time with the Nuggets. That’s why he deserves better from Denver.
Put his jersey in the rafters. Cheer him when he returns to town with the Blazers. And stop they petty insults.
The Carmelo Anthony era was a fun one in Denver. Any Nuggets fan who witnessed it should be glad they had the opportunity.
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