Since the League (or Era) of SuperFriends started in 2003-04 with LeBron James, one debate has been what player in that time has been the most polarizing player in the NBA. Arguments can be made for LeBron and Kobe. But the guy I would say is Carmelo Anthony.
The 2003 NBA Draft will go down as one of the best drafts ever with franchise players like LeBron, Melo, Bosh, Wade, and even all-stars like Chris Kaman, Josh Howard, and Kyle Korver. But it was mostly the first 4 I mentioned that really stand out. While LeBron garnered a lot of the headlines, Melo pushed the Nuggets into the playoffs after years of misery in Denver. His overall sound play was praised by many and a lot believed he would be a champion first before LeBron. He was a fairly complete player with a lot of agility and speed. Carmelo took Denver to 7 straight playoff appearances, but however only having 1 time getting out of the first round. During this run however, Anthony was considered one of the elite players in the NBA, but just never having enough great players.
Yes, he had Iverson, but honestly, Iverson might have given him a negative impact. I understand Iverson was probably one of the greatest "small" shooters in his generation and a true Hall-of-Famer, but he also had issues. One of them being he would be a guy who would take a great deal of shots and somewhat isolate the rest of the team. In Philly, the Sixers traded for guys to compliment Iverson, but they would often not pan out (Toni Kukoc anybody?) so Denver, believing Carmelo would get some much needed help, added Iverson to compliment him. Well, while the Nuggets made the playoffs, it never felt like they were on the same page. Iverson was shipped after a season and a half with Denver to Detroit for Chauncey Billups, who gave Carmelo his best run at a championship in the Mile High City, getting to the Western Conference Finals before losing to eventual champion Lakers. But it felt like Carmelo started to change, thanks in part to Iverson as he wasn't keen on exactly "sharing" the spotlight with anybody.
After one more year in Denver, Carmelo pulled off probably a bush league move on the Nuggets, refusing to sign any contract extension, then demanding a trade to the Knicks or he would leave in the off-season and join the Knicks one way or another. It was pretty much what would become a spoiled brat phase started by him that continued with Dwight Howard (demanding Orlando trade him to the Nets) and Deron Williams (wanting Utah to trade him to the Nets as well). It actually put me off on the NBA to the point where I stopped watching for a few years. And even now, my interest has not been as it once was in the late 80's through the mid 2000's. It is getting back up however as I think that run has finally gone (no, I don't think Durant is on that same boat, but he has become more and more of a knucklehead, but I am going off-topic).
When the Nuggets traded Carmelo, it was thought he was going to get New York back on track and bring back the old memories of the old Ewing/Starks/Mason-led Knicks of the early-to-mid-90's where the Garden was rocking. And it started off that way as the Knicks would make the playoffs with Anthony for his first 3 seasons. However, save for 2013, Melo hasn't gotten the Knicks out of the first round and many think his "I am the guy" bit has driven off stars from wanting to play with him and even the quality players who have been with the Knicks seem to get lost in the shuffle for Anthony's excessive shooting and not enough passing. In 2013-14, the Knicks fell apart and Anthony was grilled for it. Adding on top, he had a major knee injury, which also brought controversy as he was willing to play the All-Star Game right before he called it quits for the season for knee surgery.
After the 2014 season ended, Melo went on a tour notably to Chicago and Houston to see if he liked the idea of playing with other stars. Nothing came of it, and returned to New York. Oddly, fans of Chicago and Houston were HAPPIER that he didn't join their teams and fans of the Knicks were upset he returned.
Things also got worse the next two seasons with Melo as he engaged in heated twitter wars with fans, notably Knicks fans, accusing him of being a selfish jerk and needs to get over his attitude of being the focal point and open up more to a team game with Kristaps Porzingis. The fan base of Melo started to shrink more and more, especially in New York, where many had been hoping the Knicks would move Melo soon as he also wasn't keen to the idea of Phil Jackson's philosophies. And by the 2015-16 season as it started, Melo was no longer considered by many as an elite player of the NBA, as many have placed LeBron, Curry, Durant, Westbrook, Irving, Jordan, Wade, Leonard, Lowry, and a few others ahead of Melo. And the reasoning was simple: he wasn't a team guy. The jokes were that his goal was to take many shots and his teammates were to pass him the shots and play defense whenever he felt the need to play defense. And Melo himself started to become an NBA "joke."
Then something happened: Melo opened up. His scoring went DOWN to the lowest since his 2nd NBA season in Denver. But to me, he looked like he understood that in order to win he needed to share the spotlight. His assist per game was the highest it ever was been and he was crashing the boards like he used to in Denver. Sure, the Knicks failed to make the playoffs once again, but given the team was Melo, Porzingis, and a set of rag-tag players who didn't have a great deal of talent, it was actually impressive. He was more hush-hush, stopped the Twitter Wars with the fans, and played like he used to. Granted, he isn't the Melo in his early days in Denver, but he is re-inventing himself as more of a team player who wants to win.
And then the Olympics arrived. Coach K put Carmelo as the team captain and he acted like a captain. He wasn't zeroed on on being really "the guy." But more of the one making sure Team USA would win the gold at the Olympics. And honestly, minus the 2004 squad, this group struggled. I've already mentioned it earlier on the struggles the team had in their games on my USA post, but the one thing I admittedly failed to bring up was the fact Carmelo's play was solid all throughout and probably kept the team in the hunt for the Gold Medal game. He worked his tail off and said all the right things and did all the right things. The end result was a gold medal (his 3rd one of those and 4th medal overall) and probably end up going down as the most decorated Olympic Basketball player in US history. I think it is something that he will pride himself for the rest of his life on. And I applaud him for that.
The question has already been brought up by certain members of the media is will the Olympic Carmelo be what the Knicks get instead of the Knicks Carmelo? I think it is an unfair question largely because what you saw Melo did in 2015-16 was similar to what we saw in 2 weeks at Rio. A guy, while being an integral part of the team, was fine of not being the focal point to the squads and more of a guy that will do what he NEEDS to do in order to win. Again, the Knicks didn't have THAT much last year so for them to do what they did was actually impressive. He will now have Rose and Noah to go alongside him and Porzingis. More questions will be on the Knicks if Rose & Noah can remain healthy than Carmelo being this "new" form.
I think also Carmelo knows his window is closing. The knee injury he suffered a few years back has somewhat slowed him down a bit of being a major impact player. He is also 32 and the time of being a force is almost over. He will be a contributing factor in his waning years but no longer the superstar he was or envisioned he would be in New York. It is probably to the point he needs others to take the load and he do what he is able to do and not WANTS to do anymore. And that is all right. If he continues this trend of being more of a team guy and willing to do the small & necessary things besides scoring, it isn't out of the realm the Knicks face off against the Cavs in the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat