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David Ramsey: Carmelo Anthony returns to New York in basketball free fall

December 15, 2017 Updated: December 16, 2017 at 4:53 am
Caption +
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Carmelo Anthony, foreground, reacts to a call in front of Dallas Mavericks forward Dwight Powell, left, during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Dallas, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Carmelo Anthony traveled to the flatlands of Oklahoma to revive a basketball career that had gone bad in the glitter of Manhattan.

He joined Russell Westbrook and Paul George in hopes of forming one of those trendy super teams. He hoped to put a scare into the Warriors and Spurs and maybe even take a stunning ride to the NBA Finals.

Um, let’s just say his hopes are not coming true.

The Thunder is 13-14, and Carmelo is shooting 28 percent from the field in the past 10 games. On Wednesday night, after watching Carmelo struggle with his shot (a surprise) and with his defense (not a surprise) against the Pacers, ESPN commentator Doris Burke suggested it’s time for Anthony to move to the Thunder’s depleted bench.

What? Move one of the NBA’s glamour kings to the pine?

It’s a solid idea. Anthony is 33, his days of dominance finished.

On Saturday night, live from New York, Knicks fans will see a diminished player who is nearing the end of his sometimes glorious but more often exasperating career.

In Denver, Anthony still is booed every time he touches the ball by Nuggets fans, who have good reason for their disdain. Anthony orchestrated an exit from the Front Range because he wanted the chance to reign as the basketball ruler of New York, the grandest stage in the sport.

He never ruled. The Knicks never ruled.

Anthony expects a warm reception in Gotham Saturday night, and he might get it. The Knicks are thriving, at least by their standards, with star Kristaps Porzingis carrying a young, rising team.

In other words, Knicks fans might not boo Carmelo because they are happy he no longer wears a Knicks uniform.

“I got a different feeling with New York, different relationship, different bond with the city, with the fans, with the people,” Anthony said after listening to Pacers fans boo George in the same way Nuggets fans boo him. “So it’ll be special for me. I’ll be lying if I say I’m not ecstatic to go back to be playing there.”   

Before the season, it seemed possible, if not probable, that Anthony could go to Oklahoma and revive his career and good name.

Before the season, Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler said he expected to see “Olympic Melo” playing for the Thunder. Anthony played on four Olympic teams and was a key player on the final gold medal-winning three squads.

“I think he’s still a great scorer, especially for his age,” Chandler said. “And being around Westbrook and Paul George takes a lot of load off him, too. If they know how to use him,  I think he’ll be very effective. I think we’ll see a lot of the Olympic Melo.

“He gets a lot of discredit for not being a team player and not making his teammates better. But when he plays with a lot of great players in the Olympics, you have to be all the things that they kind of get on him for. He’s scoring, but he’s sharing the ball. He’s rebounding  the ball. He’s making other players better.

"He’s versatile. He’s an underrated defender. He can score, pass the ball. He’s a leader. He brings pretty much a little of everything.”

Nuggets power forward Paul Millsap laughed when talking in October about Carmelo’s move to the Thunder, and the West. Millsap departed Atlanta and the East for the West in the same offseason.

“I thought  I had escaped him,” Millsap said. “I always had the assignment of guarding him. He’s one of the elite scorers that we’ve seen. He’s super underrated.  He’s still, to me, a top 10 player in this league. His basketball I.Q. is so high. There’s no other guy out there like that.”

Turns out, Millsap was talking about a version of Anthony that is no more. Millsap is right: The peak version of Anthony was underrated. He deserves more credit for reviving the Nuggets. He deserves more credit for carrying the Nuggets to the brink of the Western Conference title - and the NBA title - in 2009. At the time, he ranked among the top half-dozen players in the NBA.

But Anthony is one of those pro athletes who never quite climbed as high as his potential. In Syracuse, Carmelo is a forever hero.  He led the Orange to a national title in his only season, and when he departed for the Nuggets so much seemed ahead.

Limits? There seemed no limits.

Carmelo crashed into those limits in New York, city of his birth. He never quite made peace with his potential.

He never will.

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