Sometimes, you just wish you could find that old Carmelo

Carmelo Anthony has become a beleaguered figure in New York already

March 14, 2012|By Chris Korman

Maybe this all has been drummed up by the ever-in-search-of-controversy New York Post, but it appears Carmelo Anthony is disgruntled once again. According to an anonymous source, he's upset with the direction of the New York Knicks, wants more input on personnel decisions and hates playing for coach Mike D'Antoni (who, as of a few minutes ago, resigned according to Yahoo!).*

The timing is interesting.

Think back to nine years ago, when Carmelo Anthony was well-known to true basketball aficionados -- and Baltimoreans who'd followed his rise at Towson Catholic and on local playgrounds -- but only on the cusp of becoming a household name. His Syracuse team was a No. 3 seed, having lost to the Connecticut team built around Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament. As good as 'Melo had been that season, this was a time when the prevailing thought said freshmen couldn't carry teams through the grueling tournament. With Anthony and Gerry McNamara playing such vital roles for a team that relied on zone defense, the focus went elsewhere: Rick Barnes and Kelvin Sampson had tough, hardened teams at Texas and Oklahoma, respectively, and UConn and Marquette were well-rounded, Kentucky would be tough, Roy Williams was looking for his first title with a veteran Kansas team and so on and so on.

And then, quite frankly, Carmelo Anthony took over. We tend to remember March Madness mostly for those who come out of nowhere. The more Cindarella, the better. An inexplicable run from an underdog resonates with everyone. But more often we get a player like Anthony -- widely regarded as one of the best in college basketball -- finding that next level, one notch above the peers he'd played against in AAU and at camps. Following Jeremy Lin's improbable rise is fun, but those stories are rare and, usually, fleeting. But to watch as a known star transcends so many things -- the defenses built to stop him, the pressure of the moment -- is truly sublime. We shouldn't forget that.

It is so difficult to remember how things felt then, before Anthony's image hardened. He was gangly, still -- scouts had worried how his strength would translate at the Division I, let alone NBA, level -- and goofy. People in this city knew that he could be aloof; he'd been suspended in high school for trouble with grades, and wasn't seen as the most conscientious teammate. But with the big grin and that loping stride, it all worked for Anthony. He had the charisma, he had the kid-like-enjoyment, he made big shots and shrugged, his hair hanging and swaying.

But now, under the harsh glare of the New York City media, Anthony is burnishing a reputation that seemed improbable nine years ago: a cancer. The New York Times says he's tearing apart a Knicks team that went 7-1 without him and 2-8 since he returned. But before he even returned there were stories predicting he'd be unable to mesh with the point guard duo of Lin and Baron Davis, not projections of how he'd thrive with someone to give him better entry passes.

As with many of our most compelling figures -- in sports or otherwise -- Anthony's strength can also be his weakness. He likes having the basketball, and is uncomfortable when he is not the center of an offense. During that magical run a decade ago, he was able to be that player and Jim Boeheim was able to make the rest of the team work around him and that was good enough, playing against other college teams with all of their flaws and tired legs and rattled nerves. But in the NBA, that simply won't work. Anthony is playing against the top 150 players in the world.

But he's also playing with some of them. And that appears to be his problem.

*Quick update: Prior to the resignation of D'Antoni becoming public, Anthony told reporters that he had no interest in being traded and was happy with the Knicks. As I noted above, the Post is not exactly synonymous with thorough, nuanced reporting. But I also doubt that their beat writer, Marc Berman, simply made the story up. Let's say this: the details aren't clear, but the Knicks are a mess and Carmelo Anthony is -- where else? -- in the middle of it.

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