Melo Out

Published on February 22nd, 2011

Alex takes a look at the Carmelo Anthony trade, and how his Melo fandom is justifiably illogical.

There is a simple test I have that easily sorts the logical people from the illogical. Ask any culturally cognizant person you know which superhero they would choose to be, should that choice ever be presented to them. Some people will instantly say Batman because Batman is cool as shit. Some people will say Spider-Man because he might be even cooler. But the only logical people are the ones who answer with “Superman.” Nobody really wants to be Superman because it’s not the cool choice, but it’s the correct answer. Pretty much anything your favourite superhero can do, Superman can do even better (unless DC Comics has a superhero that can throw Kryptonite really far and I just don’t know about it). In a recent podcast, I said I would rather be Spider-Man, because he has been my favourite superhero since I was a kid, and swinging around Manhattan just always looked so goddamn fun. James’ response: “You know Superman can swing, too, right?”

I know that Superman could swing on things if he wanted. Or, you know, just fly instead. I know that he could also probably build the Batcave in a day if he wanted to. In fact, I have posed this same question to many friends over the last year or so and always found myself unsatisfied with any non-Superman answer. There is simply no argument to be had. But that doesn’t stop me from reflexively answering Spider-Man every time.

The basketball equivalent of this (groan now, non-sports fans) is pretty clear. If you were asked which modern basketball player whose talents you could have, the answer should always be LeBron James. The lack of a post game may be his Kryptonite, but he can do pretty much everything else you would want him to, and he’s still young enough that he doesn’t really need a post game anyway. Coming into the 2003 NBA Draft, however, I was certain Carmelo Anthony was going to be a better player, and that Dwyane Wade might even be as good as LeBron. Obviously, I was incorrect. I picked Spider-Man again.

I have been a fairly dedicated basketball fan for about a decade now, but my favourite players have never really been the absolute best in the league. Shaq was way too dominant for me to be a fan. Kobe’s game never did anything for me. Had I been a basketball fan in the 1990s, I suspect I would have praised the merits of Scottie Pippen more often than those of Michael Jordan. Around 2000, when my Sunday afternoons began to be consumed by NBC’s triple-headers of NBA basketball, my favourite players were Paul Pierce, Baron Davis, and Ray Allen. I still stand by two of those choices, and at least Davis occasionally has an awesome beard. These players were never the absolute best in the game; I just loved watching them play. I enjoy Paul Pierce’s vaguely athletic old man’s game. I loved that Baron Davis was a little chubby guy dunking on established superstars like Kevin Garnett. I like a good shooter, and Ray Allen’s quick release is the jump shot equivalent of Marion Cotillard’s glorious visage.

Like those three favourites, Carmelo Anthony has never been the best player in the NBA, but he is certainly in the top 10 and also seems to generally be significantly underrated. Melo is like the NBA’s version of Russell Crowe. There are few people better than him at his profession, but people can’t get past the fact that he threw a phone at a dude once, or that he punches like an infant, or that he made an appearance in a DVD entitled Stop Snitchin’. Anthony has made plenty of mistakes in his life, but it’s not like I’m a fan of athletes to watch them make smart life choices. I’m not a fan of Carmelo Anthony because he chooses to recycle; I’m a fan of his jump shot.

Anthony’s game doesn’t really condense into fancy highlights all that well. He’s quick, but he’s not that quick. He’s strong, but not that strong. He is not an incredibly strong, athletic player like LeBron James, and Melo has few “I Can’t Believe I Just Saw That” plays (although he does have this). Anthony is not spectacular really, but he is still insanely good at basketball. His mid range shot is exceptional. He uses his better-than-average strength in the post to either get to the hoop for a layup or shoot turnaround jumpers, but his go-to move involves catching the ball about 15-20 feet from the basket. He’ll then probably do some jab steps, maybe take a dribble, and then smoothly rise up for a jumper that seems effortless. While as a scorer, Bron’s game is all brawn, Melo’s game is mellow and finesse-based.

It seems to be perceived that Kobe Bryant is the player you want on your team in the final minutes of a close game, and he is often referred to as the Closer because of this (Kyra Sedgwick owes him money). But a recent article by Henry Abbott proved that while Kobe may have a bounty of last-second game winners, as a whole he tends to bring down his team in the clutch. In the late stages of the game, the Lakers will run a different, more Kobe-centric offence, and that can hurt the team. Abbott shows that Carmelo Anthony’s crunch time statistics are actually the best of any active NBA player. Kobe Bryant is often loudly called an assassin (normally by Kevin Harlan) for his late-game heroics, but he’s more like a magician. The last-second successes effectively cause his previous errors to disappear, allowing him to maintain his Closer moniker. The first three quarters are the pledge, the beginning of the last quarter the turn, and his final shot is often the prestige. Maybe we should call him the Great D’Anton instead.

Oh come on, don't give Kobe my name! Anybody but him!

Melo does not lack exciting late game moments, however. In a showdown with LeBron James last year, Anthony and LeBron traded baskets in the second half and overtime, which culminated in Anthony hitting one of his patented mid-range jump shots over LeBron to win the game. About a month later, I was at the Air Canada Centre to witness Anthony hit a game-winner at the buzzer against the Toronto Raptors. I hate sports commentary’s penchant for hyperbole (Kobe Bryant never murdered any high-ranking government officials), but on this occasion I saw the collective emotions of about 20 000 Raptors fans wilt immediately. Had Kevin Harlan been calling the game and exclaimed “CARMELO ANTHONY JUST COMMITTED AN ACT OF SPORTS FAN SOUL GENOCIDE!” he may not have been that far from the truth.

Carmelo Anthony’s 2010-2011 season has been a bit problematic for his fans, mostly by Melo’s own doing. After seeing LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh team up in Miami this summer, Anthony made it no secret that he didn’t want to be a member of the Denver Nuggets anymore. While he is still putting up his typical numbers, hitting game winners, and basically playing like himself, anybody who watched the Nuggets play knew Melo’s heart wasn’t really in it. This season has essentially been Anthony trying to become a member of the New York Knicks, but the Nuggets hadn’t received a compelling enough offer from the Knicks to make that happen until last night. The whole situation is indicative of professional sports today, and could be a big reason why the NBA goes on strike next season: the players now have a seemingly-unprecedented amount of control over where they play. Unsurprisingly, NBA team owners hate this, and it often makes them angry enough to start writing angry corporate manifestos in Comic Sans. While I think Anthony being upfront about his intentions helps the Nuggets moving forward, in that they were able to trade him before he became a free agent, Anthony still went about it in a way that makes him look significantly less than considerate.

But then again, there isn’t really a precedent for Anthony’s actions. Star players have forced their way out of situations before, but there has never been a time where NBA teams were more paranoid about getting nothing back after losing a superstar. The logical way to go about this, to sports fans at least, would be for Anthony play out his contract without whining and let the Denver Nuggets trade Anthony if they felt they really couldn’t resign him (which they clearly didn’t think was possible). While Anthony should have kept this behind closed doors more than he did, it strikes me as a little odd that fans feel that players should just keep quiet. We are all striving to lead an autonomous life, where we have control over our work situation, at least to an extent. Is the fact that Anthony is a human being negated because he makes $14 million a year?

People tend to root for the underdog in all sorts of financial and sports situations, and rarely does an underdog make that type of money. But that’s precisely what Melo is here. Do you know how rich you have to be to own an NBA team? If you hate Anthony for trying to change his situation at Denver’s expense because he should just shut up and take it with that salary, keep in mind that his now-former employer, owner Stan Kroenke, probably makes 10 times that much. Kroenke isn’t just rich, he’s “I own the Nuggets, Avalanche, St. Louis Rams, and 29% of Arsenal F.C.” rich. If you were rooting against Melo in this situation, you were essentially cheering for big business… you capitalist swine.

I don’t know enough about the labour talks to discuss how this Melo situation will affect my chances of seeing NBA games next season. I know it will, but I don’t quite know how yet. As for the Nuggets though, they ended up doing pretty damn well for themselves. Trading a superstar is never a positive, but as far as getting a good return on said superstar, they did much better than any team in recent memory. The New York Knicks have an interesting problem, though. Anthony and Knicks star Amare Stoudemire play a very similar game that can be best described as ball-stopping. They get the ball, and then they tend to hold it until they shoot it about 75-80% of the time. It doesn’t really make sense on paper to pair them up. However, that could work in the Knicks favour.

Anthony’s new coach, Mike D’Antoni, rose to success when he was paired with Steve Nash and then-Sun Stoudemire in Phoenix by trying something that had never really been proven to be successful at the NBA level. Their offence was called “Seven Seconds or Less,” and the philosophy was essentially to be constantly fast-breaking, and shooting the ball before seven seconds had run off the shot clock whenever possible. Think about it as playing in the NBA like most people would play a basketball video game. This lead to four straight 50-plus wins seasons, and while they never won a title, they appeared in 2 conference finals, and were a Robert Horry hip-check away from a third in 2007. The idea behind the style made little sense in the professional game initially, but D’Antoni knew who he had on his team, and how to effectively use them. I do not always agree with his coaching style, but he’s pretty skilled at putting his players in good positions for their skill sets. Adding Melo may not be a seamless transition, but I trust that the Great D’Antoni will figure this out more than I trust the Great D’Anton in the final five minutes of a close game. They won’t win a championship immediately or anything, but I’m confident that the Knicks will be pretty good pretty soon.

Sometimes it’s good to be illogical. It’s more fun. It allows you to argue for the merits of Carmelo Anthony, even though you would take LeBron James first in any fantasy draft you were a part of. Illogical choices have lead to some pretty great things. Nobody expected to see Heath Ledger play the Joker. Everybody thought a Facebook movie would suck. I’m still surprised that putting Nibs in popcorn is as delicious as it is. But I realize that sometimes making the illogical choice can backfire pretty badly. The logical second pick of the 2003 NBA Draft was Carmelo Anthony, but the Detroit Pistons illogically passed on him for an unproven European seven-footer, and the Pistons are pretty awful now because of this. Until my lack of logic reaches Darko Milicic-esque levels, however, I’m going to keep arguing that I would rather have Carmelo Anthony than Kobe Bryant in the final minutes of a game, that I would rather be Spider-Man than Superman, and that the Knicks just got significantly better even though they gutted their team. I might get weird looks, similar to those that sports fans have given Anthony all season, but fuck it, I’ll get what I want out of the deal. And I hope that Melo does, too.

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