When a story in The Athletic this past week said LeBron James had interest in bringing Carmelo Anthony to the Lakers, it seemed to make perfect sense. Every year for James is win now, and the longtime friend of Anthony’s seemed to be just what the suddenly fading star needed to rekindle a career in limbo.
But before the story could even gain traction, there were denials from the Lakers. Anthony remains in waiting, hoping for another team to take a chance on him. It’s such a fast and precipitous slide from the 22.4 points per game he put up two seasons ago for the Knicks.
In Oklahoma City, the fit with Russell Westbrook never really took. The hopes for a renaissance in Houston alongside Chris Paul and James Harden ended after only 10 games this season, with Anthony being blamed for the Rockets’ struggles.
So the question is this: If his old pal LeBron, the most powerful player in the NBA, can’t bring him on, could Carmelo Anthony be done?
The strange thing is that while there is conjecture that the game has passed him by, Anthony still was averaging 13.4 points per game and shooting 40.5 percent from the field and 32.8 percent from beyond the arc this season.
For sure, the numbers pale when compared with what he previously put up in his career. His offensive rating is the same as last season in OKC and his defensive rating is the worst of his career.
But out of the game?
Consider the player who has taken his place as the top scoring threat for the Knicks this season, Tim Hardaway Jr. While Knicks coach David Fizdale has pitched Hardaway for an All-Star spot this season, his shooting percentage and defensive rating are worse than what Anthony put up before the Rockets parted ways with him.
So is there still a team -- and maybe a role -- for Anthony? Scottie Pippen, appearing on ESPN on Friday, said, “I think this would be a great fit for Carmelo. LeBron is the one player that can kind of revise his career, can set him up for success. And I think Carmelo has to now take a step back and realize where he is as a player. Be willing to come off the bench, be willing to sacrifice. I think some of the things that he’s said has caused him not to be in the league today. I don’t feel like his play has played him out of the game yet.”
While Anthony is left to ponder the possible end of his career, the focus for the Knicks has been on the players at the beginning of their careers, particularly 20-year-old Frank Ntilikina.
Like some of his teammates before him, Ntilikina took his turn on the bench last week, sitting out three straight games. That has caused fans -- and reporters, including this one -- to wonder just how focused the Knicks are on their player development plan if the 2017 lottery pick is not getting a chance on the floor.
“It’s a difficult balance,” Fizdale said. “And especially when you have a plethora of young players. It’s a lot different when you only have a couple of young guys. You can kind of just throw them out there and just let them survive because veterans are protecting them the whole time. But when you’ve got a gym full of guys who are competing for a lot of the same spots with similar ages, there has to be some fairness there that when another guy is playing good basketball that you give him that nod. That’s how I try to balance it with this group.
“This is really new for me as well, having this many, to try to figure out and to try to get opportunities to develop but at the same time be fair. That’s where I’m at. I’m just trying to navigate that and at the same time constantly communicate to these guys and give them encouragement.”
But the player starting at point guard, Emmanuel Mudiay, comes with an expiring contract and a cap hold of more than $12 million next summer. Starting at small forward -- where Fizdale has shifted Ntilikina at times, including starting there the first five games of the season -- has been Mario Hezonja, also with an expiring contract.
Ntilikina already is a solid defender; his struggles have come on offense. But comparing his shooting numbers to Hezonja’s nine games as a starter don’t provide a reason to put him in the lineup over Ntilikina.
“I’m learning. I’m going to get out of this better, get out of this experience better than I was,” Ntilikina said. “This is going to get me tougher on the court, tougher mentally. Just better. It’s an experience that helps players.”
It has helped some with Mudiay, who has been coming on strong after being left out of the rotation. Damyean Dotson had a hot stretch when he came back from four games without an appearance on the floor.
Will it help Ntilikina? Not every player is the same or responds to the same things. Maybe Ntilikina will, or maybe what he needs simply is playing time. The reality is the Knicks have nothing to lose in giving him that playing time this season.
Another former Knick surfaced this past week. Joakim Noah signed with Memphis after being waived and stretched by the Knicks earlier this season, meaning he’s on the Knicks’ payroll for $18.5 million this season and $19.3 million split over the next three seasons. He made his debut for the Grizzlies on Friday with 13 points, five rebounds and three assists in 17 minutes.
Last season, he had 12 points in seven games for the Knicks before being isolated from the team after a practice confrontation with since-fired coach Jeff Hornacek.