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Why Carmelo Anthony wants another shot to compete in the NBA

Carmelo Anthony attends a game between the Knicks

Carmelo Anthony attends a game between the Knicks and the Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

An NBA scout explained to me Thursday that he had recommended to his front office that the team bring in Carmelo Anthony.

His recommendation was met with silence.

He said he couldn’t understand it, and he isn’t alone.

Anthony, one of the greatest offensive talents in NBA history, has similar questions, and after nearly nine months of silence, he went public Friday morning, appearing on ESPN’s “First Take.”

But while he went on to clear the air about things others have said about him, he had few answers for why he remains out of work.

“I think the timing is right,” Anthony said. “For so long I wanted to, I felt like I had to say something, felt like I had to stick up for myself. But I also had to step away from the game. It wasn’t my choice, but I had to step away and really analyze, see the situation going on and understand where I’m at in my life, in my career, not understanding what happened, why it happened. I understood the actual business side of it, but the way it was relayed to me wasn’t the same way as I felt.”

It seems like an eternity since the Knicks’ Anthony finished third in the MVP balloting in 2013-14 and maybe just as long since he left New York for Oklahoma City in a trade that he thought finally would give him a chance at a championship. Instead, it began a quick tumble.

He was discarded by the Thunder after one season and lasted only 10 games with the Rockets last season before he was told his time was up.

While his skill set and fit can be debated, whether at 35 years old he still can contribute and, maybe just as important, whether he can accept a lesser role, Anthony has a simpler point to make: How can he not have a place in the league at all?

“Out of 30 teams, you mean to tell me I can’t make a 15-man roster?” he said. “That’s why I’m saying I look in a broader perspective. That’s when it becomes bigger than basketball to me. It becomes politics. At one point, I was saying I don’t want to deal with the politics of the game.”

If he’s ready to be a role player, it is puzzling for Anthony and for most observers that he doesn’t fit in. He explained by the time he arrived in Oklahoma City, he was willing to move on from being the first option he had always been in Denver and New York. Anthony laughed as he noted that he wasn’t even the third option with the Thunder, but actually the fourth behind Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Steven Adams.

In Houston, a place he had flirted with for years, he was shuffled even further down the depth chart and saw it come to an end in a move that surprised him.

“I was surprised by it big time,” Anthony said. “It went from a piece that we wanted, that we needed — mind you, we were talking, for three years, four years they were trying to get me — and I finally went there, thinking everything is good, doing everything I’ve got to do, never missed a practice, doing all my work, real professional with everybody there, I don’t think one person could tell me I wasn’t professional.

“Then the 10th game came, I just don’t understand where that came from. I actually reached out to Daryl [Morey, the Rockets’ general manager], can we talk about how can we make this better? What can we do to fix this? How can we fix this? But then he had in mind that he wanted to come talk to me about releasing me and letting me go.

“I was actually in San Antonio, in my room getting ready for the game. Me and Daryl were supposed to speak that night. I had reached out to him, heads up, what can I do to help the team? He came in and was like, ‘Your services are no longer needed.’

“I’m like, what the hell are you talking about? He was, ‘Things just are not working out, you’re going to have to figure out what to do . . . You’re not going to suit up. You’re not going to make the rotation.’ I’m like, I can’t make a nine-man rotation? That’s what you’re trying to tell me? I already started to accept the fact that I’m coming off the bench, which was hard for me. I’ve moved on from that. You’re telling me I can’t make a nine-, 10-man rotation. That’s deeper than basketball.”

The oddest part of this story is that Anthony has never had the off-the-court issues other players have had. He has been one of the leaders in the NBA Players Association, part of the crew along with LeBron James, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade. He has friends in high places, influential players around the game. Could he help the Lakers? The Clippers? Could he help just about any contending team?

And still, he finds himself on the outside looking in.

It wasn’t the critics who brought Anthony out of silence but his trainer, Chris Brickley, who went on a radio show and discussed Anthony’s desire to return to the game for a farewell tour.

“I never, ever said anything about a farewell tour,” Anthony said. “I never even thought about a farewell tour. I’ve thought about this being my last year, that was at a time I was emotionally vulnerable. Now I feel like I still can play. I know I still can play. My peers know I still can play. I don’t think it’s about basketball anymore. It’s about me as a person willing to accept certain roles on basketball teams.

“Am I willing to accept a certain role in basketball? Yes, I got to a point in Houston where I had to accept that role. It was very hard to accept that role coming from New York where you’re averaging 22, 23 points, an All-Star, and you’re going to another team. You go to OKC, take a step back, then you take the ultimate step back to come off the bench. That’s major, major ego hits.

“It was a whirlwind for me over that year and a half. I got to a point in Houston that I’m going to accept that. I had some help there with some people over there to get me through it. I had to come to a point, accept it, this is the new norm for now.”

What will he bring if he gets that chance?

“For me now, it’s a matter of letting people know where I’m at physically, mentally, emotionally,” Anthony said. “This is where I’m at. I want to play basketball. I still love the game of basketball. I don’t play this game for a farewell tour. I’m ready to get back on a team.

“[I bring] leadership, in the locker room, on the court, on the bench, things I’ve never had issues with before. This is what I bring to a team, on top of being confident enough in my game to still be able to deliver something on the court.”

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