Carmelo Anthony had waited for the chance to get back in the game, spending more than a year sidelined from the NBA before the Portland Trail Blazers finally came calling this season. And then 50 games into his comeback, the league was shut down, leaving questions of how Anthony, who turned 36 in the time the league was away, would respond.
He took up the social causes that have marked much of his professional career. But he also hosted celebrity podcasts called, “What’s in your glass?” in which he sifted through wine preferences, hardly the sort of reassuring hint of what kind of condition he might be when play resumed.
But Anthony came back carrying slightly less weight from a number standpoint, but crafted a different physique, prompting Blazers teammate C.J. McCollum to call him, “Skinny Melo.”
“I think it’s just a compliment, a testament to the work I’ve been able to put in, the extreme focus I’ve had over these couple of months,” Anthony said on a Zoom call from inside the NBA bubble at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex. “This summer is Skinny Melo. There’s Hoodie Melo, USA Melo. At the end of the day, I’m me. I knew how important this was for us coming back, how locked in we have to be.”
Portland will have a fight to get into the playoffs, currently sitting 3 1/2 games out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference — a distance that would put them in a play-in set. With the return of injured pieces and a star backcourt in McCollum and Damian Lillard, the Blazers are a dangerous squad.
But much of it could depend on Anthony, who has made the switch from small forward to power forward as he has aged and slowed. With Trevor Ariza sitting out the restart, Anthony is moving back to small forward and he believes the conditioning will help him make that move.
“For me, it was about locking in,” he said. “We had so much time off that we didn’t know what was going on. For me, I had an opportunity to play with some things, play with my diet and training. We didn’t know the outcome of us coming back and when we were coming back. After we stopped in March I kept it going. I kept going, kept working, stayed on my diet. I didn’t want to get behind, I didn’t know when we were coming back. At the end of the day, It was me focusing in, locking in my diet, getting my mental right, as well as my physical.
“For me I had that in the back of my mind, once coach told me I’d be switching back to three I challenged myself to get down to that weight where I feel comfortable playing the three, comfortable running around, utilizing things I can use in that system playing the three. That was a big motivation for me to come in around that weight, 235, I haven’t seen 230, 235 since earlier in my career. It puts me back in that in a mindset from a confidence standpoint, knowing I was able to get back to that, on the court I feel good. I feel healthy. I have a lot of clarity now too. All of that was part of the plan.”
The plan could also extend beyond this season. When Anthony was shut down by the Rockets 10 games into the 2018-19 season, they could find no takers for him. Over the summer he waited for a chance and it wasn’t until the Blazers were beset with injuries that they came calling. He was immediately inserted in the starting lineup where he averaged 15.3 points and shot 37.1 percent from beyond the arc.
Already there have been rumblings that he could return to the Knicks next season with his longtime agent Leon Rose now the team president.
After reciting the list of different Melo’s he’s been labeled he was asked what might be the next version.
“I was about to say something, but I can’t,” he said. “We are going to get through this bubble first and then I’ll let you know. I’ll keep you posted.”
Still waiting for a coach
The Knicks are expected to name a new coach in the coming days (weeks?) and as we await the official word on the very closely guarded plan, nothing has changed. With two sets of interviews with 11 different coaches of varying age and experience, Tom Thibodeau remains the favorite for the job with Jason Kidd and Kenny Atkinson in the mix. Perhaps it is just in case the Knicks and Thibodeau can't come to an agreement, but the team should come out with a win on the sidelines, at least this time.
One thing we have found out through the search is that Rose crowded the field with familiar faces from CAA, the agency where he was one of the heads of the basketball division for more than a decade. That may provide a hint of where he will search for help on the court, too.
Staying on message
While the initial week inside the bubble has featured players going viral with videos of them enjoying the recreational activities around Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex and occasionally shotguning beers, Nets’ forward Garrett Temple, a vice president for the National Basketball Players Association, is trying to keep a focus on social justice as they move forward.
He was part of a conference call with approximately 30 players discussing the issue Thursday, hoping that the message will mean more than just the words on jerseys.
“I’ve seen a lot of guys say that putting something on their jerseys is just window dressing, if that’s what they believe then that’s obviously up to them,” Temple said in a Zoom call Friday night.
"We had a call last night, about 30 guys, trying to decide what tangible things can happen, obviously we want to keep the conversation going. That’s one of the main things that needs to happen because obviously in this world, in America as well, things die down quickly. Not only just galvanize, but we want to talk to each other, talk to like-minded individuals, about whatever issues we want to change and try to find tangible things that we can actually do to create those changes, to push policy in the cities that we’re in.
"So I think us being on the court pushing that is going to be great to have people watch us, but we also need to come out of here with some strategy to make some tangible change in ways that we can.”