When the Rockets signed him last season, everyone worried about the offensive fit. Can Melo, the king of pulling up from midrange work with the Rockets, a team than preaches layups and threes? It turned out offense wasn't the part we should be worried about.
It started on the first day of Rockets' training camp. The coaching staff began to look at each other and whisper. Melo just could keep up. His feet were slow, and the treatment Donovan Mitchell put him through last playoffs wasn't an anomaly. Utah Jazz nurture ball movement and avoid isolation play like the devil, but Anthony was so bad on defense Mitchell hunted him on every play - it worked. Billy Donovan had to pull him to the bench.
The Rockets tailored their defense to challenge the Warriors. That meant everything was switched. Melo was decent in defending in the post, could maybe even stay in front of a wing guy, but switching so much revealed something no-one on the Rockets expected. Carmelo was barely playable. As Baxter Holmes wrote in his story:
One rival front-office executive notes that the league's 3-point revolution makes it harder than ever to hide players who aren't strong defenders. He's talking about Carmelo Anthony -- someone, he says, "who can't defend, can't close out, his feet are slow and he gets blown by." More than ever, offensive teams will repeatedly target weak defenders in pick-and-roll actions, the executive adds.
Carmelo was never a great defender, but his offensive production was worth the sacrifice. As the game changed, his offense was not efficient enough, and his defense got exposed. The net result became too much to play him, especially in the playoffs.
Anthony still hopes a team will sign him this year. His media tour last year made it clear he understands the game has changed, and he will adapt to help a team. His professionalism has never been a question; Melo was always a positive locker room presence. He wants to end his NBA career on a better note. But what if that note is available to be played in Memphis or Charlotte?
Forcing his way out of Denver to New York and then resigning with the Knicks are two significant decisions that prevented him from having the success his friends LeBron and Dwayne had. Would he make the same mistake again?