The Intertwining Fights For Relevance
What Carmelo Anthony and Jeremy Lin are really seeking from the NBA and its community
Last week, both Jeremy Lin and Carmelo Anthony appeared in public forums to discuss their current predicaments in the 2019 NBA Free Agency period. Lin was overseas in Asia doing his public speaking tours like he always did in the past. He was at a Christian TV station in Taiwan and was answering questions but the comment that caught airwaves was when he began to speak about not currently being signed to a team and how he feels he has hit “rock bottom” despite the fact that he recently won a championship with the Toronto Raptors.
“In English, there’s a saying and it says once you hit rock bottom, the only way is up,” Lin said at the presser. “But rock bottom just seems to keep getting more and more rock bottom for me. So, free agency has been tough. Because I feel in some ways the NBA’s kind of given up on me.”
It’s a surprising response considering Lin had just won a championship and was a decent backup point guard for Kyle Lowry (although Fred VanFleet came into his own and ate up his minutes during the playoffs). Lin is still relatively young. He’s 30 years old and can run the spread pick and roll offense that most teams in the league run. He’s not the fastest player in the league but is still a good player all things considered. He had a terrible injury back in 2017 but has recovered and can still put up decent numbers.
Lin is not the only player that has weirdly been shut out by the league.
Carmelo Anthony hasn’t played professional basketball since November 2018 (he was officially traded by the Houston Rockets and waived by the Chicago Bulls on January 22, 2019). Prior to being traded, he was locked out of rotation by head coach Mike D’Antoni when things didn’t pan out with him in the lineup and D’Antoni wasn’t sure what to do with him. The mysteries surrounding the circumstances were always all over the place. Some believe D’Antoni was trying to get back at Melo for their failed relationship when he was head coach of the New York Knicks. Others believe Morey gave up on Melo too quickly due to the bad start and quickly scrambled to build a contending team on the fly. Whatever the case may be, Melo was officially gone out of H-Town and has been trying to play basketball in the NBA again.
He appeared on ESPN’s “First Take” this past Friday and spoke about the collapse in Houston, why he didn’t form a “Big 3” partnership with his close friends LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Miami, whether or not he wants a “farewell tour,” and what he plans to do now. Hearing Melo speak to media personality Stephen A. Smith was heart-wrenching since it was clear Melo is hurt that he’s not in the NBA and would sign up with ANY team that will allow him to play the game that he loves.
Melo isn’t some bum scrub that shouldn’t play basketball anymore. He’s a future Hall of Fame player. He was a ten time NBA All Star, a scoring champion, a three time Gold Medal Olympian, won a title in Syracuse University, has the highest scoring game in New York Knicks basketball history, and attained more than 25,000 points in his NBA career putting him alongside the likes of legends like Michael Jordan, Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitizki, and even his pal LeBron James. And yet, it’s true: the game doesn’t love him back.
It’s ironic that being left out of the league is happening to both Melo and Lin. Both of them were teammates during the “Linsanity” run on the Knicks back in 2012. Melo’s isolation game didn’t really mesh well with Lin’s heavy pick and roll game that D’Antoni wanted to instill on the team. It got worse when D’Antoni quit and assistant coach Mike Woodson took over and ran plays that focused on Melo’s game and wasn’t as fond of Lin as D’Antoni was. Plus, rumors were circulating around the team that Melo was jealous of Lin’s ascension to media darling during the time he was injured and didn’t like the fact that D’Antoni wanted to run plays through Lin more so than Melo himself and former teammate Amar’e Stoudemire who were the “marquee stars” on the Knicks. Stoudemire himself confirmed this in an interview with ESPN back in February 2016. Whatever the case was, both players went their separate journeys at the end of the season. Lin jumped from team to team while Melo continued to stay with the Knicks before eventually leaving the team as well.
Now, the average person would think that with the careers that both Melo and Lin had, you could say their tenures were successful despite not being perfect. Lin became the first Asian American NBA player to win a championship and Melo established himself as one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history. Those are not bad ways to conclude a career and move on to something else. However, both players know and FEEL that’s not enough. There’s something that they felt they haven’t received yet despite the aforementioned career accomplishments they both have earned. It’s something that isn’t unique to a person, let alone a NBA athlete.
Both players are frustrated that they haven’t gotten true respect from the NBA.
Now you may be thinking: what the heck are you talking about? People respect them. Why in God’s name do you think there are those campaigning for them to return to the NBA?!
True! Comments like the ones made by Trae Young and Damian Lillard are cool and all but if that was the case how come they weren’t sought out during free agency? Does that sound like front offices value their skills and are looking to see what they can bring to the table to help their team win games? Very unlikely. People like them are the ones Lin and Melo are targeting in terms of trying to get their respect but it’s a difficult task to accomplish.
First, let’s start with Jeremy Lin who had by far the roughest path to the NBA more so than Melo himself. Lin was an undrafted guard from Palo Alto, California who received garbage playing time while playing for his hometown team the Golden State Warriors. He played extensively for their G-League team before eventually being let go. He later was picked up by the Houston Rockets (the first time) but was lost in the point guard shuffle on the team and was cut to make room to sign Samuel Dalembert. He signed with the Knicks later on after their rookie shooting guard Iman Shumpert got hurt. He was supposed to be the backup to Toney Douglas since Baron Davis was injured as well and the team’s point guard rotation was putrid.
The Knicks were on a losing streak and injuries to players like Shumpert, Davis, Melo, and Stoudemire frustrated D’Antoni to no end. Lin was supposed to be cut from the team to make room to sign a veteran point guard in Mike James but D’Antoni wanted to see what Lin got before letting him go so he played him against the New Jersey Nets in February of 2012. Lin stole the show and led the Knicks to their first victory. It was at that moment that “Linsanity” was born.
Lin would continue to win more games and start a winning streak for the Knicks. Media attention began to increase since the Knicks were actually fun again! The team actually had a legit, competent point guard running the offense. The teammates loved him since he was a good dude. The fanbase was hyped since this was the first time an Asian American player took the NBA by storm.
It got to the point where everybody was talking about Jeremy Lin, even to the point of annoyance to players like Kobe Bryant.
Lin would later take on Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers on national TV and it was there that the nation — along with Bryant — got to know who Jeremy Lin was.
Each game felt like an exciting event and everybody wanted to watch the Knicks again. Lin kept the team afloat in the playoff hunt and it seemed like the Knicks may actually bring some ruckus in a lockout season. Lin was practically unstoppable. Every moment during his tenure was an electrifying event.
Even though Lin was a big deal at one point, it didn’t feel like he truly earned the respect of his peers or the so-called “basketball heads.” No Asian American athlete had the kind of notoriety that Lin had and it happened to exist in a predominantly Black professional sport. A lot of players would dream of having the kind of run Lin had. Most of them don’t even last long in the league. Here’s this guy who some how lucked out and took advantage of the circumstances around him. And he also was an undrafted player to boot. With his talent alone, he’d be a late first round or early second round pick in his draft class but even then he was looked over because he didn’t “stick out” to the scouts. It may be taboo to say it but it was more than likely because of his heritage that he was looked down upon.
Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets, gave insight on the scouting process on Lin during the 2010 NBA Draft in a book by Michael Lewis called “The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds.”
Here’s the excerpt from ND poster LorenzoMax…:
“He lit up our model,” said Morey. “Our model said take him with, like, the 15th pick in the draft.” The objective measurement of Jeremy Lin didn’t square with what the experts saw when they watched him play; a not terribly athletic Asian kid. Morey hadn’t completely trusted his model — and so had chickened out and not drafted Lin. A year after the Houston Rockets failed to draft Jeremy Lin, they began to measure the speed of a player’s first two steps: Jeremy Lin had the quickest first move of any player measured. He was explosive and was able to change direction far more quickly than most NBA players. “He’s incredibly athletic,” said Morey. “But the reality is that every f***ing person, including me, thought he was unathletic. And I can’t think of any reason for it other than he was Asian.”
That quote alone confirmed that racial bias played a role in Lin’s struggles in entering the NBA and even maintaining longevity after he became a notoriety. It’s unlikely that this will change anytime soon, especially considering that nobody has bothered to sought him for his skills despite the fact that Lin has shown that he still has some skills left in him and can be a solid reserve guard coming off the bench. Lin has gained opportunities that many players wished they had and he made the best of them at every turn. It finally led to him being on a roster that earned him his first NBA championship and it’s clear that it’s something he cherishes everyday.
However, based on his comments during that presser in Taiwan, he might have hints of “impostor syndrome” and feels he didn’t really earn a championship ring and wants to prove that he can still be a viable player in the league. It’s understandable where he’s coming from and hopefully some team in the league will be able to grant him a chance to play the game that he loves and do what he can before he retires for good.
Meanwhile, Melo himself has struggled to find his footing in the league after he left the Knicks. After he was insulted by Phil Jackson during his tenure as President of Basketball Operations, he wanted out of New York and gave up trying to patch things up with the Knicks. Melo received his wish and was traded to a playoff caliber team in the Oklahoma City Thunder and had a solid role during his stay there.
Then the playoffs came and Melo couldn’t find a role for himself and that ultimately led to his departure from the Thunder to the Rockets. After a 4–6 start, Melo was left out of the rotation and eventually was sent away by the Rockets. Since then, Melo has stayed in the gym, constantly worked out to stay in good condition the off chance he finds a team again. So far, nobody has come knocking on his door and it has been a bit of struggle for a once great All Star player.
Nowadays, NBA fans and basketball media personnel try to have a bit of a “revisionist history” when it comes to Carmelo Anthony. Some feel that the circumstances he did it to himself and that it’s no surprise that he is no longer in the league but that’s what happens when you gloss over important details — like the case with Jeremy Lin for example — and not look at the situation with nuance, empathy, and understanding. While there is some truth that some decisions that Melo made ultimately led to his current situation, he’s not the sole blame of what has happened to him. It happens to be a mix of bad fits and bad luck.
Melo came into the same draft class of LeBron and Wade. The 2003 NBA Draft Class was the most hyped draft class since the 1996 NBA Draft. Melo was drafted by the Denver Nuggets and already established himself as one of the premier young scorers in the league. He would eventually continue to improve as a scorer and lead his team to the Western Conference Finals but unfortunately fell to the powerhouse Los Angeles Lakers who would go on to win the NBA Championship in 2009. But there was no mistaking that Melo’s tenure in Denver was one of the most exciting periods in his career.
Although Melo was in a good situation in Denver, he wanted more out of his career and his life. He had dreams of playing in New York City and the bright lights of Broadway would sky rocket his fame and put him in a position to establish his business away from basketball where he could continue to focus the day he decides to retire. It was either the soon-to-be-arriving-in-New-York Brooklyn Nets or the Knicks. Melo made a push to be traded to the Knicks and the rest was history.
A lot of people believe that it was a mistake for Melo to leave the Nuggets to head to the Knicks. Others felt that he should’ve waited to sign as a free agent and not cost the Knicks all those draft picks and gutting up the roster so he would have some solid role players to play with upon his arrival. Again, there’s truth to that but there’s so much more being ignored. For starters, it’s not uncommon for teams to give up the farm for All Star-caliber players. You saw what the Lakers did earlier this summer to get Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans. They practically gave up the deed to the house, the farm, two chickens, and a cow just to get a superstar player of his skill to play alongside LeBron in LA. The Knicks — or more specifically James Dolan — pushed that trade button to get Melo to Madison Square Garden. His presence definitely brought serious excitement to the Garden not seen since April 2001 (the last time the Knicks were actually good).
Not to mention, there was no guarantee that Melo would’ve came to the Knicks. He easily could’ve started fresh in Brooklyn and establish a career there. Keep in mind that people can be fickle. They may comfortable with a decision one minute but could easily change their mind later. Knicks had to get the jump on Melo. Opportunities like that do not come often and that move should not be criticized regardless as to how people feel in hindsight.
Now there’s plenty to criticize in terms of Melo’s game and decision-making during his time in New York. Isolation scoring can only get you so far in the league. He never evolved as a playmaker for others or focused on stepping up his defense. He could have — and should have — signed with other teams when he had the chance and win a title elsewhere. He also should not have pushed out players that were good enough to support him (again, see Jeremy Lin). However, Melo’s time with the Knicks wasn’t a failure because it was soley his fault. His time as a Knick was a failure because of the Knicks.
The ball club had ample chances to make the best of his stay in the Big Apple and they blew every single opportunity. It’s ridiculous but it’s so Knicks at this point that it shouldn’t be any shock. In his first year, Melo was doing what he did best and even showcased that the team might actually had something against the Big 3 in Miami. Melo and Stoudemire were a solid front court duo and with a veteran point guard in Chauncey Billups controlling the offense, they actually had their blueprint of success.
Then the playoffs hit (sound familiar?) and most of the roster dropped like flies due to injuries. Billups tore his ACL, Stoudemire’s back was injured in a pregame dunk show, and Melo was on an island by himself. This would lead to an eventual sweep by the Boston Celtics.
Then the Knicks did one of their many dumb decisions in using the one time Amnesty Clause to waive Billups to sign Tyson Chandler. To be fair, he was coming off one of his best seasons in his career and was arguably the best defensive center in the league and just won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks. That’s fine but one problem? The Knicks failed to address a glaring hole at point guard despite the fact that they knew that D’Antoni’s offense was predicated on heavy point guard play in the pick and roll! Luckily they found Jeremy Lin and you already know the rest at this point.
Then came the next offseason and the Knicks signed a bunch of veteran players near the end of their careers, brought back Raymond Felton who was let go during the Melo trade, and Woodson was given a deal as the new head coach and utilized a strategy that would enforce isolation scoring plays for Melo while having shooters for floor spacing and having two point guards in the starting lineup and using small ball lineups to play with speed and score three pointers quickly and efficiently. It worked! Knicks had their best season in 13 years by wining 54 games. Woodson was a Head Coach of the Year candidate. Melo had a MVP caliber season and became the Scoring Champion. JR Smith, who was brought on as the sixth man, won Sixth Man of the Year. The GM at the time, Glen Grunwald, was also in talks to win Executive of the Year. Everything was looking up for the Knicks.
Once the playoffs hit, they finally won the first round of the playoffs since 2000 but fell to the Paul George-led Indiana Pacers in six games in the second round. Despite the setbacks, the Knicks had a formula they could ride on and put Melo in a position to win a championship at Madison Square Garden and the Knicks could continue to bring exciting basketball in the Big Apple.
Of course the Knicks did the exact opposite. Dolan fired Grunwald, hired Steve Mills — a former associate of Dolan who was let go during the sexual harassment case at MSG with Isiah Thomas and a MSG employee — to replace Grunwald despite the fact that he never worked as a general manager before, brought in a consulting firm that complicated matters for the coaching staff and the players, got rid of the key pieces of the 54 win season team and traded them for a lottery bust in Andrea Bargnani, did not improve the guard play, and somehow Melo was supposed to win a championship with the aforementioned circumstances happening to him.
It did not end well. The team only won 37 games and missed the playoffs for the first time in the Melo Era. Melo had a great season (and even a legendary 62 point game!) but wasn’t good enough to help bring his team to the playoff hunt. He was a free agent and all signs pointed to him going to Chicago to play alongside Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler (which would’ve been a good thing). Luckily for the Knicks, Melo resigned with the Knicks and Dolan brought in Phil Jackson to serve as President of Basketball Operations. Jackson wanted to use the famed Triangle Offense to help bring a title to New York. One problem? His version of Tex Winter’s legendary “triple post offense” was antiquated and it has since been modernized by plenty of teams in the NBA and his first year was a disaster and Jackson tanked the season after Melo injured his knee and got surgery.
However, the tanking was well worth it as it led to the Knicks drafting THIS guy to the ball club.
Jackson brought in Kristaps Porzingis in the 2015 NBA Draft and it looked like Melo finally got a big break. Derek Fisher — who at the time was a rookie head coach entering his second year — retooled the Triangle Offense for a modern day use of the pick and roll while utilizing the Triangle’s ball movement strategy to open more shots for teammates. Porzingis was a young, promising big man who could space the floor and play solid defense. Alongside Melo and Robin Lopez, who they signed that offseason, the Knicks had one of the best front courts in the league. With Lopez and Porzingis, the Knicks had a defense front court that could punish opposing players approaching the rim. When Porzingis is moved to the center position and Melo plays power forward, the team moves fast and the scoring efficiency increases exponentially.
Then Jackson was annoyed that Fisher wasn’t running his schemes the way he wanted it and fired him, had his old friend Kurt Rambis serve as the head coach who clashed with Melo and the rest of the team (especially Robin Lopez), and the Knicks went on to have another losing season.
Jackson then made the trade for Derrick Rose, shipped away Lopez, and signed a past-his-prime Joakim Noah, brought in Jeff Hornacek and forced him to run his Triangle Offense, and expected the team to make a push for the playoffs.
When Hornacek was allowed to coach the team the way he wanted it, the team looked good and was actually competitive. Rose tried his best to adjust his game to play alongside Melo and Porzingis while the other two tried to do the same as well. Things were actually looking up for Melo and the Knicks.
Then Jackson opened his mouth and insulted LeBron James and later on Melo. The Knicks began to go on a losing streak. Rose’s pesky injuries resurfaced along with the others and things went from bad to worse.
No matter how you look at it, the Knicks always had a recipe for success when it came to Melo’s game and how he played. What’s ironic was that they developed a “Broken Aesop” and refused to listen to what was essentially working for them. Melo would learn this the hard way that the team he wanted to work with may not have the knowledge of putting him in a position to win. While understandable that being financially secure to take of your family and establish yourself when you retire is important, it was no secret that the Knicks had no idea what to do with Melo. It’s easy to put the blame on Melo for his limited game as an isolation ball player but he was not the sole reason his tenure didn’t pan out.
Lin and Melo are looking for opportunity to prove to naysayers that they have value and can still play among the best in the league. While they’re not the same elite players as they once were due to injuries and aging, they still can offer some merit of value to a team looking for a playoff push or even a championship run. Lin can serve as a backup point guard for a team like the Los Angeles Clippers. Melo could team up with his old buddy LeBron with the Lakers or even head to South Beach and be a viable option for a playoff caliber team like the Miami Heat. Both players are fighting to prove their worth to the league. Perhaps it’s time for us to stop neglecting them based on our own personal biases and give them their due. They’ve earned it.
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As a bonus, check out these two fantastic videos from SBNation about the Rise and Fall of Linsanity and the Collapse of the Knicks