Carmelo Anthony‘s first NBA game in 12 months wasn’t remarkable, but being back on the court was satisfying enough for the future Hall of Famer. Anthony scored 10 points and made just four of 14 shots in a loss at New Orleans, but he showed he can still contribute to an NBA team after a year in exile.
Anthony’s long wait to return to the league ended last week when he got an offer to sign a non-guaranteed deal with Portland. It gave Anthony a shot at redemption after brief, disappointing stays with the Thunder and Rockets.
“The greatest feeling of all was to feel wanted by a group of guys who believe in me and my talent and what I can bring to the game,” Anthony said after Tuesday’s contest. “It wasn’t just the players. It was the coaching staff. They really showed a strong level of belief in me and what I can still do.” (Twitter link from Joe Freeman of The Oregonian).
Anthony’s return wasn’t just an important moment for him, notes Jason Quick of The Athletic. Many of his peers also wanted to be part of the experience. Pelicans guard Josh Hart took a picture as Anthony warmed up. Ex-players Nick Van Exel and Antonio Daniels captured it on video. Social media was filled with comments from players and celebrities welcoming Anthony back to the league.
“I think the expression is ‘game recognizes game,’” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said of the attention.
Quick adds that many players are dismayed about the way Anthony’s career has fizzled in his later years. While other stars get farewell tours, Anthony was scapegoated for a bad situation in New York, seemed to be a poor fit in Oklahoma City, then was told to leave the team after 10 games in Houston. Some believe he was blackballed around the league, and they want him to enjoy a more gracious farewell from the game.
“I feel like it’s been an unfair shake towards him,” new teammate Rodney Hood said. “Everybody knows how talented he is. But you know how it is in this league; once there is a narrative about a guy, it sticks with you and follows you. The fact that he got waived was crazy to me, and that nobody picked him up earlier than now is crazy as well. I’ve always advocated for his return.”
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni insists Anthony doesn’t deserve to be blamed for what happened in Houston. He said last year’s team, which stumbled out of the gate, wasn’t “structurally ready” to play and had problems that extended far beyond Anthony.
“It wasn’t his fault,” D’Antoni said. “It was everybody. We just got off to a slow start and wanted to go a little different route. He did everything we asked, and he was good when he was here. I hope it works (in Portland). He’s a leader. There was nothing at all, not even a hint of him not doing what we asked or trying, or all of that. It just, for us, for whatever reason, it just wasn’t a good fit at that time.”
Anthony got a few calls from interested teams after the Rockets cut ties with him last November, but no one ever came close to an offer, according to Quick. He eventually told agent Leon Rose not to contact him unless a deal was near completion.
Anthony remained on the Rockets’ roster, although inactive, for two months. In a move to clear cap room, Houston sent him to the Bulls in January, along with enough cash to cover his salary. Ten days later, Chicago placed him on waivers.
Blazers star Damian Lillard, who tried to recruit Anthony to Portland in the summer of 2017, was shocked that he spent a whole year out of the NBA.
“It wasn’t like Melo did something crazy to get kicked out of the league,” Lillard said. “A player of his caliber, without a reputation for doing wild stuff, and there’s not a real reason for him not to get an opportunity? It was weird. And I think that’s why so many people are in support of him, because they respect him, they are a fan of him, and they know he can still play.”