Take The Next Step, Carmelo

Photo by lukeroberts on Flickr

 

You might’ve seen this video of Kobe Bryant saying he’d like to play with Carmelo Anthony:

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GK5sjh7zJw w=640 h=360]

The most interesting piece of information from that clip is that Kobe told Carmelo that if he was to come to L.A. he’d expect him to join him for 6:00 AM training sessions. Apparently he wasn’t thrilled with this idea, but can you imagine if this had happened? Put aside all the reasons why Bynum for Melo never made sense for the Lakers and think about what Anthony would be capable of if he was as obsessed with basketball as Bryant. Imagine a fully realized version of Melo, using his quickness, strength, and basketball IQ to be a top-notch defender. Those who are unfairly labeled as Carmelo haters are quick to say that he has the tools to develop on the defensive end in a good system — I’d say a system where Kobe Bryant is screaming at you for missing an assignment is the best kind.

Obviously, Carmelo Anthony is not going to play for the Lakers. He’s where he wanted to be, with a co-star in Amar’e Stoudemire who, despite showing good leadership qualities last season from the beginning of training camp, is not Kobe Bryant. And Bryant might be the only guy, save for Kevin Garnett, who I can picture chastising Anthony for playing lazy defense and forcing him into early-morning weightlifting sessions. Bringing Mike Woodson in should help, but I still have my doubts about a Mike D’Antoni team holding him accountable for his bad habits. This means if he’s going to have the career season we want from him, it’s on him. Fortunately, there’s precedent.

If Paul Pierce hasn’t been a leader in the past, then what makes them think he’ll become one this season? He’s saying all the right things now, but when they start to lose tough games, that’s when it’s going to start hitting the fan. They don’t want to wait too long to unload him, because when the player dictates a trade by complaining and setting a bad example, the team gets much less value in return–like Toronto did last year with Vince Carter.

Via Sport’s Illustrated’s Boston Celtics 2005-2006 Preview, 10/24/05

The above sounds pretty silly, given that it was written before the most statistically productive season of Paul Pierce’s career, the season where Bill Simmons says in The Book of Basketball, Celtics fans saw him become “everything we ever wanted.”

He wanted to be a Celtic. He wanted to be there when things turned around. He believed the Celtics were his team, for better or worse, that it was his personal responsibility to lead them. Everyone will remember his ‘08 season, but Pierce’s greatest season had already happened, the year he accepted the responsibility of a franchise player and killed himself every night. The groundwork for everything that happened afterward was laid then and there. Where did it come from? I couldn’t tell you. But it’s the reason a team like Denver ends up keeping ‘Melo for two extra years, because you never want a great player “getting it” as soon as he’s playing for someone else.

Via The Book of Basketball, p. 358

Pierce was 28 when he got it. Anthony is 27 and he clearly sees the Knicks as his team. It’s fantastic that he wants to be involved in off-court stuff, but to show that he’s worth completely gutting an exciting, promising team, he’s going to have to make the same on-court commitment that the veteran Pierce did. The season before Pierce’s career year ended with him yelling at Doc Rivers in a timeout during a blowout loss in Game 7 of the first round when Rivers was getting on him about defense. The end of Anthony’s first half-season with the Knicks wasn’t as dramatic, but it was disappointing – a first-round sweep at the hands of Pierce’s Celtics should be enough to motivate a man trying to lead his own championship contender. And while I submit that I have no idea if that series ever saw D’Antoni criticize Melo for his defensive focus, a couple of months prior his former coach said more than enough.

Approaching this (partial?) season, there’s already reason to be optimistic about Anthony – he’s healthy. Apparently his knee and elbow had been bothering him for the last seven years, and in May he finally had surgery on them. In addition to this, he’s slimmed down a bit. Despite my affinity for the pre-Melo Knicks and the post-Melo Nuggets and this scary Isiah Thomas stuff, I can get excited about seeing Amar’e and Melo work with a training camp under their belts. I’m not sure this team has the depth to properly compete against the upper echelon, but a true superstar turn from Anthony would certainly make that seem like a more realistic proposition. I can see it happening. Please don’t make me look stupid, Melo.

Seth Carstens