BALTIMORE – Too many viral videos have surfaced this offseason – of him training at 2 a.m. on artificial turf in a black hoodie, of him playing pickup in Los Angeles with Kyrie Irving, of him shooting left-hand free throws out of boredom, of him dapping up Draymond Green at a soccer game in Miami – to suggest that Carmelo Anthony has gone underground, though his appearance might imply otherwise.
Anthony has avoided the razor and let his Afro puff up considerably since the conclusion of what he hopes was his last season with the New York Knicks. He can’t predict when all of the deflating drama that has come from his unfulfilling tenure in the city of his birth will finally come to an end. Nor can he comment publicly on where he would prefer to continue his career. What he can do is end speculation about the possibility that those cornrows – which were his signature look upon entering the league 14 years ago – will return and that he will one day have a beard that rivals the one belonging to James Harden.
“Training camp,” Anthony told The Vertical with a laugh in response to an inquiry about when he planned to shave and look a little more like himself again.
Back in his hometown for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Robert C. Marshall Park – the place where he found refuge on the baseball field for Little League and at the recreational center where he played basketball until they removed him from the gym – Anthony didn’t want to address a future that remains unsettled. The past 12 months have provided enough exultation and tumult to perhaps explain his new scruffier look and the desire for something different. Anthony has experienced the highs of an unprecedented third Olympic basketball gold medal in Rio de Janeiro and outlasting former Knicks front-office nemesis Phil Jackson and the lows of seemingly unwarranted – and trade-value-diminishing – jabs from Jackson, another lousy, lottery-worthy season with the Knicks and a separation from wife La La.
“An emotional roller coaster … an emotional roller coaster,” Anthony said. “But I had to find peace. I had to come to peace with myself and come to peace with kind of the situation I’m in and kind of try to find happiness again. I kind of lost that a little bit, but I’m finding it now and it feels good.”
Anthony also knows that all most can focus on is not whether he’ll share Harden’s affinity for facial hair, but rather if he’ll be sharing the floor with the two-time MVP runner-up in Houston. Good friend Chris Paul, who once suggested forming a super team with Anthony – albeit in New York – during a toast at Anthony’s wedding, already forced his way to the Rockets. But the Rockets don’t have much left to offer the Knicks, who would prefer to move on from Anthony but are at his mercy given the no-trade clause that the 10-time All-Star possesses. Portland and Oklahoma City would love to engage, and Cleveland becomes less of a possibility each day, but Anthony’s options are limited. That hasn’t stopped him before. He has a tendency to get what he wants, but the chances of landing in Houston would require one or more teams to get involved to help facilitate the move.
“I’ve been good,’’ Anthony said. “I’ve been away from the fray. You haven’t heard comments from me. I’m growing my hair out right now, spending time with the family. I’m being an AAU dad right now. That’s what matters to me at this point. Nothing else really matters.”
Jackson is no longer around to try to goad him into demanding a trade, but Anthony swatted away an opportunity to gloat. “I thought it was a business decision,” Anthony said of Jackson’s dismissal. Knicks owner James Dolan has “got to run his organization.”
Anthony hasn’t met with Knicks officials but he has spoken with recently hired general manager Scott Perry, a respected executive credited with providing a few months of sane stability in Sacramento who also previously worked in Orlando and Detroit. “I’ve talked to him,’’ Anthony said. “We’ve communicated. I’ve known Scott for maybe 10 years now. I’ve known him for a while back in the Detroit days, the draft, 2003, all that. And things like that. I’m pretty sure I’ll get to [formally meet with] him.”
Anthony is serving as host of The Basketball Tournament this week in Baltimore – the $2 million title game is Thursday on the campus of Coppin State University – and Mayor Catherine Pugh presented him with a medallion for his service and commitment to the community. Speaking to a group of nearly 100 people, including his mother, Mary, Anthony said, “This medal means more than the Olympic medal.” He also described the challenge of growing up in Baltimore as difficult because there was little hope, but he always had a belief that he would eventually make it out and find success. Though his current situation pales in comparison to what he’s already overcome to escape his hardscrabble hometown, Anthony credits his upbringing with giving him the strength to persevere.
“I wouldn’t be able to be a fighter if I wasn’t able to survive what I had to go through,” Anthony said.
Anthony wanted to play for the Knicks, embraced the pressure, endured the barbs and exploited the benefits of celebrity in New York. But after more than six years of banging his headband-adorned head against the hardwood expecting a different result, all he has to show for it is a squandered prime. Anthony is 33 and will be starting his 15th NBA season. His résumé includes one conference finals appearance and just three playoff series wins.
He’s not quite ready to be a backup or role player, but he also shouldn’t be asked to carry a team every night anymore. He always expected a super team to come to him, which is why he passed on Chicago and Houston in 2014 to re-up with a franchise that has yet to find a cure for its dysfunction. Looking back on that decision with regret would be a waste. All that he can do is make the best of what remains. Joining a super team now wouldn’t serve as surrender, only an acceptance of what’s needed to win in the modern era.
“I’m at peace,” Anthony said. “I’ve been at peace a long time ago. Now I’m just trying to enjoy my days at this point.”
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