The Curious Case of Carmelo

Saturday night’s 106-99 loss to the Indiana Pacers marked the ninth straight year that Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks has exited the playoffs without a title.

Carmelo, a six-time All-Star, the 2012-13 NBA scoring champion, and five-time “All-NBA” selection, takes that walk of shame off the court every year. He has never even made it out of the first round with the exception of this season and when he was on the 2008-09 Denver Nuggets team that lost to the eventual-champion Los Angeles Lakers in the Conference Finals.

Anthony is considered a premier player in the game today. A man in his prime, he is ranked by both CBS and ESPN to be one of the top 10 most impactful players in the sport, it is even arguable for his spot in the top five.

The most curious thing about Anthony concerns his play. It’s not that his play is poor – he’s averaging 25.4 points per-game on 41% shooting in the playoffs – but rather his simple inability to win. However, unfortunately for Carmelo, how you do is judged by winning and losing – regardless of what some adults will try to say in modern America.

He’s been called a “ball hog” who handles too many touches, like after the Knicks Game 5, first-round loss to the Boston Celtics when Carmelo went 10-35 from the field. In fact, Google “Carmelo Anthony” and it will suggest “shoots too much.”

But he has also been told to shoot more, like after the Knicks loss in Game 3 to the Pacers where Anthony attempted a career-low (for the playoffs) 16 shots.  

Since movies are similar to basketball in the sense that it takes many people to make a final product, it’s not too hard to imagine the Knicks season as a movie – after all, they play in Madison Square Garden where heroes and villains arise, all spurred on by court-side Spike Lee.

So if Carmelo’s allergy to winning isn’t his fault, then to whom does it belong? The supporting cast?

Just two years ago, a less-skilled NBA player went to, and subsequently won, the Finals. It was Dirk Nowitzki with the Dallas Mavericks who triumphantly captured his NBA title in 2011. (Calling Nowitzki less skilled is not only my opinion, but ESPN’s and CBS’s as well.) It was Nowitzki and his falling-away, flamingo-looking shot that helped the Mavs overwhelm the Heat in six games. But the credit can’t all rest with Nowitzki. He had help. Assistance appeared mostly from Point Guard Jason Kidd and Big-man Tyson Chandler. Ironically, the two men were also staples in the New York Knicks lineup this season. With J.R. Smith playing a flashier version of the 2011 Dallas’ Jason Terry, the Knicks had the spot-up Shooting Guard who could enter the game and provide instant scoring.

Both teams also had a film cliché of “rags-to-riches” and past-their-prime players getting the call to the big time, and making a difference. Think The Rookie. A surprisingly large role and pivotal performance came from back-up Point Guards. J.J. Barea, the diminutive dynamo from Dallas, and Pablo Prigioni, former Euroleague star and 34-year old rookie, for the Knicks.  It was as if Dallas was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the original, while the Knicks were a re-make with the same concepts, but with disastrous results.

If not the support actors, then who could it be? The director?

Yes, Rick Carlisle, Coach of the 2011 Mavs, won the 2001-02 award with the Detroit Pistons so that is a boost to his resumé, but Mike Woodson (Knicks Head Coach) hasn’t been coaching as long as Carlisle.

No, Woodson doesn’t have accolades, but he did take the dismal Atlanta Hawks franchise over in 2004-05, completely revamped the system and in four short years, led them to a 53-29 season. He was then hired as an assistant coach for the New York Knicks under the tutelage of run-and-gun Coach Mike D’Antoni, but assumed full control when D’Antoni resigned in the last month of the season in 2012. When he took over the Knicks were 18-24, but an 18-6 run to end the season led them to the playoffs. This year he captured the Knicks’ first Atlantic division title since 1994.

The point is that yes, Carlisle is a great coach, but in juxtaposition, the 2011 Mavs had no tangible advantage in coaching over the 2013 Knicks.

If not director, it must be the antagonist.

The 2011 Mavericks defeated the storied franchise of the Los Angeles Lakers, put the kibosh on Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s season, and took down the juggernaut Miami Heat in six games. It seemed as though the Mavericks were the resilient hero, ready to take down those who would harm the world, and take on more opponents than Rocky.

The Knicks struggled through an exhausting first round series against a Celtics team without their best players, Point Guard Rajon Rondo and Power Forward Jared Sullinger, before succumbing to the Indiana Pacers – who were without their best player as well, as Danny Granger’s knees continue to behave like an octogenarian’s.

Clearly then it isn’t the antagonist as the road to the Mavericks championship was blocked by foes on caliber with villains such as Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter and Severus Snape, but the Knicks were beat by meager caitiffs such as when Arnold Schwarzenegger played Mr. Freeze.

As far as side-kicks go, everyone needs one. Carmelo and Nowitzki were no exception. The Knicks even had a better second option: Amaré Stoudamire as opposed to Caron Butler. While JR Smith’s cold shooting charts from the second-round looked like the meteorology report from an impending winter storm in Minnesota, New York had other options to score, and they even had another superb Shooting Guard in Iman Shumpert.

So to sum up why the Knicks can’t win: I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone else does either; seeing the Knicks lose is more confusing than watching Memento.

 

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