Posted by: Mike Cornelius | November 11, 2018

A Bang-Up Career About To End With A Whimper

As this is written, the Rockets are about to host the Pacers at the Toyota Center in downtown Houston. It’s a welcome return home for the Space City’s NBA franchise after a five-game road trip that started well enough but ended with a pair of losses to the Thunder and the Spurs, two Western Conference rivals that the Rockets are chasing in the early season standings. Actually, Houston is looking up at almost every team in the west, its 4-7 record better than just three other franchises. If the Rockets find a way to defeat Indiana, the win will be the team’s first home victory of the season after four defeats.

That is a shocking reversal from last season, when Houston dropped just seven home games all year, and played nearly as well on the road, finishing with a record of 65-17, seven games better than the Golden State Warriors in the conference standings. The Rockets then tore through the first two rounds of the playoffs, dropping just a single contest to both the Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz to advance to the Conference Finals and a matchup with the defending champion Warriors. Many fans viewed that conference showdown as the league’s true championship series, believing either Houston or Golden State would dispatch the Eastern Conference representative with ease.

While it’s impossible to know what might have happened if say, Houston and Boston had met in the Finals, what is certain is that Golden State swept Cleveland aside four games to none, proof enough for those prognosticators to claim they had been right. Certainly the Western Conference Finals proved compelling, with the Rockets going up three games to two before getting blown out in Game 6 in Oakland. Then in the decisive Game 7 Houston led by eleven points at the half before being manhandled by Golden State in the third quarter, 33-15. The Rockets were unable to recover from that swing of eighteen points in twelve minutes, and eventually fell to the defending champs 101-92.

Amidst the disappointment of that loss, in which the lowlight was Houston shooters missing an NBA playoff record twenty-seven straight 3-point attempts, the future looked bright for the Rockets. The team signed Chris Paul to a four-year, $160 million contract extension during the offseason, thus assuring fans that he would continue to team with newly names league MVP James Harden. If the challenge of finding a way past Golden State remained large, at least Houston started out as the presumed second best team in the league’s dominant conference.

Or so fans thought. A losing record over the season’s opening three-plus weeks does not necessarily spell doom, but clearly the Rockets are going through some mighty struggles on offense. Last season the team was the pride of the NBA, with an offensive rating of 114.0. Entering Sunday evening’s contest against the Pacers, Houston ranked twenty-seventh in the same statistic, at 103.1. The Rockets have slipped defensively as well, but Mike D’Antoni’s team has always been more about scoring than stops.

Houston’s troubles run deeper than any one player, but the one other significant off-season move by the Rockets was to sign 34-year-old Carmelo Anthony to a one-year contract at the veteran’s minimum of $2.4 million. The move came less than a year after Anthony was traded from the New York Knicks to Oklahoma City, where he was supposed to team with Russell Westbrook and Paul George to form a new “Big Three” that would allow the Thunder to compete against the Warriors. Instead Anthony posted the worst numbers of his career, failing to average twenty points per game for the first time ever. Playing a little over thirty-two minutes per game, the lowest number in his career, he averaged just 16.2 points and visibly chafed when he was moved out of the starting rotation.

Last summer Thunder general manager Sam Presti opted to cut his losses and traded Anthony to the Atlanta Hawks as part of a three-team deal that was little more than a salary dump for Oklahoma City. Five days after the trade Atlanta waived Anthony, leaving him free to negotiate his new deal with Houston. Rockets GM Daryl Morey optimistically noted that it’s “easy to find highlights for him!” in a tweet confirming the signing.

That is certainly true. Anthony is a ten-time All Star who will one day be in the Hall of Fame. The prolific shooter has averaged 24 points per fame over a career that is now in its sixteenth season. But perhaps Morey should have taken time to look at the three-minute YouTube video before he included the link to it in his tweet. The first thing one notices about “Top 10 Carmelo Anthony Career Plays,” even before pushing “play,” is that the video is more than five years old. The second glaring feature is that nine of the ten plays show Anthony in a Denver Nuggets uniform, and thus are from the first eight years of his career. Just one play is from his time at Madison Square Garden, where he played his home games as a member of the Knicks from 2011 through 2017. Even given the age of the video, that only one play from his first two seasons in New York made the top ten would be seen by most fans as a warning sign about the direction of Melo’s career.

Now it looks like that career may be coming to an end. Anthony sat out the Rockets’ loss to San Antonio on Saturday with an unspecified illness, and Sunday afternoon word came that he would be out against Indiana as well. In his most recent game, against the Thunder last Thursday, Anthony shot just 1-for-11 from the field while missing all six of his 3-point tries. On the season his production has dropped even below the anemic levels of last year, with his scoring average down to 13.4 points per game.

Against that backdrop the Internet on Sunday afternoon was filled with rumors that Anthony had been told his brief time in a Rockets uniform was about to end, with Houston planning to waive the former star. Apart from his abysmal performance, Anthony and the Rockets are said to be at an impasse over his role, with Melo still believing that he should be a starter.

For now, general manager Morey is denying the rumors, while head coach D’Antoni is sidestepping questions from reporters. But the reports are from multiple sources, which makes it seem likely that sooner or later, and most likely sooner, Carmelo Anthony will be an aging veteran with drastically diminished skills looking for employment. It will be a sad ending for a player who in his prime was a singular scoring talent. But with Melo the emphasis, apparently right until the end, was always on “singular,” and basketball remains a team sport.

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Responses

  1. It’s sad to see a career unwind. Like Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Let’s hope that the Future has a place for Carmelo where he can make good use of his knowledge and talent for the game.
    Ω


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