New York — Carmelo Anthony
signed up for potential tabloid back-page pummelings, real and imagined controversies, and never-ending soap operas when he decided to swap the relative serenity of
for the high-stakes scrutiny of basketball’s biggest stage.
Anthony has endured all three in his less than two years in New York, but in his first full, 82-game season with the
, there suddenly is an ease — a mellowness — to nearly everything that he does on the hardwood.
No longer having to contend with what the Knicks surrendered to get him, or how he fits with Mike D’Antoni’s system, or if he stunted Linsanity — and with his ability to mesh with
on hold — Anthony is drama-free and justifying his team’s decision to choose him above all others and make him the franchise building block.
“I’m in a very good space right now,” Anthony said recently. “I’m in a good place, physically, spiritually, emotionally. I’m not dealing with anything, as far as trades. I’m not dealing with a lockout season, injuries and things like that.”
Stopping himself, Anthony tapped his mahogany locker room stall and said, “Knock on wood but right now, I’m in a very great space.”
Anthony went from describing his “space” as good to great in a manner of seconds, but it is taking him a little longer to shatter his reputation as a big-time scorer who can’t win big and become a more complete player who can lead and inspire. That transformation is possibly beginning to take place in Anthony’s 10th season, with the Knicks alone atop the Atlantic Division standings and Anthony generating some early buzz for league’s most valuable player after an offseason of introspection and improvement.
“We’re all sitting here today, benefiting from Melo’s play, because he put in a lot of hard work this summer,” said Knicks Coach Mike Woodson, who took over as D’Antoni’s replacement last season.
‘Relax and have fun’
Anthony has had better statistical seasons, however, he is committed to making sacrifices and making plays that might not make the stat sheet or highlight reel but help his team win. In a recent win over Phoenix, Anthony plucked the ball away from Suns forward Michael Beasley, lunged to the ground to make a one-handed save, then rolled out of bounds and smiled as the play ended with a Tyson Chandler alley-oop dunk.
“Everyone is acting like it’s a surprise why he’s doing what he’s doing. It’s not a surprise to me. He’s one of the best players in the world. Always has been,” said three-time MVP LeBron James. “Melo is a great player. Any time you have a great player on your team, you have a great opportunity to win ball games.”
But success has rarely come without stress for Anthony, who reached the playoffs in each of his first nine seasons in the NBA but has carried only one team — the 2008-09 Nuggets — beyond the first round. His two playoff appearances with the Knicks have been disappointments, with New York winning one game and Anthony receiving a public pelting for some woeful performances. Though Stoudemire missed time in both series because of injuries, Anthony became the face of the failures.