Nearly nine months after his last NBA stint with the Houston Rockets, Carmelo Anthony appeared on ESPN’s “First Take” Friday to discuss his past, present and future in a one-on-one interview with Stephen A. Smith.

Anthony joined the Rockets in the summer of 2018 in a move many viewed as the last piece necessary to overtake the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. He was the third scorer who could take some of the offensive burden off MVP James Harden and future Hall of Fame point guard Chris Paul. Instead, the Rockets got off to a 4-6 start and Anthony was unloaded from the active roster as whispers about his fit in Houston swirled.

Anthony would eventually get shipped to the Bulls before being subsequently let go without appearing in a single game for Chicago. But it was his departure from the Rockets that struck a nerve with Anthony, who felt, in his words, “like the game didn’t want me back at that point in time.”

During his 10 games with the Rockets, Anthony, a 10-time all-star, recorded career lows in points (13.4) and assists (0.5) while shooting the second lowest percentage of his career (40.5) from the field.

These stats aside, Anthony expressed a level of puzzlement to Smith about why the Rockets decided to move on from him so quickly.

“I was surprised by it big time,” he said. “I did what I had to do, did my work and then the 10th game comes and I just didn’t understand where that came from. I didn’t like how that went down.

“This is deeper than basketball, I was on a 10-game trial period.”

Anthony told Smith that after what would prove to be his final appearance in a Rockets uniform, a 98-80 loss to the Thunder in which he missed 10 of 11 field goal attempts and was a -18 in 20 minutes, he scheduled a “heads up meeting” with GM Daryl Morey about how he could better help the team.

But when the two met before Houston’s next game Morey informed Anthony that his “service is no longer needed.”

“I’m like, what the hell you talkin’ about? And [Daryl Morey’s] like, ‘Nah things just aren’t workin’ out and you got to figure out something to do,’” Anthony said. “I’m like how the hell am I going to figure somethin’ out to do, I got a game tomorrow.”

Per Anthony, Morey responded, “Nah, you’re not going to suit up tomorrow.”

For Anthony, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and six-time all-NBA selection, hearing this from Morey was “an ego hit.”

“I’ve been utilizing my services for a long time. For you to tell me you don’t need that no more. I honestly felt that I was fired,” Anthony said. “I felt like [what] other people go through on a day-to-day basis . . . I honestly felt like I got fired.”

Chauncey Billups, Anthony’s teammate with the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks who now works as an analyst for ESPN, offered some insight into why he thinks Anthony may have played his final NBA game during an appearance last month on SiriusXM NBA Radio.

“Scoring 30 meant too much to Melo,” Billups said. “It meant too much because he could have games where he had 20, 22 points we win the game and he’s mad. He might have 36, we lose the game and he’s in there picking everybody up.

“The reason he’s not in the league, because he’s still worthy, is he hasn’t mentally taken that step back to say, ‘Okay, I’ll come in and play against backups. I’ll try to help the team out. I might not be able to close but I just want to help.’”

Anthony responded on “First Take” that when the two were teammates, he felt that it was his job to get buckets.

“Coming out from high school to college, to the NBA, I had a different mentality, it was kill or be killed and I had to go eat,” Anthony said. “At 23, 24 I had to eat. Whatever I had to do, to put ourself in a situation to win, I was willing to do that. I was doing that. So to his [Chauncey Billups] comments, if I didn’t score 30, it was 40 or 50. If I didn’t score those points I felt like I didn’t do my job.”

Despite Anthony making it known he had no hard feelings toward Billups, he did take exception to the timing of the comments.

“I don’t take his comments any type of way. I take them as a learning tool and I think a lot of people out there, up and coming athletes should take that as a learning tool too.” Anthony said.

With the start of a new NBA season just a couple months away Anthony makes clear that he recognizes his career may be over. If that’s indeed the case, he said he’ll be “at peace” with the situation. And while career clarity would bring him peace of mind, Anthony remains hopeful that another opportunity presents itself.

“I love the game too much to be away from it. I do everything, I’m training young guys, I’m training myself,” he said “I got a new life about me.”

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