When reports came out that Carmelo Anthony let the New York Knicks front office know he wanted an out, his exit from the team seemed surefire. What then-president Phil Jackson planted last season—infamously calling Melo “a player that would be better off somewhere else” in April—was finally bearing fruit. The 33-year-old forward reportedly agreed to waive his no-trade clause for Houston, ready to part with the team that, in Jackson’s words, had “not been able to win with him on the court.”
Yet months later, with summer turning to fall and the offseason reaching training camp, Carmelo is still a Knick. You wouldn’t be able to tell from the franchise website, which omitted his likeness from the season-ticket ad campaign, or on new president Steve Mills’s company website, where he described his vision for the team in a 1,100-word essay. A Command+F on that blog turns up no results for “Carmelo Anthony.”
Melo seemed just as ready to part with the team, reportedly refusing to engage in talks earlier in August with the reshuffled front office. Mills and GM Scott Perry reportedly wanted to woo him back, but Carmelo was nonchalant, noncommittal, not interested. “I'm growing my hair out right now,” he told reporters in August when asked about his basketball situation. “[I’m] spending time with the family. I'm being an AAU dad right now. … I've been good. I've been away from the fray.”
But one can’t stay away too long, with training camp coming up at the end of the month. Now, Melo is reportedly engaging with his teammates, sending “texts of encouragement” to Kristaps Porzingis, Willy Hernangomez, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas as the three finish the Eurobasket tournament. Zingis—who, even if you’re “away from the fray,” is noticeably jacked heading into the season—played especially well, a positive note for in a bleak Knicks offseason.
Except Melo isn’t supposed to be on the Knicks’ roster still. New York’s hiccup remains that the Rockets, the only team he appears willing to go to, have no assets the Knicks are interested in. ESPN reported this week that the front office remains “set on getting some combination of a young player, draft pick or expiring contract back,” a hefty ask for Houston, who gave away its repository earlier in the summer to acquire Chris Paul. The Knicks aren’t interested in a buyout, per ESPN, and can’t afford to take on significant extra salary. Unless a third team emerges, it appears both Melo and New York are stuck in situations neither want.
The turmoil comes during a defining year for Anthony. His buddy LeBron James has his options open, sitting with one season left on his contract before he has the opportunity to enter free agency. Chris Paul has teamed up with an MVP runner-up and appears to have his best chance yet to make a run at the title. Even Dwyane Wade, inhibited by his knees, could be bought out by the Bulls before the season begins, open to pursue a better situation somewhere else. The Banana Boat has sailed on; Melo, in New York, is trapped at shore.
That realization may be enough to explain why Melo is reaching out to his teammates ahead of training camp. Sure, he’s the Olympic-leader Melo/Dad Melo/pick-up-game-leader Melo who would encourage young players, anyway, and he likely wants to keep an agreeable locker room should he have to stay in New York. But the stakes are also so much higher for the 33-year-old than for the young, budding Knicks around him.
Leaving the Knicks was Carmelo’s chance at landing on a postseason contender before his prime withers away into obsoletism. Now he came in at no. 64 on ESPN’s rankings—one spot behind rookie Lonzo Ball—to start the season, and, though rankings are by no means definitive, this is but one wave in the tide of changing public opinion on Melo. This is the year to remind everyone of the Carmelo Anthony we knew, and, unless the Knicks suddenly want Ryan Anderson, our protagonist might be realizing that work has to be done in New York.