Carmelo Anthony has had a legendary career. 17 years in the NBA and counting. He is one of the greatest scorers the league has ever seen.
He spent 7.5 years with the Nuggets and was traded to the Knicks, where he played for 6.5 seasons. Over the last three years, he has played with the Thunder, Rockets, Blazers.
Unlike his 2003 draft counterparts (Lebron James, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade), Anthony has never experienced championship success. In fact, he has only made it to the Conference Finals round once in his career.
But what could of been is a major theme throughout his career. What if he waited to go to the Knicks? Or the Nets? What if the Pistons drafted him? Might those teams have gotten further in the playoffs and more frequently with him on board?
A look at the options that weren’t for Carmelo Anthony throughout his career.
2003 Draft – Pistons Pick #2
Everyone knows this story. The 2003 NBA Draft is famous because 4 of the top 5 picks are future Hall of Famers. Lebron James went #1 to Cavs, Carmelo Anthony went #3 to Nuggets, Chris Bosh went #4 to Raptors, Dwayne Wade #5 to Heat.
And the #2 pick belonged to the Pistons. A Pistons team who played in the Eastern Conference Finals a month before this draft. Detroit acquired this pick from the Grizzlies back in 1997 in the worst trade ever.
Pistons chose European big man Darko Milicic. Now, in their defense, Darko was highly regarded and many felt he was a great fit for the Pistons, especially considering they already had Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, who might have impacted the potential of Dwayne Wade or Carmelo Anthony.
Hamilton was coming off a season where he scored 19.7 ppg in his first year in Detroit and Detroit was high on Prince, who wound up starting 80 games in his second season in 2004.
During the early middle 2000s, the Pistons were a great team. They had great players, but no true superstar and that was by design. Prince is no Melo, but no one is Melo. Prince served an extremely valuable role for Detroit, as a defensive specialist due to his size and length. He was able to score, but with Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, and Rasheed Wallace, drafting another scorer was needed.
After losing in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2003, Pistons won the NBA Finals in 2004 and made it back in 2005, losing in 7 games to the Spurs. They made the Eastern Conference Finals the next three years (losing each time).
This team fit together perfectly and their strength was their chemistry. There’s no guarantee Melo would have fit in or led to any more success than they already had.
Trade to the Nets in 2011
Knicks acquired Carmelo in February 2011 and traded a fortune to get him. Everyone thought the Knicks should wait until July 2011 when he became a free agent, but Melo was insistent on getting out of Denver asap and also claimed that he would have waived his no-trade clause to go to the Nets at the time, hence the pressure on the Knicks to offer a fortune.
Nets offer included Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, some others and four first round picks to Denver. Favors was the #3 pick in the 2010 Draft and Harris had started all 54 games, averaging 15.2 ppg and 7.1 apg.
When the Nuggets turned down the Nets, Melo would be traded to the Knicks and days later the Nets offered a similar package (same players, less draft picks) to the Utah Jazz for Deron Williams. That offseason, they acquired Joe Johnson.
Anthony’s Knicks went 1-3 in playoff series, while the Nets also went 1-3 in playoff series during that same time. With Anthony on board, would the Nets have traded all of those future draft picks to the Celtics for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in 2013?
Knicks Free Agency in 2011
What if Melo had just been patient and waited a few more months. Nuggets made the playoffs in 2011, and lost 4-1 in first round to Thunder. Knicks, meanwhile, got swept with Anthony.
Had Melo been able to tough it out he could have signed outright as a free agent, joining a team with a nice young core of Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, paired with PG Raymond Felton and, of course, All Star forward Amare Stoudemire. Anthony and Stoudemire were surrounded Iman Shumpert, Landry Fields, Steve Novak. Decent players, but having Gallinari would have been a major game-changed for the Knicks, and for Melo.
During the summer of 2011, they would sign Tyson Chandler as a free agent. But imagine a small ball lineup (ahead of it’s time) of Felton, Shumpert/Fields, Anthony, Gallinari (stretch four), and Stoudemire with Wilson Chandler off the bench too.
In 2013, the Knicks had the second best record in the East and lost in the second round. Would this team have advanced further? Could they have reasonably competed with Lebron’s Heat?
Bulls Free Agency 2014
This was Melo’s first and only real free agency. He signed a max extension with the Nuggets in 2006, and upon arriving in NY, re-signed with the Knicks in 2011.
His contract was up after the 2013-14 season and the Knicks were coming off a non-playoffs season (their first in four years). They fired coach Mike Woodson and hired Phil Jackson as new Team President.
Melo seriously considered the Bulls, who were by far the best option for him at the time. Former MVP Derrick Rose was coming off a torn meniscus, Jimmy Butler averaged 13 ppg in his third season, Joakim Noah averaged 12.6 ppg and 11.7 rpg and was named Defensive Player of the Year, and they had reliable vets like Luol Deng and Taj Gibson.
There were reports that Anthony verbally committed to the Bulls, only to later renege and stay with the Knicks.
In 2014-15. the Knicks won 17 games, compiling the worst record in the NBA under first year coach Derek Fisher. The Bulls won 50 games, but lost in the second round to eventual Eastern Conference Champions, the Cavs.
The 2015-16 season was also a disaster for the Knicks. In 2016, they signed Joakim Noah, 31 years old, coming off of just 29 games played and traded for Derrick Rose, who had some of his worst career numbers and was really a shell of himself due to injuries. So Melo finally got to play with those Bulls. And after re-signing with the Knicks in 2014, never made the playoffs again (in NY).
Bulls made the Eastern Conference Finals one time (2011) in the post Michael Jordan era. Could Melo have been the missing piece to lead them with Rose, Noah, and Butler?
Trade to Blazers in 2017
When the NBA restarts later in this month, Carmelo will be the starting SF for Portland. The Blazers pursued Anthony for years, especially back in 2017 when the Knicks were looking to trade him. But ultimately, Anthony had a no-trade clause in his contract, giving him the flexibility to force the Knicks hand, who traded him to the Thunder.
He has fit in well with the Blazers in the 50 games he has played this year, but what if the 33 year old, who was hungrier and in better shape two years ago, joined a team that finished third in the West in both 2018 and 2019?
Blazers made the Western Conference Finals in 2019, before being swept by the Warriors. I’m not saying Anthony would have made that big of a difference, but him getting a full season with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, at a time when he was coming off of a 22 ppg season, might have made Portland even more dangerous.
Instead, they got Anthony coming off a season where he played 10 games and then was sent home and then signed a few weeks into the 2019 season, missing the opportunity to gel with these guys during the offseason and training camp.