The last time Carmelo Anthony stepped out onto the hardwood as a bona fide NBA regular, he did so surrounded by the two clubs responsible for the toughest stretch of his 16-year career.
His now-former club, the Houston Rockets, were dropped by his then-former club, the Oklahoma City Thunder, in that tilt, before his 2018-19 season — and, potentially, his career as a whole — ground to a halt. A week later, GM Daryl Morey announced that Houston was “parting ways” with Anthony, just 10 games into his debut with the Western Conference contenders.
With the rumour mill continuing to churn out potential landing spots and retirement scenarios alike ever since, the 10-time all-star and one-time NBA scoring champion joined ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith on Friday to reflect on that tumultuous exit from Houston.
“I feel like the game didn’t love me back at that point in time,” Anthony told Smith on ‘First Take.’ “This is all the emotions at that point in time. I felt like I loved the game more than the game loved me.”
The Brooklyn, N.Y. native recounted the meeting with Morey that brought an end to his Rockets tenure, adding that he doesn’t believe his exit from Houston came down to simply an ill-fitting role on the court.
“He told me I wasn’t going to make the rotation. I’m like, ‘I can’t make a nine-man rotation, that’s what you’re trying to tell me?’” Anthony recalled. “I’ve already started to accept the fact that that I’ve got to come off the bench, which was very hard for me. I accepted that, and I moved on from that. But you’re telling me that I can’t make a nine-, 10-man rotation on this team? It’s deeper than basketball.
“…To sit there across from the GM of the team and him tell you, ‘Your services are no longer needed’ — that was an ego hit. That was a pride hit. I started questioning myself after that, like, ‘Damn, can I still do this? What did I do?'”
Anthony later claimed his reputation of a star unwilling to accept a secondary role, which first sprung up during his lone season in Oklahoma City, stemmed from a lack of communication between him and the team about his role.
“None of this stuff was ever discussed with me as far as me coming off the bench. All I needed was for someone to communicate that with me. And I think people was afraid to stand up and communicate,” Anthony said, adding when asked about the perception he wouldn’t have accepted such a role if asked: “I wasn’t willing to accept that because that was never explained to me. If you sat down with me man-to-man and said, ‘Look, what’s best for this team is for you to come off the bench,’ I probably would’ve fought it a little bit, but then I’d have stepped away from it and said, ‘You know what, this is what’s best for the team.’”
While the insight offers little clarity regarding what, at the moment, appears to be an inglorious end to Anthony’s likely Hall-of-Fame career, the 35-year-old said he’s still holding out hope for an NBA return.
“I feel like I still can play. I know I still can play, my peers know I still can play,” Anthony said. “I don’t think it’s about basketball anymore — I think it’s about me as a person, willing to accept certain roles on basketball teams. Am I willing to accept a certain role on a basketball team? Yes.
“…I got to a point in Houston where I can accept that. I’m going to do that.”