Happy Cinco De Mayo, tiburones! Happy Cinco De Melo as well! You didn't know it was Carmelo Anthony Day, did you? Neither did I until I woke up this morning and everybody on Twitter was jabbering about Melo and the Knicks and blame for this year and whether one can ever be successful with the other. The genesis of the discussion, as far as I can tell, is a couple of articles written over the last 24 hours. The first was an article written by several papers reporting Mike Woodson's words about Melo from after practice yesterday. Here, via Marc Berman, are some things Woodson said:
"Expectations aren’t going to change in New York, you know that,’’ Woodson said. "They shouldn’t. Rightfully so. Anthony’s going to have to raise his game. He’s got to do things this summer to better his game — as well as Tyson [Chandler] and Amar’e [Stoudemire]. If I’m the head coach here, I have to make sure it happens. It’s the only way to get out of the rut in terms of him being a first-round exit. He’s got to change that."
"I like to see [that] and he’s made major strides this year,’’ Woodson said. "We started this journey, he made guys around him better and he was better for it. That has to be a continuation. I got to push him to be in better shape when you start the season. A lot of things that got to be changed. Not a lot of things, but … There’s got to be some changes to get to the next level."
Those are all fair assessments, I think. Melo's year has been bad overall, and a large part of that has been responding poorly to injury and going through long stretches in which he didn't appear to have his legs under him. Better preparation, conditioning, and just self-awareness could have produced better results. That's a lot to ask, but definitely not too much to ask of a guy who demands as much money and attention as Melo does. So, fair enough, Woodson.
There's more. Howard Beck wrote a whopper of an article yesterday on Melo's failures and the failures of the teams built around him. Read that (I recommend it) and you'll encounter take-downs of the "Meloball" approach, of Melo's unwillingness or inability to do more than score, and of Melo's unwillingness or inability to shoulder the blame. I think that last part is important, and it's an underrated contributor to the guy's negative reputation. Particularly here in New York, where we magnify and vivisect every word out of a star's mouth, Melo's routinely failed to "say the right things". It doesn't help his case.
That's what's on the internet right now, and that's what has a lot of folks in a tizzy (though I guess if you're not on Twitter, it sounds like I'm making this up). After the jump, a few more scattered thoughts on the subject.
1. I think the way both Coach Woodson and Beck talk about Melo-- even when being highly critical-- is important. This is "Melo hasn't been a winner. Melo needs to evolve", not "Melo isn't a winner. Melo is a bum and no team with Melo as its best player can win things". The former strikes me as a harsh but hopeful assessment. The latter strikes me as defensible with the benefit of retrospect, but no different from things that used to be said about Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce and pretty much anybody who made the error of being extremely good at basketball but playing on a team that fell short.
2. If the Knicks had never done the trade for Melo and the team was doing anything other than contending for championships, we'd be hearing about how you can't win "in this league" without an "elite scorer" or a "superstar" or "two superstars" or whatever. I'm certain of it. They'd be saying "in this league" a lot.
3. The insufferable apologist in me can't dismiss the thought that these Knicks still haven't had a fair shot. The Melo-Amar'e Stoudemire pairing has been an experiment, and the lab has been constantly rattled by earthquakes. One or the other has been hurt, some other important teammates have been hurt, half a dozen men have played the role of starting point guard, coaches have changed, and a lockout interfered with a critical bonding period. Perhaps a real "superstar" is a player who finds ways to lead his team to success despite all those extenuating factors. Melo only really did that for a month. I don't know.
4. Regarding Melo's conditioning, Alan Hahn mentions his inclusion on the USA roster this summer as a potential complicating factor (one way or the other). It'll be interesting to see how he follows Olympic competition-- both in terms of fitness and ideological approach-- in the coming season.
Overall, I find myself disappointed with how Melo and the roster around him have performed, but far from wishing for the Knicks to tear anything down (in part because that's not really an option). I'm skeptical of any suggestion that any talented player is unable to improve or adapt, but I'll admit to being tirelessly, irrationally optimistic, possibly as a result of all the insulation foam I consumed as a toddler.
How about y'all? What are you thinking about Melo as the season comes to a close, and what do you think about Woodson's words and Beck's article? Please try to be kind to one another while discussing this topic, which is one that tends to make folks grumpy.