We all remember where we were and what it felt like when we first heard the “I’m Coming Home” promo announcing Carmelo Anthony’s return to New York and joining the Knicks. That was over a decade ago, and since Melo’s time with the Knicks, the franchise fell into despair as soon as he left. Not because he was still the MVP candidate he’d been in 2013 or the single Knicks bright spot in over two decades, but because without his aura and scoring, the team simply sucked.
Since leaving the Knicks, he bounced around with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets, two then-contenders who needed Melo to adapt to a supporting role, something he was averse to doing after being “the Man” for his entire career. After being traded and waived by the Rockets, Mel was essentially blackballed from the NBA. That is, until the Portland Trailblazers gave him a shot. With the Blazers, he found a home and humility, finally augmenting his game for the betterment of team ball.
He did the same thing last season with the Los Angeles Lakers. But this past summer, he was a free agent and has yet to be picked up by a team. In the summer, there was talk among Knicks fans about Melo returning to New York. But many fans chided the minutes he would steal from Obi Toppin, the team’s potential-laden third-year forward who has become stuck to the bench. Now that head coach Tom Thibodeau has shown a reluctance to play Toppin more than 15 minutes a game due to the ascension (again) of Julius Randle, and due to the lack of long wings outside of RJ Barrett, there might be a place for Melo back with the Knicks.
So what would a reunion look like, and what’s the point? Due to league rules, the Knicks have two open roster spots they have to fill by today. One of those spaces will surely be filled with G-League standout DaQuan Jeffries. Jeffries won’t see NBA minutes unless it’s a 40-point blowout. But he’s a body nonetheless. So that leaves one more spot available.
So why give it to Melo?
First, the obvious. Melo needs a job; no other team is interested in signing him to a minimumal deal. Returning to New York would be mostly on ceremony; bringing back the Brooklyn-born Anthony would be symbolic and a thank you to the three playoff appearances and shortlived glory Knicks fans experienced amid two decades of desolation. But Anthony showed in Portland and Los Angeles he can be a great veteran presence in the locker room and an encouraging mentor. Especially at 38 years old, Melo has clearly gotten the memo that he is way past his prime.
As a member of the Top 75 Players of All-Time, Melo still has veteran savvy and would bring leadership to a Knicks team on track to return to the playoffs. Imagining him checking into a game in the playoffs, if even for 10 minutes total, would bring Madison Square Garden to ballistic levels of jubilation. Melo wouldn’t start. He wouldn’t even play every game. But he could help guys like Barrett, Quentin Grimes, Immanuel Quickly, and most of all Julius Randle with the pressure of playing under the bright lights at the Garden.
Melo was always cool, calm, and collected. Even though the New York media and sometimes the fans bashed his iso-heavy playing style, he never appeared frazzled. He kept jab-stepping and posting-up defenders, cooking them for 25 ppg, his average over seven seasons with the team. He could be the mentor Randle needs and one he would respect. Knicks President, LeonRose was Melo’s agent. If the Knicks brass decides to bring him back, you can bet it’s because Rose is supremely confident Melo has something to bring, if not on the court, then as a veteran presence around the team. It would be worth it just to hear, for one last time, the piano cords of “Coming Home,” as an ode to Anthony.
What a touching and poetic tribute it would be for Melo to retire a Knick. So much was made when he demanded a trade to New York in 2010. Yet, he wanted to be here, a feat few have made open and plain in the last 30 years. To bring him back, especially when it appears no one else wants him, would show the franchise’s respect and appreciation for what he did for them during his first tenure and would prove true the oft-spoken adage, “Once a Knick, always a Knick.”