NBA@2: Carmelo’s Moment Of Truth
Every superstar athlete has a moment in their careers where they see the world as a bigger place, where they truly understand the importance of “team,” and start making personal sacrifices in order for the team to achieve bigger goals collectively.
Michael Jordan was amazing from the moment he stepped onto the NBA hardwoods. He could score 50 points with the greatest of ease. But it wasn’t until he figured out why the Chicago Bulls lost every time he hung 50 that he went from being a great scorer to a great player. Likewise, Hakeem Olajuwon could do amazing things with the basketball, and score at will against any three defenders in the NBA. But the Houston Rockets were back-to-back NBA champions until he was injured for a stretch of games in 1993 and his team kept winning without him. He came back saying he was willing to come off the bench, if necessary, to keep the team rolling.
This is exactly such a moment for Carmelo Anthony.
Up until now Carmelo has gained considerable fame and fortune through his remarkable ability to put a basketball in a round orange rim. He averaged better than 20 points per game as a rookie with the Denver Nuggets and has only gotten better since then. And yet, for all of that scoring, the Nuggets only managed to make it out of the first round of the playoffs once during his tenure, and they were also able to accomplish a first round exit without him after he was traded to New York last season.
Carmelo is still in that category of being a great scorer, but not a great player. There’s a difference, and it’s one Carmelo is now going to have to realize if he is going to be a part of the New York Knicks’ long-term plan.
You see, they have shown they can win quite well without him in the lineup, even when the competition is the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.
This is Carmelo Anthony’s moment of truth. He’s been sitting on the sidelines watching the greatest NBA story of the decade unfold in front of him. Jeremy Lin has captured the imagination of basketball fans worldwide, and his play has the Knicks looking very much like contenders. Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni finally has his point guard, and a very good supporting cast on top of that. The Knicks have won eight of their last nine games, with Carmelo playing in the first before getting injured in the second game of that stretch. The Knicks have demonstrated that they don’t need Carmelo in order to win.
The question now is how good they might be if Carmelo can come back and be part of the team instead of being the place where the ball goes to die in any given offensive set.
There is a distinct possibility that they might be very, very good.
So far the Eastern Conference has really looked like a two-team race. The Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers have dramatically improved, the Orlando Magic sometimes play well enough to make their performance more interesting than the incessant Dwight Howard trade talks, and Atlanta is doing remarkably well with Al Horford out of action. But none of those teams really looks like they could take out the Chicago Bulls or Miami HEAT in a seven-game series.
The New York Knicks are starting to look like a team that could do that . . .and if Carmelo can recognize that and step in as a support for the winning system that’s take shape in his absence, this could finally be the year that he takes the step taken by the likes of Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon before him … and rise from great scorer to NBA champion.
McGrady Upset Over Playing Time
Before we get too analytical about Tracy McGrady as a player, I want to start by stepping back for a second and just saying that I really like Tracy as a person. He’s one of the more interesting interviews in the NBA, and has a way of looking at the league and the game that you won’t find from too many other players. When it comes to interviews and being in the locker room, Tracy McGrady is a great guy to have around.
Having said that, I also have to say I don’t want him playing for a team I care about. It’s just too frustrating. McGrady has every bit as much talent as Kobe Bryant, and he showed it a couple of times a month in his prime, but he has about 1/10th the heart.
Heart makes all the difference.
The current situation with the Atlanta Hawks is a great example of that. The Hawks are exceeding all expectations this season, sitting at 19-11 despite losing All-Star center Al Horford for the season. McGrady has been a contributor to that success on most nights, and is averaging a respectable 6.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 17.5 minutes per game. But Tracy is still Tracy, and he demonstrated that over the weekend.
“I’m tired of this [bleep],” McGrady said to Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal Constitution after logging just four minutes in a loss to Portland on Saturday. “You can put that in the paper, I don’t give a [bleep].
“If you don’t feel I can help, come tell me that,” McGrady said of head coach Larry Drew. “He ain’t told me nothing. I just want to help these guys win, man, which I know I can. But, damn, four minutes?”
Perhaps Drew felt that McGrady might need the rest; after all, Tracy took the night off when the Hawks beat the Phoenix Suns earlier in the week because he had logged an exhausting 15 minutes against the Lakers in the first game of a back-to-back.
Does that sound like a guy who really wants more minutes?
This, in essence, is Tracy McGrady.
On the one hand, he’s a solid veteran who has a unique perspective on the league that can be invaluable to young players around him. He might also lead a revolt against the head coach, as he did in Detroit, or complain about minutes after taking a night off.
All in all, it can be difficult to say that a team is better for having McGrady on the roster . . .and the Hawks are just the latest team to realize that fact.
DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers Brotherhood
No matter how you look at it, what the Los Angeles Clippers have put together this season is impressive. Most teams that made major foundational changes over the offseason are struggling to put things together on the fly in the lockout-shortened season. Not so for the Clippers, who came out of the gate strong and have not looked back. They currently have the third-best record in the Western Conference and are leading their division despite making offseason moves that dramatically changed the face of the team.
“We’re all young; we’re a family man,” says DeAndre Jordan, who became the team’s starting center when Chris Kaman was sent to New Orleans as part of the Chris Paul trade. “We’re brothers like you said, we can laugh and joke and be serious about anything and I feel like we all criticize each other constructively, so it’s good. It’s really like a family environment around here and that’s why the season is going well for us.”
There was some uncertainty as to whether or not Jordan would be back, as he was a highly sought-after restricted free agent. The Golden State Warriors signed him to a four-year, $43 million offer sheet, which the Clippers promptly matched.
“I’m excited, man, happy to be here,” says Jordan. “I’m glad they signed me back. I’m forever fortunate to Golden State, though. I’m happy where I am at and I feel like we can be a special team.”
Expectations were already high for the Clippers before they traded for Chris Paul, but now it seems the only acceptable outcome for the long-suffering fan base is a trip to the NBA Finals. For that to happen, Jordan understands he has to lean on the veterans around him to help get the team there.
“Yeah, I definitely lean on those guys. Mo (Williams), Caron (Butler), Kenyon (Martin), Chauncey (Billups), CP3 – they all bring a veteran winning mentality to this team. It’s definitely rubbing off on everybody, so I am really fortunate and I know everybody else is, too, to have those guys on our team. We’re trying to pick at everybody’s brain a little bit and just take it a day at a time.”
Still, there was a lot of talk about DeAndre Jordan returning home to Houston to play, something his friends and family were definitely lobbying for – not to mention Rockets fans. Jordan admits he still thinks about that possibility down the line.
“Well, you know, it didn’t work out that way, but there’s always a future. I’ll have a lot of years in this league, hopefully, so that there’s always another chance.”
For now Jordan is an essential piece of what looks like a very good team in Los Angeles, and his ongoing improvement could be the key to the Clippers becoming a perennial playoff . . .and possibly even a contender.
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