In some senses, it’s hard to believe that, nearly three years ago, Carmelo Anthony was out of the NBA. It was not a matter of simply being cut from a team and being left without a job for a few weeks, either. Anthony was the scapegoat after a poor start by the Rockets in the 2018-19 season, released after 10 games and sidelined for a year, seemingly blackballed by the league.
Fast forward to the summer of 2021 and Anthony has rehabilitated his on-court reputation after two seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers. The 18-year veteran forward has had as decorated a career as any player of his era, his resume littered with All-Star appearances, All-NBA honors and points galore, as he sits 10th all-time in scoring.
The one thing missing from that resume? An NBA championship.
Anthony spoke candidly about his desire to win a ring while being introduced as a Laker for the first time on Monday, revealing how important not just winning a title is to him, but experiencing the journey a title-winning team takes throughout the season.
“I’m coming in with a championship on my mind,” Anthony said. “I think we all know that is the one thing that I’m missing, right? This is the one thing that, it keeps me up at night. It motivates me because I don’t have it. I want that experience. I want to experience what it’s like going through the ups and downs of a championship season with a team, right? The turmoil, how we come together when things are not going right.
“When adversity hits, how are we going to come together even tighter? How are we going to have each other’s back? How are we going to support each other? Because the basketball part of it is going to take care of itself,” Anthony added. “We have the talent. We just got to put it all together, and in order for us to put that together, we really got to have one common goal and that’s winning a championship.
“I know for a fact that the guys that we have on this on this year’s roster, that’s the ultimate goal. There’s nothing less than that. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Journey was a word oft-repeated by Anthony on the day. After nearly two decades in the league, it’s clear the experiences matter to him nearly as much, if not more, than the accolades themselves. For Anthony, it’s certainly the aspect of the game he’s most looking forward to in Los Angeles.
“I’m more excited about the journey of this season,” Anthony said. “Not so much of getting on the court in the game, because we’re going to win games. I mean, we have to win games. Let’s just be quite frank, we have to win games. But I think everything else that comes along with that — the journey, and learning these guys a little bit more, and seeing the work ethic and being in the locker room and on the team bus, and on the team plane, and building a bond and camaraderie to the point where it’s like nothing will affect us. Anything on the outside cannot affect us.
“I think for me, (all) that’s the most important part that I’m looking forward to. Again, the basketball part will take care of itself. I’m not worried about the basketball court,” Anthony continued. “It’s how we all come together, how we gel together, how we support one another. When it’s always sunny, it’s cool. But when it starts raining, then what happens? How do we come together? How do we keep our locker room together?
“How do we keep the young guys engaged in what’s going on when we losing games, or we lost a couple of games, or we dropped some games to some teams that we wasn’t supposed to. What happens then? That’s where the expertise and experience comes into play. I’m excited about that part of it.”
A long-time starter in the league, Anthony shifted to a role on the bench last season in Portland. It was the first time in his career, rookie season included, that Anthony wasn’t a regular starter, save for that brief cameo in Houston.
In Los Angeles, he will almost certainly feature in a similar role off the pine, with his scoring punch deemed more useful against second units. If the Lakers, and Anthony, are going to contend for a title, his role will be as a reserve once again. And if there were any concerns about Anthony’s willingness to resume that role, he emphatically wiped them away.
“Listen, I’m cool (with not starting),” Anthony said. “Just be transparent with me. I was cool with that decision (in Portland). I’ve never done it before. I’ve done it with (Team) USA before. I’ve done it briefly in Houston for a couple of games, but I had to figure out a way how to motivate myself and keep myself going in a different position in a different role. You’re going 16 years, 17 years and you’re the guy on the team, and you’re the star and then all of a sudden somebody’s like, ‘Listen, come off the bench,’ you know, I had to swallow that ego, I had to swallow their pride, but I also had to use that ego and that pride to keep me on edge and keep me motivated.
“I’ve accepted that. It played out well in Portland. Again, that was my first time doing it, and experiencing that at that level, but I enjoyed it. It was fun. It was basketball. I still was able to do my thing and play ball and have fun and have the love for the game again. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I just know I’m prepared. Like, I’m ready. You know what I’m saying? I’m ready to go play basketball. I know what’s at stake here. And I’m totally locked in.”
It’s all a refreshed perspective from Anthony, who has experience few in the league have ever had. In having the game taken away from him for a full year, Anthony was forced into a likely unwelcome and uncomfortable position.
Now, with the game back in his hands, a potential last — and his best — shot at a title ahead, and a chance to add that last line to his resume, Anthony’s focus is on enjoying a game that has given him so much.
“You got to take me out again for me not to love the game, right?” Anthony said. “You got to take me away from the game for me not to love the game. And I think now, I’ve found a new love, a new joy for the game. Being away from the game for a year and some change, being able to come back and still play basketball and enjoy it and play at a high level, that keeps me motivated. That’s what keeps me close to the game and also now understanding what’s at stake, the opportunity that I have and that we have right now to go win a championship.
“It’s all got to come together,” Anthony continued. “It’s a long season. But I’m excited about it, we’re excited about it. I’m bringing that love and that joy to the game and to L.A.”