NEW ORLEANS, LA – Carmelo Anthony had accepted the possibility that his NBA career might be over.
That seems to have liberated him to come back on his own terms when he signed with the Portland Trail Blazers.
“I came to a point where I was willing to accept it either way,” Anthony said after playing the first game of his 17th season with his sixth NBA team on Tuesday night. “I had to get myself mentally prepared for that and I did, to be honest with you.
“I stayed with it, but there was times where I didn’t want to. I wanted to just say, ‘Forget it, move on with my life, spend more time with my family.’ I started getting more comfortable with that,” Anthony continued. “I come into this game with a totally different mindset, totally different motivation.”
Anthony’s Portland debut — played across the street from where he led Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA championship — was not a triumphant one. He missed 10 of 14 shots, finished with 10 points, and the Blazers lost 115-104 in New Orleans.
But Anthony was in good spirits when he exited the locker room and stood in a hallway, patiently taking questions and often smiling as he spoke introspectively about the significance of his first NBA game action since his unceremonious departure from the Houston Rockets a year ago, after appearing in just 10 games.
“The greatest feeling of it all was to feel wanted by a group of guys who believe in me and my talent and what I can bring to the table,” said the 10-time All-Star, who has averaged about 24 points per game during his career. “It wasn’t just the players, it was the coaching staff. They showed a strong belief in me and what I can still do.”
He started right away, even before he’d participated in a single full practice with the Blazers. He joined them the day after they’d lost at Houston on Monday night, and approximately 72 hours after getting confirmation by phone that the Blazers were ready to sign him.
“That was something that was established from the gate, when we had that phone call: Let’s be transparent. That was a miscommunication over the last couple seasons over what my role would be and things that was expected from me, and that was a big point,” Anthony said. “There’s not nothing I won’t be willing to do, but just let me know up front. Whatever it is, just let me know, put it out on the table and let’s go from there.
“That was a big reason why I made my decision,” Anthony added. “It worked. I’m here. They had a vision. They had a plan and I was part of that plan. When it came down to it, I wanted to be part of that plan.”
Anthony said it was hard to tune out speculation over which teams might give him another shot during his year out of the game.
“It’s been a roller coaster,” he said. “There was one point where I told my agent: “Just let me know when it’s first and goal. Don’t call me when it’s first and 20.”
In the meantime, Anthony assured that he “wasn’t on the couch” waiting for a call, but continuing to train.
“Physically, as far as basketball goes, that comes easy to me,” Anthony said. “I still have to put the work into that, but it was more of a mental and emotional challenge, more so than a physical challenge.”
For the time being, the 35-year-old Anthony is steering clear of setting expectations.
“Who knows? I don’t think anyone knows what’s going to happen this year,” he said. “I’m here now. That’s what’s important. I could have still been home, right? So, Portland pulled the trigger. No matter what happens, I will always appreciate that.
“I have a new outlook,” he added. “For me, where I’m at, mentally, emotionally, the way I see things now, the way I approach the game, the way I approach this situation is more so me just having another different appreciation of just what this is and what the game of basketball brings.”
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