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Discarded Carmelo Anthony, 36, has proven he can be a role player — and a good one

Carmelo Anthony has rediscovered his groove, averaging 15.2 points for the Trail Blazers.Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

The reincarnation of Carmelo Anthony has become one of the biggest NBA story lines this season. Anthony, a former scoring champion and 12-time All-Star, was relegated to pleading for NBA work on nationally televised interviews.

After he was unceremoniously dumped by the Houston Rockets, the NBA vultures picked at Anthony’s presumed carcass with all the criticism he has heard throughout his career: he’s a selfish player; he’s all about scoring; he can’t play defense; his isolation style can’t survive in today’s up-tempo, 3-point obsessed game.

Yet there he was on Aug. 4, draining a critical 3-pointer to lead his current team, the Portland Trail Blazers, over his former one, the Rockets, to draw Portland closer to a playoff berth. Anthony has fit perfectly with the Trail Blazers, a team with two elite guards who desperately needed a swingman, but one who could mentor rookies and accept a secondary role.


Anthony, 36, has done that, averaging 15.2 points on 38.1 percent shooting from the 3-point line. In teaming with All-Star Damian Lillard and scoring guard CJ McCollum, Anthony has become the perfect third option, a role that many league executives doubted he could accept.

And he not only stayed in shape during his nearly year hiatus from the game, he reported to the team after the pandemic in the best shape in years. Pundits were calling him “Skinny Melo.”

“Honestly I never took any time off since the stoppage of the season. I just kept on working,” he said. “I had a chance to kind of play with some diets and play with my workouts and really just figure out exactly what I wanted to do but most importantly, mentally is what I had to get right. Once I was able to keep my mentality right, everything falls into place.”

The criticism cut Anthony deeply. He is 17th all-time in scoring, just 25 points behind Celtics great John Havlicek, and he is the second-highest scoring active player behind LeBron James. But Anthony has never been part of a consistent winning team and eventually he shouldered the blame for failures in Denver and New York.


So he has quieted critics with his current success and ability to contribute and physically flourish in this fast-paced game at an advanced age.

“The people that know me know how hard I work. I don’t take that for granted,” he said. “I think there is so much emphasized on the bubble and having seen guys over a couple of months so being able to come back the way I am, mentally sharp, physically sharp, understanding my role changing due to the fact we had guys coming back on the team, I challenged myself to do some different things throughout that break.”

Anthony’s resurgence is similar to that of his team. The Blazers came to Orlando to claim a playoff spot after a disappointing, injury-riddled pre-pandemic season. Game-winning shots are nothing new to Anthony but hitting those in big games at age 36, when the perception was that he was done, is rewarding.

“Making those shots, I have always enjoyed that moment and I still do enjoy that moment,” he said. “This whole bubble situation is all about focus. I understand what type of team we have. I understand the work we’ve been putting in because I know what we’ve been doing. And it’s showing out there on the court. We have our ups and downs when it comes down to it, how we’re able to come together and fight back. We’ve shown we’re a different team since we’ve been here.”


Lillard, who lobbied the Blazers to sign Anthony, was visibly annoyed about how Anthony’s image and reputation were portrayed.

“I think when we got him everybody had something to say, what he was going to do defensively?” Lillard said. “He’s getting old. He’s done. Where’s he’s going to fit in? Everybody had something to say, how he is in the locker room? Why it didn’t work out with these other teams? And then he came to us and he’s just been a good teammate, good for our younger players.

“He’s all about the team. He understands what we need from him in certain situations. It’s obvious to someone like me who pays attention to everything and I find it real funny and disrespectful how people speak on him. He’s a Hall of Famer.”

The key, Lillard said, is Anthony has accepted his role instead of trying to relive the past.

“He’s not out there trying to play like he’s still in New York or Denver,” Lillard said. “He knows that sometimes we need him to be on the weak side. He knows when it’s time to give him an isolation on the block. He respects Coach when he takes him out before he’s ready to come out. Those type of things from his stature, I think it just says everything about our team.”



Warren has been stunning for Pacers

The Pacers' T.J. Warren scored 53 points against the 76ers in his first game in the Orlando bubble.Kevin C. Cox/Getty

The Indiana Pacers won their first three games in the NBA bubble, which is stunning considering they were without All-Star Domantas Sabonis (foot), and point guard Malcolm Brogdon missed the opening win against Philadelphia with a back injury.

Meanwhile, former All-Star Victor Oladipo is playing limited minutes as he continues to slowly recover from a major knee injury 18 months ago. The Pacer who has shone the most in Orlando is swingman T.J. Warren, who opened play with an impressive 53-point performance in the win over the 76ers.

Warren was basically given to the Pacers by the Phoenix Suns this summer. A former first-round pick in 2014, Warren was steadily improving with the Suns but had not played more than 66 games in a season. The Suns were looking to move salary after signing Warren to a four-year, $50 million extension in 2018 and took nothing but cash considerations in return.

Warren has responded with a career season, averaging 19.6 points, and shooting 53.5 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from the 3-point line. Warren hit nine threes against the 76ers, which was a pivotal win as Indiana tries to avoid the sixth seed and a possible first-round matchup with the Celtics.

The career-best game was a testament to Warren’s work ethic and perseverance. He had his moments in Phoenix but the Suns didn’t win and he took the brunt of the blame.


“It was a special game, just locked in, just laser-focused throughout the whole game,” he said. “It feels amazing, just having that hot hand and just continue to shoot. The worst thing that can happen is you miss. You just don’t stop shooting because you miss a few shots.”

Warren said he has no issue with the new environment. He is not much of a talker, has never been a demonstrative player on the floor but has produced when healthy and given the opportunity.

“I play a lot of basketball. When I’m at home with my friends, I’m playing pickup games anywhere. I’m just born to be a hooper,” he said. “It’s me coming out here and playing my game and just being aggressive. It doesn’t matter the environment, you just gotta come with it every game. Every game I feel anxious and nervous at the same time but it’s full of excitement.”

Out of a loaded 2014 draft — Joel Embiid, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Nikola Jokic, Aaron Gordon — Warren has the sixth-highest career scoring average of that class. Yet, he is a virtual unknown outside diehard basketball fans or fantasy players.

“I always been the underdog, I feel like that’s my permanent position. So I’m comfortable with that,” he said. “I work very hard on my shot. and [Coach Nate McMillan] just wanted me to take more threes. When I’m open just shoot it. Just shooting with full confidence.”

McMillan has dealt with injuries since taking over for the fired Frank Vogel and has led Indiana to four consecutive playoff appearances. The Pacers aren’t going to attract major free agents often, so they have to hit on players such as Warren to remain competitive.

“I’ve seen guys that have been hot and put up 50 and T.J. was hot,” McMillan said. “He felt confident in his shot right from the start. I called him during the break and told him I really want him to work on his 3-point shooting. Victor and Malcolm were going to be handling the ball a lot and [T.J.] was that guy who would be spreading and that kick out will come to him.”

Warren attempted just 279 3-pointers in his first four NBA seasons in a generation where mid-range specialists aren’t appreciated as in the past. He has taken 392 3-pointers over the past two seasons and McMillan stressed that Warren needed to work on his shot during the pandemic.

“I just felt it was going to be something we needed from him if we were able to restart this season with Victor coming back,” McMillan said. “We needed that 3 man to spread the floor and knock down threes. Any time a player is able to put up 50 points, we’ve seen games like this from T.J. this season. This is the thing we knew he could do when we traded for him.”

The Pacers with Warren flourishing and Brogdon and Oladipo contributing won’t be an easy first-round opponent, even without Sabonis.

“We talk about things like that [being a sleeper] a lot,” McMillan said. “But we have to go and prove ourselves. We talk about all season long we’ve been in this situation where we had injuries and had to play through and guys had to step up. We have to continue to believe you can do this.”


I voted for Anthony over LeBron for MVP in 2013

LeBron James won the 2013 NBA MVP Award after winning his second title with the Heat.Mike Ehrmann

There isn’t a week in which someone on social media, a friend, or someone who meets me doesn’t mention my 2013 MVP vote for Anthony, which denied LeBron James from being the first unanimous MVP in league history. I don’t mind discussing it. My stance hasn’t changed. I don’t regret my vote and I have voted for James for MVP in subsequent years, including this one.

The only person who never mentioned my vote was LeBron James. I have covered James in the Eastern Conference finals, All-Star Games and regular-season games and he has been nothing but professional with me. He never called me out privately or publicly and he has had plenty of chances.

I understand if James was upset and would have taken his annoyance out on me, but he never did and I completely appreciated that. Regardless of the vote, I think James is the best player of this generation and he has been exemplary on and off the floor. It’s going to be a lesser NBA when James retires and I hope fans and NBA pundits appreciate whatever time he has left in the league.

Life in the bubble allows you to get closer to players than in normal media situations. The facilities at Walt Disney World aren’t spacious and you can see players leave the locker room onto the team bus and they’ll walk right past reporters waiting for interviews or to enter rooms with Zoom sessions.

After the Lakers’ Aug. 1 loss to the Toronto Raptors at The Arena, James addressed the media and then returned to the locker room to retrieve his stuff. I was standing in the hallway after conducting my interviews along with other reporters.

James and Anthony Davis walked out together and each gave TNT reporter Chris Haynes heat for his snazzy new suit. Haynes covered James while he was in Cleveland. James then walked past me and I expected, as usual, that he would keep it moving. We have never had a conversation besides him answering my questions over the years.

James walks past me and says, “What’s up Gary!”

I respond with, “What’s up Bron?”

Now it should have ended there with a friendly greeting. But Haynes wouldn’t let that happen. Knowing my role in James’s history, Haynes rushes next to me and says to James, “Yo Bron! You know who this is, right?”

James responded with a smile behind his mask, “Yeah, that’s the [expletive] who voted for Carmelo in 2013. But Carmelo’s my boy! But yeah I know how that [expletive] is.”

Davis was walking with James and really didn’t know the story. So James explained it to him and Davis responded to me by saying, “Hey man you made the right vote.”

James was smiling the entire time. And it’s honestly good to know he didn’t agree with my vote but respected it. And it was also heartening after seven years to finally have a “conversation” or acknowledgement about my vote.

I understand my decision was unpopular. What’s more, I get asked about it often, even from high school or college kids I may be speaking to or mentoring who may have been in grade school at the time. I am more than willing to answer questions or offer my explanation, which hasn’t changed.

In that season for that team, I thought Anthony was most valuable to his team. It wasn’t the “Most Talented Player of the Year” Award, it was “Most Valuable,” meaning if you were to take Anthony off that 2013 Knicks team, they would not have made the playoffs, let alone win the Atlantic Division for the first time in 19 years.

I did not have a relationship with Anthony before the vote. I interviewed him at All-Star games and on the occasion when his team played the Celtics or Seattle SuperSonics, who I covered before coming to Boston. And I have had a couple of short conversations with him since. I respected his season in New York and his comeback with the Portland Trail Blazers.

As for James, I have never had anything personal against him or his journey, even “The Decision.” I thought he had a complete and unquestioned right to choose his destination as a free agent and it resulted in two championships. Imagine the scrutiny James would have faced if he had stayed in Cleveland and never won a title?

But for all those who ask if James hates me or whether he has never confronted me, the answer is no. Our first personal interaction was last week in the bubble and both of us left the exchange laughing.


The San Antonio Spurs are one of the more impressive teams in the NBA bubble, rolling off consecutive wins before a last-second loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Spurs, who are missing LaMarcus Aldridge (shoulder surgery), were one of the overlooked teams competing for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. But San Antonio has played scrappy, led by 70-year-old coach Gregg Popovich, who because of health concerns, is one of the few coaches wearing a mask on the sideline. (Head coaches and assistants are not required to wear masks.) One NBA executive said the Spurs were focused on keeping their 22-year playoff streak alive because Popovich is doing all the coaching in the seeding games. Popovich spread the head-coaching duties to his three assistants during the scrimmages but once the real games began, he took control. The race for the eighth spot in the West has become the most intriguing story line in the bubble, with the Phoenix Suns becoming one of the surprise teams while the Sacramento Kings and Memphis Grizzlies have won just one game each entering the weekend … There are a group of NBA head coaches who hope the league’s policy of casual dress on the sidelines continues into next season. Coaches are required to wear suits on the sidelines. But because of the Orlando heat, the arenas with no fans and just general comfort, the NBA lightened their dress code, allowing coaches to wear polo shirts and trousers. One of those coaches who hopes this continues is the Celtics’ Brad Stevens, who rarely wears a tie and would prefer to be more flexible on the sideline. The lightened dress code also has been applied to the players, who are arriving for games in shorts and T-shirts. Part of the reason they are allowed to dress so casually is players are not allowed to shower at the arenas because of safety reasons. Players are generally washing up, getting iced and then heading back to the hotel to shower. The NBA has adopted more of a summer league style because of the number of teams in one place — like Las Vegas — and the heat. Orlando weather has topped 90 degrees almost every day in the past month … And after the first few seeding games, players were allowed to place their surnames on the back of their jerseys in addition to their social justice statements. Social justice statements will remain on jerseys for the remainder of the playoffs.

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @GwashburnGlobe.