All poor Carmelo Anthony wants to do is play basketball, for whoever will have him. He recently went on ESPN to talk about his abrupt exit from the Rockets and then the NBA, and though he did not quite seem to grapple with Houston’s on-court case for getting rid of him, it is still bizarre that he has gone from integral part of Oklahoma City’s playoff rotation to untouchable castoff in 16 months. His decline was swift and graceless, but he still wants to play next year. I can’t think of a more fitting place to rehab his image than with this dilapidated version of Team USA, yet he is not even welcome there.
USA Basketball Managing Director Jerry Colangelo told Sports Illustrated today that Melo “requested a chance to play” for the team through his agent. Colangelo denied Melo’s request, citing worries of a possible “distraction”:
“I love Carmelo,” Colangelo said. “He made a great contribution. He was a very good international player. But for where we are and what we’re doing, that conceivably could have been a distraction. I understand why the request was made. He’s trying to reestablish himself. I think that has to be done in the [NBA].”
This location alluded to in the “where we are” section of that quote refers to Team USA’s younger makeup in the face of mass defections. With a team’s worth of stars and even J.J. Redick-level dudes dropping out, Team USA has pivoted to youth and built a team with up-and-comers like De’Aaron Fox, Donovan Mitchell, and Jaylen Brown getting a turn. Melo may be 35 years old and unable to even pretend to play defense anymore, but he wouldn’t need to play heavy minutes to help out an inexperienced group like this. After all, he has perhaps the greatest international record of any American basketball player.
Melo is the all-time leading scorer in U.S. Olympic basketball history, and he has three gold medals and a bronze medal to show for it. He always played his best basketball for the team, where he was given the chance to excel as a devastating small-ball power forward before that sort of thing was in vogue and his shotmaking ability was the perfect antidote for zone defenses. It’d be foolish to think he would have that same spark that he did, say, 11 years ago for the Redeem Team, but international basketball is a different game and nobody’s seen more of it than Melo.