NBA exit interviews can be a hoot. Players are mostly fresh off a loss, and are feeling wistful or pissed off or utterly spent, and some use the occasion for a kind of honesty that might generally be inadvisable for public people. For example, John Wall used his to trash his team’s useless centers and shitty bench. Carmelo Anthony, of the freshly vanquished Oklahoma City Thunder, used his to demonstrate, once again, that he is not yet able to appreciate his present value as a professional basketball player:
The part I want to bring to your attention comes at about the 15:20 mark in the video above, when Carmelo is asked about possibly coming off the bench in the future, or restructuring his contract, should he decide to pick up his $28 million player option and stay in Oklahoma City:
“I’m not sacrificing no bench role. That’s out of the question. As far as sacrificing—I don’t even like to talk about finances and the economics of the game of basketball. When that time comes, that time will come. If and when we have to sit down and talk about what’s the future, and ideas and situations, then, that time will come. I honestly don’t even feel comfortable sitting here talking about money and basketball.”
First of all, Melo is right to hold firm on the money. The very best NBA players are vastly underpaid. Melo is obviously not even close to among that group, but the way to fix that larger problem is not by asking players who earned big bucks as superstars to give back money they got via contract negotiations. There are realities that any team paying $28 million a season to a player of latter day Melo’s caliber will have to confront—like, for example, how the hell to afford a decent bench—but I’m not going to blame him for placing the onus for figuring that out on someone else.
But he’s awfully sure about that starting role, for a guy who’ll be 34 years old next season! Listen. Carmelo Anthony is still a fine basketball player, but he is no longer a very good NBA player. This season he produced a dismal 50.3 True Shooting percentage, and an even shittier 48.3 percentage after the All Star break. He’s been an inefficient scorer and a poor defender for at least the last four seasons. No one has yet hit on a particularly persuasive metric for measuring individual NBA defense, but all you had to do was watch teams target Melo at the defensive end this season to know that the days when he could be counted upon for passable perimeter defense are long gone. He’s not enough of a knockdown shooter to play as an off-ball spacer, and he’s nowhere remotely close to good enough any more as a shot-creator to make centering an offense on his mid-post footwork a non-catastrophic idea. Probably he isn’t so bad right now that he must go to the bench, but a move to the bench certainly shouldn’t be out of the question, especially on a team that has any designs on contending.
That part of the question is a softball—I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help the team—and I almost admire Melo for just rudely shutting it all the way down. You get the feeling you could ask him about accepting a bench role ten years from now, for small talk, in line at the grocery store, and his answer would be exactly the same.