The Portland Trail Blazers acquired or re-acquired seven players during the 2020 NBA Free Agency and Trade window. Robert Covington, Derrick Jones, Jr., and Rodney Hood will make huge impacts on the court, but no signing made as big of a splash in the Portland community as Carmelo Anthony re-upping for another year.
We’re not going to discuss Anthony’s on-court role, his spot in the rotation, or his considerable experience. Kyle Garcia will be along soon to enumerate all those details. Instead, we’re going to affirm that the fan reaction was not misplaced. Anthony means far more to the Blazers than meets the eye. His influence goes farther than the acclaim from teammates and the fondness local media holds for him too.
Here are three aspects of Carmelo Anthony’s signing that you never thought of...subtle, but important, ways he helps the franchise without scoring a point.
He Made Portland a Career-Building Franchise
Last year the Blazers got national notice for two, and only two, reasons:
- When Damian Lillard scored 50, they’d get attention for 72 hours or so.
- Carmelo Anthony existed. That attention lasted all season long.
But Anthony didn’t just exist in Portland, he played. After being exiled from the league, he came back to a starting role, decent minutes, and a good scoring average.
Anthony’s reputation was rehabilitated along with his career. A player dubbed self-centered and a chemistry-breaker mere months before suddenly became the kindly grandfather, with no less than Lillard and CJ McCollum singing his praise. He looked good, sounded great, and is now practically revered around the league.
This did not, and will not, go unnoticed by other players.
Let’s get real. Even with Lillard and McCollum in pocket, the Blazers had zero definable reasons besides money and minutes to attract free agents to their roster. The once-proud franchise had become terminally nondescript.
Portland is now the place where Carmelo made good. Through Anthony’s prism, we also see Jusuf Nurkic, Al-Farouq Aminu, and a half-dozen other players who either made or re-made their careers here.
Anthony helped open the eyes of the league to the potential of a system like Portland’s. The Blazers now have something on which to hang their hats. If nothing else, they’re going to take care of their players and probably make them look good.
Carmelo staying is going to give the Blazers a better chance at other veterans needing to rebound into former glory. That won’t get them stars in their prime, but the guys right past it, talented players looking for second life and one more big contract down the road, can now circle Portland and say, “That’s one of the places I can go to get there.”
He Will Provide a Rallying Point
Along with Anthony’s questionable reputation came a fair amount of underrating when compared to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and other Hall-of-Fame-level contemporaries. This is a refrain familiar to Portland players and fans everywhere. “We’re good, but they don’t respect us.”
One thing would cure that ill: an NBA Championship. Should a title run become even a remote reality, I’d be surprised if, “Win one for ‘Melo” didn’t become a rallying cry in Portland’s locker room. They have a hundred other reasons to want a title, of course, but the connection is more than obvious. Becoming the franchise, and the teammates, who finally crowned Carmelo Anthony would make the current Blazers unforgettable in the annals of history. The capping achievement of his career would also become theirs.
He Portends the Future
Raise your hand if you remember when Al-Farouq Aminu came to the Blazers. For most Portland fans, that was recent memory, like barely yesterday.
You might want to sit down for a second.
The distance between Aminu first signing with Portland and today is the exact distance between Lillard’s age and Anthony’s.
Yup. Lillard is going to transition to Carmelo Stage that soon.
When he does, or even when he contemplates these things, what do you want him to think? How do the Blazers want him to envision his future? If they’re smart, they’ll want him to think kindly of the franchise, to feel sure that older, talented ballers—even ones without titles—have an important role and a warm welcome here. They’ll want to establish this as the franchise that never gives up on its favored players.
Who better to co-sign that implicit pledge than Anthony as he inks another deal with the Blazers? Through him, Portland’s stars (and everyone like them) can see not just hope in the present, but love and respect for the future. If Carmelo came back for that, who wouldn’t?
None of this happens automatically or instantly. Little of it is tangible. But the tick-tock of Anthony needing a home, the Blazers providing it, him looking good, and finally choosing to re-sign...all of that combines into a gravity well that quietly alters the perception of the team. Portland’s current players are already experiencing the change in identity. With any luck, a future free agent or two will as well.
That’s a lot more benefit than most teams get from a couple minimum-level contracts. That’s why Anthony matters more than most any other player the Blazers could have gotten for that amount, regardless of how much he produces on a given night.