Examining each player-coach relationship in Carmelo Anthony’s career
Carmelo Anthony has had good and bad relationships with his coaches throughout his career. How will he fare in Houston under Mike D’Antoni’s leadership?
During his prime years, Carmelo Anthony was seen as one of the best scorers in the NBA. But he hasn’t had much success in the postseason and his relationship with past coaches often soured as a result.
With Houston’s recent acquisition of Carmelo Anthony, many analysts have scrutinized the past history of current Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni and Melo. D’Antoni coached a prime Anthony during his tenure as Knicks head coach in 2011.
Although some may see this as a detriment to the success of the 2018 Rockets, others may view this as a great opportunity for coach and player to rekindle and grow chemistry in a new healthy environment. It is important to educate your basis for scrutinization or hope in tangible facts. With that being said, let us examine each player and coach relationship Carmelo Anthony has sustained all the way back to his 2003 NCAA championship at Syracuse.
Next: Carmelo's coaches from Syracuse to Denver
Jim Boeheim, Syracuse 2003
Coach Boeheim references in an interview with Graham Bensinger how Carmelo really prioritized winning higher than looking good in front of NBA scouts, regardless of his intention to leave for the draft after only playing a year.
Arguably the two best players on that National Championship team were both freshmen with Carmelo leading the surge towards the finals. A lack of doubt or negativity throughout the season can be attributed to that specific and player relationship.
Coach Boeheim only reflects positively on that season by referencing it as “one of the happiest times of his life.” This shows an importance in the specific coaching relationships Carmelo Anthony has with future coaches; as the success and trust with Jim Boeheim offered a good structure for the 18-year-old entering the NBA next year.
Jeff Bzdelik, Denver Nuggets 2004
Carmelo Anthony was drafted by a Nuggets team that posted a laughable 17-65 record the previous year. Melo led his new squad to an impressive resurgence posting a 43-39 record in the 2003-04 season, eventually securing the 8th seed for the playoffs. Melo also became the first rookie since David Robinson to lead a playoff team in scoring.
Interestingly enough, Carmelo will have a reunion with more than just Mike D’Antoni this year, as Bzdelik is currently a Houston Rockets assistant coach. Although, in a 2008 interview Coach Bzdelik does not reflect fondly of his time with Anthony, the player’s success as a rookie in Denver is not up for debate.
Many players were upset as Bzdelik was fired only 28 games into his second season with Carmelo and crew after posting a 13-15 record, with extremely high standards and pressure from the front office of the organization. Assistant coach Michael Cooper would be named interim head coach for only 14 games, winning only 4, until the hiring of George Karl.
George Karl, Denver Nuggets 2005-2011
George Karl was a successful coach in some senses and a mediocre coach in others. The Nuggets lost in the first round every single year from 2005-2012, only progressing past the first round once in the prime Carmelo days to lose in the conference finals in 2008. Six years of losing within the first round of the playoffs has to garner blame for either George Karl or superstar scorer Carmelo Anthony.
Karl’s autobiography released in 2016 refers to Carmelo as a “conundrum.” Referencing that Coach Karl observed that Anthony had an issue with sharing the spotlight or any attention whatsoever in the NBA. Throughout the book, George Karl continues to scrutinize Carmelo’s investment towards playing defense and overall commitment for the team.
One must question if the blame should rest on a single young superstar player or the overall coach and organization themselves. After a 50 win season and yet another loss in the first round of the playoffs, Carmelo Anthony was traded to the New York Knicks in February of 2011. The Nuggets lost in the first round of the playoffs again the year after Carmelo left under the leadership of Coach Karl, dropping from 50 wins to 38.
Next: Carmelo's coaches in New York
Mike D’Antoni, New York Knicks 2011
Coach D’Antoni tenaciously progressed through two losing seasons as Knicks head coach until the welcoming of Carmelo Anthony to the team. With the acquisition of Carmelo and the presence of Amar’e Stoudamire in the paint, the Knicks reached the playoffs in 2011, only to get swept by the Boston Celtics (sidenote: roster consisted of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and don’t forget Shaquille O’Neal, Rajon Rondo, Nate Robinson, and Lebron’s favorite: Delonte West. What an eclectic stacked Celtics team!)
Coach D’Antoni resigned as the Knicks got off to a measly 18-24 start the next season, citing his personal clashes with Carmelo Anthony as a catalyst for his mid-season resignation. At this point, one must assume that Carmelo Anthony was sick of losing in the first round of the playoffs.
Mike Woodson, New York Knicks 2012-2014
Coach Woodson was named interim head coach the day after D’Antoni’s resignation on March 14, 2012. He was later named definitive head coach on May 25, 2012 after decent team performance within those two months. Although, the Knicks resurged ending the season with an 18-6 finish resulting in an overall 36-30 record securing a playoff berth.
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Yet, if you’re reading this far you might guess the postseason outcome: The Knicks were eliminated in the first round by another infamous Big 3 team, the newly invigorated Miami Heat with LeBron James.
The following season showed a lot of progression from the team and organization as a whole as the Knicks locked in an impressive 54-28 record. In the 2012-13 season, New York reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals only to lose to Indiana in six games. The following 2013-14 season yielded much poorer results with a 3-13 start concluding in an overall 37-45 record and no playoff seed.
In April 2014 Coach Woodson and his collective coaching staff were all fired halfway through his third season as Knicks head coach. Mike Woodson has defended Carmelo Anthony and their relationship consistently, regardless of the public perspective that shows Carmelo may have had more power coaching the Knicks, almost to a potentially inappropriate degree. Many Knicks fans express frustration between this player-coach dynamic, most likely due to the great potential these two portrayed in New York.
Derek Fisher, New York Knicks 2014-2016
As President of the New York Knicks, Phil Jackson personally selected Derek Fisher as head coach only a year after he retired from the NBA as a player. Derek Fisher was a key attribute in the effort of re-signing Carmelo Anthony during his free agent exploration of 2014.
The New York Knicks concluded their first year under head coach Derek Fisher with an absolutely miserable record of 17-65, the worst in Knick’s history. Carmelo would only play 40 games that season due to difficulties associated with severe knee injuries and a conclusive knee surgery.
Kristaps Porzingis, who was infamously booed in the 2015 NBA Draft, helped lead the following Knicks season into a respectable 22-22 start. But Derek Fisher was fired after the Knicks lost nine of their next 10 games, leaving him with a laughable overall record of 40-96 (.294 win percentage) Carmelo Anthony was notably surprised by the firing of Derek Fisher, but everything during Phil Jackson’s detrimental tenure seemed surprising or suspicious.
Kurt Rambis, New York Knicks 2016
Kurt Rambis was hired as interim head coach of the Knicks following the firing of Derek Fisher. Another Lakers alumni hired under the peculiar rule of Phil Jackson proved to be exactly that as a head coach, peculiar.
After many player arguments throughout the organization and another paltry start to the season (9-19 under Rambis) Coach Rambis was demoted to associate coach in favor of hiring Jeff Hornacek instead.
As reflected by the poor record, Carmelo Anthony had a rocky relationship with Rambis and associate coach Hornacek even before his demotion. Although Carmelo publicly stated the value of the team to “buy into” Kurt Rambis’ defensive strategy, the team just did not respond or mesh overall.
Jeff Hornacek, New York Knicks, 2016-2017
After a two and a half year stint as head coach of the Phoenix Suns, Hornacek was fired. The New York Knick’s responded by hiring Hornacek as their head coach on June 2nd, 2016. For the first time in years, the team showed lots of potential and hope after posting an early 16-13 record only to fall drastically to 31-51 missing the playoffs entirely.
Carmelo Anthony had multiple public exchanges with both Hornacek and Rambis thematically revolving around Carmelo’s lack of faith in the organization, and distrust of a seemingly apathetic Phil Jackson. Yet, there are just as many public quotes directly citing Carmelo’s lack of investment, specifically citing his defense, from both Hornacek and Rambis foreshadowing the future trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The organization itself seemed to be falling apart from the seams. Either Carmelo Anthony was to blame due to the void of energy and investment, or a compound of faults represented by poor coaching and an even worse back-office are equally to blame for the poor conclusions of the Knicks. It is important to note that Carmelo waived his no-trade clause to join the Thunder in response to his pursuit of winning, and the lack of cooperation amongst front-office, coaching staff, and players.
Next: Carmelo's brief stop in OKC and reunion with Mike D'Antoni
Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City Thunder 2017
Billy Donovan is a winning coach on the NCAA level. Although, the blame for the immediate elimination from the playoffs the last 2 years can be displaced on many associates of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Including Russell Westbrook’s chemistry with teammates,) it is undeniable that last year was disappointing for hoodie Melo fans.
In September of 2017, Carmelo Anthony was traded to the Thunder in return for Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott. Anthony would post career lows in essentially all statistical groups. With the acquisition of Paul George, this was the first team in years that Carmelo played with other superstars. He averaged 16.2 points and just 1.3 assists in 78 games.
Coach Donovan backed Melo even during the tenuous shooting phases he presented throughout the season. He even supported the initiative to keep Carmelo Anthony in during clutch moments even though fans and critics disagreed. No NBA fan can deny the stronghold that Russell Westbrook has over the Oklahoma City organization.
When Carmelo lightly stated on national television that Russell Westbrook “steals rebounds” in an effort to secure triple-doubles, it was almost clear as day that he would not be returning to the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2018. However cruel, yet fitting, Carmelo would once again be eliminated from the playoffs in the first round during his first and only year in Oklahoma.
Mike D’Antoni (again), 2018 Houston Rockets
Here we are again in circular thought; this season can either be an amazing opportunity for an undeniable Hall of Fame player to rekindle the relationship with one of his most respected previous coaches; or this season for Melo can be exactly what the critics predict and want: a failure due to coach and player communication and respect.
As a Rockets fan personally, I just don’t see an aging top 20 scorer of all time refusing to acknowledge his role amongst Chris Paul and James Harden with the priority of winning. As Jim Boeheim’s 2003 National Championship team highlighted, Melo has demonstrated selflessness before and he is capable of prioritizing winning above all else. It would be absolutely sweet to see the matured player return to that priority, earning a deserved championship for himself, the Rockets organization, and Coach D’Antoni.