NEW ORLEANS — With just one morning shootaround — without any teammates, no less — Carmelo Anthony took to the floor as a starter on Tuesday night for the Portland Trail Blazers.
It was a process more than a year in the making. He last played in an NBA game on Nov. 8, 2018, with the Houston Rockets, in fact. And there were times, in that span, where Anthony didn’t think he’d take the floor in the NBA again. But when it was all said and done, statistics notwithstanding, Anthony was glad to be in uniform, to be in competition and to be shooting once again.
“It felt great to be back in the flow of the game, be back on the court, be back to where I think I belong at,” Anthony said after the 115-104 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. “Just being back out there with the guys again. I think most of all the routine — team bus, team lunch, being around the guys in the locker room — just the routine I’ve been used to for 17 years now … so getting back into that. As far as the game goes, it felt good to be back out there.”
Portland played Monday night in Houston, so on the back end of a back-to-back set, the team did not hold a traditional shootaround in New Orleans Tuesday morning. Instead, it was the coaching staff helping to get the 10-time All-Star acclimated to a new system … in a hurry.
It didn’t take long for Portland to look for Anthony once the game tipped off. In Portland’s very first possession, Anthony, who received a warm welcome from the Smoothie King Center crowd, tried to post up Pelicans forward Kenrich Williams. But the pass was late and Williams stepped in front for a steal.
The next time down the court, the offense worked its way to Anthony again, as he attempted a field goal from the top of the circle. It hit the back of the rim.
The third time was the charm, however, as Anthony made a 3 from the left side of the court, just above the break for his first NBA points in 376 days.
All told, he finished with 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting. He hit a pair of 3-pointers and had no trips to the free throw line. That said, Portland coach Terry Stotts said he felt “very encouraged” by the chances Anthony was getting throughout.
“To be honest, I thought he looked good,” Stotts said. “I thought offensively he got looks, he got good looks at the basket. I thought he got fouled at least two or three times taking it strong to the basket. He then came away empty, so that kind of affected his (stat) line. But I thought, for having a morning shootaround, I thought it was pretty good.”
Anthony, who finished with five fouls, said part of the adjustment on that end of the court is going to come with learning how the game has changed within the past year.
“The physicality of the game has changed,” he said. “The way that they call the game, the way that the game is played has changed, so you almost have to adjust again.”
Melo felt great getting back in the flow of the game
Carmelo Anthony says it was a great feeling getting back out on the court and describes the hectic hours leading up to his debut.
Anthony did finish with a team-worst minus-20 on the night, but Stotts said the Blazers, as a whole, didn’t perform the way he wanted defensively. That’s hard to put on just one player, much less one making his season debut.
“Look, as a group, we weren’t very good,” Stotts said. “We had a lot of miscommunications, so I don’t know. When we were as poor as we were defensively in spots, I think it’s hard to really look at any one guy.”
Prior to the game, Stotts was asked if he sees Anthony as a starter going forward, and replied, “I don’t see why not.” Anthony concurred, saying the Blazers have been up front with him about his potential playing time.
“That was something that was established out (of) the gate,” Anthony said. “When we had that phone call, it was ‘Let’s be transparent.’ That was the miscommunication over the last couple of seasons about what my role would be and things that are expected of me. That was a big point in talking to those guys: Be transparent.
“It’s not nothing I won’t be willing to do, but just let me know up front, and whatever it is, just let me know. Put it all on the table and we go from there. Nothing was ever questioned. It was ‘OK, we want you to come in, we want you to play, we want you to start, we want you to get going.’
“That was that and that was a big reason why I made that decision to come.”