As he enters Year 18 of a storied Hall of Fame career, Carmelo Anthony said Friday that he’s fully committed to accepting a full-time bench role with the Portland Trail Blazers but admitted he had to “swallow that pill.”
“It’s what works for this team, what we need for this team,” Anthony said. “It’s not if I should be starting or not. I don’t think that’s the question, I don’t think anybody would question [that]. I definitely don’t question that. But it’s just what’s the best situation for the team and make it work for all parties.”
Blazers coach Terry Stotts announced earlier in the week his intention for the team’s starting five, which would include new additions Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. alongside mainstays Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic. By process of elimination, that would put Anthony on the bench, something he confirmed to have understood when he re-signed with the Blazers this offseason. He said he talked with general manager Neil Olshey and Stotts, as well as with stars Lillard and McCollum, about his fit and how he could still be a factor in Portland’s rotation.
“I had to swallow that pill. I had to be really honest and transparent with the team and organization,” Anthony said. “And also with Dame and CJ. We had multiple conversations leading up to me coming back here. Those conversations were very honest from both sides. I was very comfortable and familiar with this situation, so I would rather do that here knowing this team and the players still respect me from a different level. They let me know I still would be a major part of what happens with this team.”
After a year out of the NBA, Anthony signed with the Blazers in November 2019, appearing in 58 games — all starts. He played a key role for the Blazers as they dealt with a rash of injuries, averaging 15.4 points and 6.3 rebounds while playing primarily power forward. His role shifted back to his old position of small forward in the bubble, though, as the Blazers returned big men Nurkic and Zach Collins from injury. Anthony was solid in the restart, averaging 16.0 points.
“It really wasn’t a tough decision,” Anthony said of re-signing with the Blazers. “I’ve always felt like I was coming back. It was something we discussed after the bubble. It was always a part of the plan. The decision wasn’t tough.”
Before joining the Blazers, Anthony’s career was on the ropes after signing with the Houston Rockets in 2018. For the first time in his career, he accepted a bench role then, but he appeared in only 10 games. With the Blazers, though, he said he has a different comfort level with a non-starting role.
“It’s me coming to the table and saying, ‘Talk to me about what that role would be.’ You don’t want me to play with the first five doesn’t mean I’m not a quote-unquote starter. We need to balance it,” he said. “You can’t bring CJ and Dame off the bench. I’ll do it. I’ll make it happen.”
The bench and Anthony have a complicated history, with him famously replying, “Who me?” when he was asked in Oklahoma City in 2017 about a possible non-starting role. But at this stage in his career, he said his mindset and acceptance of it is different.
“But honestly I had to really sit down with myself and think about that. Because it’s new,” Anthony said. “I tried it in Houston, but it was only seven or eight games. This is new for me. If I sit here and say the thought of that wasn’t hard or difficult to hear and take and let that play with your pride and your ego, yes it does. Especially coming from somebody like myself. But I had to take a deep breath and figure it out. We’ll make it work.”