The day comes for all the great athletes, if they are lucky enough to stay healthy and stick around long enough. Long enough, that is, for people to tell them they no longer have the same role they once had.
The perception is usually that they aren’t quite as good as they used to be. Or that younger legs may be more efficient. Or that their skills may just fit better outside of the starting lineup.
And the athletes who handle it was the most grace and understanding are usually the ones who function the best in their new role.
Carmelo Anthony has done some reflecting lately. He’s looked himself in the mirror. And he says he’s ready for what’s ahead for him this season with the Trail Blazers.
As you might imagine, it hasn’t been easy, Carmelo Anthony may not be in the bright spotlight when the starting lineup is introduced. He's come to grips with that.
But only while knowing he's still going to be able to make a significant contribution to his team.
“I had to swallow that pill. I had to, you know,” he said Friday. “I had to really be honest and then transparently with the team and with the organization. And also with Dame and CJ, you know that we had multiple conversations, leading up to me coming back here. Those conversations were very honest on both sides.
“And it was just something that, I was very comfortable and familiar with this situation. So I would rather do that here and knowing that you know this team and the players still respect me at a different level -- and the coaches and the organization.”
And as much of a cliche as it has become, starting a game -- being in the starting lineup -- isn’t usually as important as finishing a game. And, as Anthony has proved in Portland, he is a finisher.
“They let me know I still would be a major part of what happens with his team, you know, the direction or just the plan for this team,” he said. “This is what works for this team. I definitely don't question that, it's just what's the best situation is for the team, and to make it work for all parties.”
Melo had conversations President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey, Coach Terry Stotts and both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum before deciding to return to Portland.
“It's a comfort level,” Anthony said. “It's me coming to the table and saying OK, like, ‘Talk to me about what that role would be. If you don't want me to play with the first five, that doesn't mean that I'm not a ‘starter’ right? It’s just that we need to balance. I mean we need that balance.
“You can't bring CJ and Dame off the bench. So you say, I'll do it. I'll make it happen. But honestly I had to really sit down with myself and like, think about that, because you know I've tried it in Houston and only did it for seven or eight games, but this is new for me.”
Make no mistake, for a player who has led teams to an NCAA championship and three Olympic gold medals, this is not an easy decision.
“If I sit here and say that it wasn't hard… with your pride and your ego, yes especially coming for somebody like myself. But I had to take a deep breath and we'll figure it out, we'll make it work.”
Conversations with Lillard and McCollum were, in the end, probably the most meaningful.
“I had to know from the guys I was going to war with,” he said. “You know these guys are my teammates, the guys that I'm actually going to be in the bunker with every night, night in and night out. So as long as we are on the same page and as long as the production is being put out there every night, then we're gonna make it work.”
And in the end, a deal was made.
“Some very honest conversations,” Anthony said. “It was just coming to a mutual agreement about what the situation would be. And then at the end of the day, just going out there and just wanting to play basketball. Wanting to be a part of what’s happening. To be a major part of our team’s success.”
Carmelo Anthony may not start. And make no mistake, that’s an important concession for a player who has been a starter since he was a young child and is destined to be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
But he wouldn’t be back if he wasn’t assured he would still be a big part of the team.
How big a part? I think, in the end, that will be up to him.