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The case for Carmelo Anthony

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The key: he won’t play.

NBA: New York Knicks at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The past four years numbed the shock of once contentious rivals joining a Boston team. Kyrie Irving in green? Ask me in 2016-17 and I would say it’ll never happen.

David Ortiz mashed David Price in a 2013 ALDS game, causing Price to plunk him next season after Tampa got swept. Fast forward half a decade. Imagine Price would later fight Dennis Eckersley and lose Yankee games with Boston, win a World Series, then fight Eckersley and lose to the Yankees some more. False presumptions open the mind to new possibilities.

Those experiences and a few years at Syracuse University prepared me for this. Carmelo Anthony needs a NBA farewell, and Boston can create a roster spot. The timing is right, where it wasn’t for a different C’s team following Melo’s Thunder stint. Maybe the ESPN lights and makeup suckered me, but Anthony appears changed and ready to accept a lesser role in an interview with First Take. If he truly wants to play, how could he not?

Anthony would’ve been the second-to-last player that could help the Celtics a few years ago, slightly ahead of Dwight Howard. My Twitter feed says enough about how I viewed the New York Knicks star. Melo grabbing his shoulder while the Celtics pushed their 20-0 Game 6 run is a lasting childhood memory. Anthony, to young Bob, would never win a title.

Watching this ensue did not bring me vindication or joy. As Syracuse basketball captivated me in high school, I learned about Melo’s college heroics. He paid for the school’s basketball facility and won its only national championship. His father died when Melo was two years old. Anthony then moved to Baltimore, and avoided the city’s worst aspects through basketball. Learning his story gave context to his business mindset.

His rise differed from his legendary 2003 NBA Draft peers. He pursued college basketball. He signed a five-year extension with the Denver Nuggets. He embraced USA Basketball deep into the 2010’s and Olympic Melo was born. Melo crafted a Hall-of-Fame career in everything beside the NBA Playoffs. The lack of hardware left many second guesses that still spark blasphemous debates about his deservingness for the Hall.

Stephen A. Smith interviewed Anthony as he reminisced on his Denver days, angry about his season with the Rockets and confused how the Thunder experiment failed. Team USA, the powerhouse he constructed, spurned him ahead of the FIBA World Cup. The NBA, in which only 18 players have currently scored more points than him, appears done with him. It felt a lot like Jeremy Lin’s emotional admission that the league had given up on him.

Anthony did himself no favors following his departure from New York. His defensive effort capsized. He struggled from three-point range to the Thunder’s detriment. The peak fitness that drove LeBron to mid-30s greatness doesn’t appear anywhere within Melo’s pudgy frame. With a shell of his game remaining, his value comes through lessons learned, veteran insight, and mentorship as a cautionary tale.

This all rallied enough sympathy that I’d embrace him in Boston. Part of it is my affinity for not wanting villains completely crushed, but rather redeemed. The other, a faint hope that Anthony coaches one day, particularly in Syracuse. Anthony deserves a better ending than a Daryl Morey double-take.

Danny Ainge should sit Anthony down and create a plan centered on him joining as a practice competitor to push Jaylen Brown, his workout partner, and Jayson Tatum. Melo could share his regrets, moves and be someone in the locker room any young player can ask questions of.

NBA: New York Knicks at Boston Celtics Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

What the Celtics can’t offer in salary or minutes, Brad Stevens could provide by identifying games that would work in Anthony’s favor. Boston lacks depth at the four and rebounding, two roles Melo could fill in spot minutes where his defense won’t ruin the rotation.

The team still lacks veteran presence, something Irving might’ve been right about through his transgressions. These Celtics have not established themselves into clear rotations or built camaraderie. Through that process, Anthony could find a role.

Anthony told Smith that Oklahoma City never outlined that for him. Boston should put it on the record. If the situation calls for it, he’ll get the call. Then there’s no expectations or miscommunication.

This Celtics team could use some pushing anyway. The thought that Kyrie Irving’s departure will cure all won’t happen automatically. A powerful, respected external voice like Anthony’s could help that post-Irving transition.

If his salary expectations remain high, he’s done. The Celtics could move on if he can’t stomach the bench, as the Rockets did on their way to another strong playoff run.

Boston signed Tacko Fall and Javonte Green to their 15th spot. Their contracts are largely non-guaranteed. Their status on the team may make this a wash anyway, but the Celtics can even invite Anthony to their annual competition at the end of the roster.

Sometimes, there’s an inexplicable gap that leaves a talented and valuable commodity unemployed. Anthony won’t be hopping in line to collect benefits, but it’s still a shame to see his desires and those of teams create this stalemate that’ll likely influence how his legacy is viewed.

“My silence is not my surrender,” Anthony said. “I had to reevaluate my life, reevaluate my career ... I love the game too much to be away from it. I just love the game. I do everything. I’m training young guys, I’m training myself. I’m in it.”