By Melissa Rohlin
FOX Sports NBA Writer
Now, it seems unbelievable.
Just three years ago, Carmelo Anthony didn’t have a home in the NBA. Nobody wanted him. He was unemployed.
As nearly 19,000 fans at Staples Center chanted his name Monday night, that time in his life seemed light years away.
But for Anthony, the wound is still fresh.
“I think about that every day,” he said.
Watching Anthony, it’s hard to imagine how he was out of the league for more than a year. What was Houston thinking by waiving him in 2018? And how in the world didn’t any other team — including the Los Angeles Lakers — swoop in and sign him before the Portland Trail Blazers gave him a chance in 2019?
At age 37, Anthony is locked in as a shooter.
So far this season, he’s third in the league in made 3-pointers with 39, trailing only Stephen Curry (52) and Buddy Hield (48). And he’s shooting a blistering 64.4% from beyond the arc over eight home games, including going 7-for-10 from that distance in the Lakers’ 126-123 overtime victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Monday.
Yet just a short while ago, Anthony slipped through the cracks like a rare coin that’s accidentally tossed in the trash.
“I honestly never understood it,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “I really didn’t. I actually thought when he went to Houston, with his shooting ability and their capacity to shoot 3s, that he would have been a great fit. I don’t know what really happened there.”
This much is for sure: The Lakers know they’re lucky now, especially with LeBron James sidelined for an indefinite period with an abdominal strain.
While Russell Westbrook was celebrated as the Lakers’ most vaunted acquisition this offseason, it’s Anthony who has proven to be a consistent threat.
He keeps defenses honest with his soft touch when they collapse on superstars James and Anthony Davis. And he’s a source of energy off the bench, a role he initially struggled with in Portland but wholeheartedly accepted when he signed with the Lakers.
Anthony is already a fan favorite.
After making his second 3-pointer over an 82-second stretch with nine minutes left in regulation to give the Lakers a 103-89 lead, he got a standing ovation and the crowd broke into a “Melo, Melo” chant.
And when the Hornets surged in the fourth quarter to cut their deficit from 14 points to seven while Anthony was resting, fans chanted, “Put Melo in.”
Then in overtime, it was Anthony who gave the Lakers their first lead of the extra period. He made a 3-pointer with two minutes left to put them up 122-121, electrifying a fan base still reeling from two brutal losses against Oklahoma City.
Anthony always knew he was still capable of this kind of play, even when the rest of the basketball world had given up on him, dismissing him as old or slowed down or difficult.
“The problem with that is everyone else thought that. I never believed that, you know what I’m saying?” he said. “I lived with it. I played the scenarios all through my head for months. But I never doubted myself in anything that I did. Always stayed solid on who I am, what I can do. And the right situation for that came.”
The Blazers saw what the rest of the league was blind to, offering Anthony a one-year deal in 2019. He went on to average 15.4 points on 43% shooting, including 38.5% from beyond the arc. They re-signed him for the 2020-21 season.
Then this past August, the Lakers acquired him for the veteran’s minimum. Anthony is making it seem as though he’s being grossly underpaid.
“He’s a Hall of Famer,” Westbrook said. “He knows his worth. He has never wavered since I’ve known him. Always got his head in the right place. And that’s why he has been playing well for the last couple years, regardless of what other people may think of him and his game, what they see his value is. We understand how to use him, and we’re going to do a good job of continuing to make use of him.”
For the Lakers, Anthony has been just what they need.
He’s vocal on both ends of the court. He’s a leader. And he’s a deadly shooter, an area the Lakers desperately needed to bolster after they finished 23rd in the league from beyond the arc last season.
So far, it has been a perfect marriage.
And now all his teammates can think about is how in the world anyone ever let him go.
“Definitely surprising and shocking that nobody wanted him a couple years ago,” Davis said. “But we’ll be more than happy to have him.”
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
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