Melo's Transition Game
Drug bust. Bar fight. Gangster cameo. Benched at the Olympics. Feuds with his coaches. After a season to forget, 21-year-old Carmelo Anthony is an NBA star who’s now learning to live without the ball.
Whatever. You know what, Anthony told himself, you can make all this stuff turn good. If you just get your story out there and do what you gotta do on the court, people will forget about this off-the-court trouble. But the press and the pressure were too much. The Nuggets and Anthony played terribly and lost. On the court, Anthony found himself questioning his instincts. "I started worrying about if I do this move and I mess up, what are people going to say? 'Oh, he's thinking about what he did the other day or what was in the papers.'" His life seemed to go from dreadful to hopeless. Anthony injured his ankle and missed a few games, losing games. The Nuggets fired Coach Jeff Bzdelik and Coach Michael Cooper. Then, along came George Karl, a coach infamous for taking no mess from nobody.
Most sportswriters attribute the Nuggets' 2005 turnaround to Karl. Perhaps. One thing is certain: Karl helped Anthony rebound. Though it happened almost accidently. Before his first press conference Karl called Anthony into his office for a meeting. "I wanted him to feel who I was," Karl says. "There's perceptions and spin on everybody, and I wanted him to know I thought he was a young player, a great player." Whatever else was said in that meeting can only be described as miscommunication. While Karl thought the meeting went well, Anthony left feeling worthless and angry. "After that meeting I felt like, 'Man, this man is coming in here, he's tying to destroy my life. So I didn't talk to him and I didn't talk to the players. I didn't talk to anyone. I used to go home crying at night, like tears coming out, and I'd talk to my fiancée. I'd say, 'I can't do this no more. I don't know what this guy wants from me.'"
Vandeweghe had tried to prepare Anthony for Karl and for the philosophical transition. "Before we hired George," Vandeweghe says, "I spent a long time talking to Melo about how it was going to be tough because Melo had gotten into some habits on the court that were not positive for him. I wanted him to focus on his defense and his rebounding-the little things that make great players, things that George really focuses on."
Karl was intent on having his team move the ball, play fast, and create baskets. It was all about hustle and transition. Anthony got sick of hearing the phrase "ball-stoppers," one of Karl's favorite expressions for something that stops transition and momentum. Anthony tried to stay calm, quell the chaos in his head. Yet Karl, who'd been away from the game for two years, was now this relentless bear, growling in his face.
LaLa told Anthony not to worry, to keep his head up and stay focused. It didn't matter so much what words she used, it's that she was there to listen and to help. Both were born in Brooklyn, both raised by their moms, and both successful young. It doesn't hurt that she was a shooting guard in high school and that they like staying at home and playing ball together. They hang out, walk the dogs. They go bowling. They go to the movies. She makes him Hamburger Helper, his favorite dish. He cooks for her on the George Foreman grill.