Blame it on Scottie Pippen. Before Pippen came along Dominique Wilkins was arguably the prototypical small forward; a tremendous scoring machine, able to dunk, drive or shoot. Then Pippen and Jordan started winning championships with Pippen playing what was called the "point-forward" position. All of a sudden, we had a new definition of a great SF. He not only had to score, but he had to defend tenaciously, and carry some of the ball-handling load as well. Sounds like a good thing right? So what are we blaming Pippen for exactly...
Well, we are blaming Pippen for the disrespect given to Carmelo Anthony simply because he's more Wilkins than Pippen. It's a known fact that Melo isn't the greatest defender, and his playmaking abilities aren't anything to write home about; which would be a big deal if he was a guard. But see here's the thing, contrary to latest trends, it's still acceptable for a small forward to simply be a scoring machine who can do other things, but doesn't excel at them. I'm not just talking about solid starters, I'm talking superstars. Which despite his recent off court dramas, is still a category Melo belongs to. Superstar, franchise player, whatever you want to call it, he's it.
Now, a recent article on SLAMonline waxed lyrical about how Melo wasn't in fact a franchise player because he wouldn't be able to lead a team to a championship in the current NBA. Before I go on, I should probably mention the other reason why Melo doesn't get the respect he deserves; he has always been in the shadow of Lebron James, who is almost Pippen 2.0; he scores, he defends and he is considered one of the best passers in the game by many (myself excluded). Now, if Lebron is the embodiment of the Pippen-inspired point-forward, he is a franchise player who could lead a team to a championship on his own back right? He has none of Carmelo's shortcomings and matches or surpasses Melo in strengths.
But wait. He didn't win that championship ring did he? In seven years he got to the Finals once in what can only be called a down year for the NBA if that Cavaliers team made it so far. Now, since that Finals appearance Lebron's team had the best record in the NBA twice in a row. Is this what it means to be a franchise player? Not according to the aforementioned SLAMonline article, because he didn't win a championship. Yet somehow, Lebron is in that class and Melo isn't. Now, this isn't a personal attack on Myles Brown, just an examination of the thought process that puts Lebron in a class where championships are the key to being a franchise player and leaves Melo out in the cold. This isn't just the thinking of Myles, many people would call Lebron a player who could lead you to a championship and say Melo doesn't have that franchise quality.
However, Melo has just hit his prime in the past couple of seasons, and finally got the running mate he needed in Chauncey Billups. In the 08-09 season he took the Nuggets to the WCF and the Lakers to Game 6. That's one more game than the Eastern Conference champs Orlando managed to squeeze out of the eventual NBA champions. The same Orlando Magic who upset the Cavaliers the year they had home court advantage and the best record in the League. It says a little something about the difference in strength between the two conferences; now pause and remember Melo has been playing there his whole career. Yes, he never made it to the Finals, but in his path have been the great Spurs teams of the 00s, the Lakers of the past couple of years and a myriad of other tough outs. Now consider what Melo did last year; he and his squad struggled with injuries, and they were up against a tough Jazz team who were extremely well coached without George Karl, the mastermind behind that WCF appearance in 08-09, who was battling cancer at the time. In those circumstances is it any surprise that Melo took a step back? Losing your head coach is no small thing, especially midway through the season. However, a lot of people have written off both Carmelo Anthony as a championship caliber first option and the Nuggets as contenders - including, it seems, Carmelo himself. Look at James' performance in the playoffs, his Cavaliers dropped a game to the severely overmatched Chicago Bulls, and when Boston got their juices flowing he couldn't dominate the game the way a franchise player is expected to. We all know what happened since then; Lebron bailed and teamed up with one of only two of the five "franchise players" to have actually won a championship. So tell me then, why is it that Lebron is still considered a franchise player, when he clearly couldn't lead a team to a championship, yet Melo, who has had similar achievements and been held back by things beyond his control (injuries to teammates, cancer) is all of a sudden out of the franchise player loop?
Here is a list of players who to my mind are without question franchise players even though they may not have won championships;
Just look at that list; we are talking first-ballot Hall of Famers here, yet none of them reached the very top. So why is it then that they can be called franchise players without winning the championship? Because here's the thing; there's only one trophy each year, and there are going to be other franchise players to beat out, every year. So when you think about who can be considered a franchise player, don't just think about who has actually won a championship, but who can get you within reach; taking the 08-09 LA Lakers to six games in the WCF is good enough for me, especially when they had the League's ultimate franchise player Kobe Bryant on their team.
So why, in spite of all this is Melo discriminated against really? Blame it on Pippen. Melo is discriminated against because like Wilkins, he is happy to leave the point to the guards.