LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony

It seems unfair to openly question whether Carmelo Anthony will continue to reside in the shadow of LeBron James when one could argue that everyone in the league resides in that location. And yet, that is the case.

Kevin Durant is the second-best player in the league by most accounts and yet even he acknowledged to Sports Illustrated that James’ presence cramps his style (quotes via the Point Forward):

I’ve been second my whole life,” Durant tells SI‘s Lee Jenkins in a profile that will hit newsstands on Thursday. “I was the second-best player in high school. I was the second pick in the draft. I’ve been second in the MVP voting three times. I came in second in the Finals. I’m tired of being second. I’m not going to settle for that. I’m done with it.

Durant finished second in MVP voting on three separate occasions, losing out each time to James. Also, his lone NBA Finals appearance was a defeat at the hand of the former Cleveland Cavalier. Clearly, the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar has reasons to perhaps envy the Miami Heat’s leading man.

The silky 6’9’’ scoring machine has some catching up to do, but there is a sentiment that his time will eventually come. He is incredibly talented and yet continues to add new wrinkles to an already impressive set of skills.

In 2012-13, his on-court and off-court net differential was 11 points per 100 possessions. For the sake of perspective, that’s the difference between being the Charlotte Bobcats and the New York Knicks.

Between his scoring, improved ball-handling and playmaking skills, we can easily conclude that Durant is that guy. He’s just not the guy, which at present time is a title reserved for LeBron James.

Nonetheless, Durant is talented enough that the glare of LeBron’s throne will not blind him. If James is the Mad King of Westeros, Durant plays the part of Jaime Lannister awaiting to slay him in the Game of Thrones.

How does Carmelo Anthony fit into all of this?

The New York Knicks’ superstar should be where Durant is at the moment. This may seem blasphemous at present time, but there was a time where certain people felt as though Anthony was a safer pick than James.

Anthony led the Syracuse Orange to the NCAA title in his freshman season and then entered the NBA Draft. That same offseason, James opted to skip college and join the professional ranks as well.

Much like in their present incarnations, James and Anthony shared the same position of small forward when they entered the league. Anthony’s Denver Nuggets made the playoffs on the strength of his scoring while the Akron native secured the 2003-04 Rookie of the Year award because of his impressive all-around play as a first-year player.

Anthony’s game was built around scoring and he has been impressive in that department. James was not as polished with respect to putting the ball in the basket in his early years, but he possessed a host of skills that made him an incredibly intriguing prospect.

Since entering the league together, James has essentially smoked his counterpart. He has collected four league MVP awards, two All-Star Game MVPs, two titles and two Finals MVP trophies.

Anthony on the other hand has passed the first round of the playoffs twice and seen his shooting numbers take a dive in every postseason. He has evolved as a scorer and developed different moves to confound defenders. However, a look at his year by year statistical output fails to clearly demonstrate the areas where he has improved over the course of his career.

His two best seasons (2010-11 and 2012-13) came as a result of increased proficiency from 3-point range and a reduction in turnovers. Given that those numbers have fluctuated during his time in the league, it is a little difficult to state with certainty that he has actually gotten better in these categories.

Thus, it may be fair to wonder if Anthony has in fact reached his ceiling while James and Durant continue to add layers to their dynamic catalog of skills.

Fair or not, it certainly seems as though Durant has surpassed Anthony and that he is playing out the career that was initially projected for the Knicks’ high-volume scorer.

This in turn makes the 2013-14 campaign an incredibly compelling one. Anthony has publicly announced in an interview with The New York Observer his intentions to hit the open market at the conclusion of the season:

I want to be a free agent,” Anthony tells me, as our cigars burn close to the nub. “I think everybody in the NBA dreams to be a free agent at least one time in their career. It’s like you have an evaluation period, you know. It’s like if I’m in the gym and I have all the coaches, all the owners, all the GMs come into the gym and just evaluate everything I do. So yes, I want that experience.

It only makes sense for Melo to explore free agency given that he will be able to secure a five-year $129 million contract from the Knicks. On the off chance New York is no longer what he wants, there seems to be a small flirtation taking shape between he and a Los Angeles Lakers team that could potentially offer him a four-year $96 million deal.

Anthony can relocate to Hollywood and join forces with Kobe Bryant. That tandem would be incredibly compelling to say the least. Thus, hitting the open market is clearly in Anthony’s best interests at least in theory.

In reality however, things are a little more complicated. LeBron James can also opt out of his contract at the end of the 2013-14 season and hit free agency. This could mean a number of things for Anthony.

Indeed, James automatically becomes the headliner in free agency and consequently makes the Knicks’ superstar a consolation prize of sorts. The first order of business for teams with cap space will be to try and woo the King all the while putting discussions with Anthony on hold.

And if that is not a big enough blow to Melo’s ego, there is also a sentiment that perhaps what Anthony needs is James himself in a Knickerbockers uniform to rescue the Syracuse product.

The former Denver Nugget has been forced to share the spotlight with James from the moment he announced his intentions to join the professional ranks. Except, he really has not enjoyed any of it truly. Instead, he has mostly been an afterthought because of James’ exploits.

Kevin Durant compounds this issue even further because he has forced Melo to coexist with him in LeBron’s shadow. And yet, KD’s silhouette also overtakes Anthony’s and pushes him almost entirely out of the discussion involving the league’s active living legends.

The 2013-14 season will be Carmelo’s audition. It might be one of his final opportunities to rise from the shade and truly step into the light. Anthony needs a series victory over James in the worst way and perhaps even a title to accomplish this. Otherwise, the talk will soon become “different year, same Melo”.

Anthony currently lives in the shadows and that’s an incredibly bad proposition for him. As Bane once said in The Dark Knight Rises: “the shadows betray you Batman…”

It’s quite apropos given that Gotham’s leading man cannot even count on those to shield him if 2013-14 is anything short of sensational for both he and the Knicks.

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