Return to the NBA Journey, Week Five: Old Snake

What good is a series without a trilogy? For the third time, The Sports Fan Journal heads on the NBA Journey. For the first two years, we had a level of surety as to where our destination would be. The first year, we were correct. The second, we were correct in location, but not in victor, as the Toronto Raptors won the title last year. Now, the NBA springs anew and for the first time in a while, we’re not totally sure where our destination lies. This allows for a current kind of exploration. Let’s continue with our next installment after a week of games.

Song of The Week: Metal Gear Solid 3 Soundtrack – “Snake Eater”

Konami is a major video game studio that was around for the rise in gaming that began in the 80s. They are the creators of the notorious Konami Code that has transcended games and made its way into other aspects of life, including movies and television. The company is also the creators behind the Metal Gear Solid franchise, directed by Hideo Kojima. In the series, military protagonist and certified badass Solid Snake tries to take down corrupt organizations and thwart various coups and quests for world domination. The first four installments rank highly among the best video games to ever be released.

Snake, in all his iterations, is one of the most deadly one-man armies ever. He’s combat savvy, highly trained in all manner of weaponry and can defeat enemies and machines bigger, stronger and deadlier than him through sheet cunning. But even he gets old. His body wanes in the fourth game, and help is needed in order to complete the mission. Sure, he does his part. But there are obvious signs that he is no longer the Snake of old, but Old Snake.

But in the fifth game, subtitled, “The Phantom Pain,” the franchise took a massive step back. While it sold pretty well, it left a sour taste in fans’ mouths, as the game lacked cohesion in its story. It’s certainly playable and enjoyable at times, but MGSV: The Phantom Pain was a sign that Konami may have diminished skills.

Watching former superstars navigate the decline of their abilities is intriguing. After being at the top of the talent pool for most of their lives, there is a battle on the way back to mortality. A little less stamina to carry their teams, defenses find it easier to contain them and more nagging injuries add to the frustrating realization that we all go through: nothing lasts forever.

Every NBA player retires at some point. Some get the ability to bow out gracefully, showered with adoration and gratitude. Others stubbornly hold onto what was and have to be forcibly removed from the Association through the fact that no team wants to have them on their roster. In overestimating their value, it becomes difficult to see the decline. Nostalgia, if unchecked, can blur logical points of view.

Here are some facts. Carmelo Anthony is one of the best NBA players of all time. He is far removed from the best version of himself on the floor. And while he is still capable and skilled enough to be in the NBA, his unwillingness to adjust and accept a lesser role kept him off a team. That stubbornness is why he rose to be as great a player he is. And because he had so much individual success doing things his way, it has proven difficult to change. That played a part in the perception of things ending poorly in Oklahoma City and Houston, and was a reason why no one decided to sign him.

Until now.

Hopefully, Carmelo Anthony can have the graceful exit from the NBA he deserves. (NBA.com)

The Portland Trail Blazers signed Melo to a non-guaranteed contract for this season. Portland is desperate for scoring from the forward position to complement guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Melo provides that, especially since he can famously (or infamously) create his own offense. It started amazing, as Melo hit his first two shots. But he finished with poor shooting percentages and terrible advanced defensive numbers that allow naysayers to further harp on his flaws. His adrenaline was surging, undoubtedly remembering the days when he was among the game’s elite. He attempted to dunk on Jaxson Hayes in that first game against the Pelicans, and it was quite unsuccessful. The first three games for #00 in black and red were subpar by his standards.

Melo gave us a very good performance Monday night against the Chicago Bulls. He scored 25 points on 10/20 shooting and pulled down eight rebounds. The struggling Blazers got a win, and Anthony shared a special moment with his son during a timeout. We may not get superstar sublime scorer he was a few years ago. But if he can channel that energy a few times, this comeback season is a success.

And so begins the final phase of Anthony’s journey, where he must show he can still play without overdoing it. It’s no longer his time, but he can occasionally remind us just how amazing he was, even if the overall product is mediocre.

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