Julius Randle and the Knicks will begin a six-day, four-game road trip versus the Phoenix Suns tomorrow night (288412)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

Carmelo Anthony was back at Madison Square Garden last night on New Year’s Day as a member of the Portland Trailblazers. It has been a winding and often frustrating road for the Brooklyn born future Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee since he was traded by the Knicks to the Oklahoma City Thunder in September of 2017 for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a 2018 second-round pick.

At the time, Anthony had fallen out of favor with then Knicks president Phil Jackson, whose tenure overseeing the franchise’s basketball operations was an abject failure. There was once a vision of Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, who Jackson selected with the fourth pick in the 2015 draft, being the cornerstones of the Knicks’ reemergence as a championship contender.

But the mental image of the duo being celebrated down the Canyon of Heroes was fleeting. Jackson resigned in June of 2017 and Anthony’s disconnect with the Knicks continued after current team president Steve Mills was named Jackson’s successor.

“This is a deal we feel works for both this franchise and Carmelo. We thank him for his seven seasons in a Knicks uniform and all that he accomplished off the court for the City of New York by using his platform to address social issues,” said Mills after trading Anthony. “As we have said recently, this is a new beginning for the New York Knicks.”

A new beginning that still included Porzingis didn’t last long, as he was the next to go, traded to the Dallas Mavericks last January after acrimony between him and Knicks management became irreconcilable.

A little over two years ago, on Dec. 16, 2017, Anthony returned to Madison Square Garden for the first time with his new team. After the game, this reporter asked Anthony that if he was writing the narrative, how would he be remembered as a Knick.

“I wanted to be here. Came here. Did what he had to do night-in and night-out, whether people liked it or not,” Anthony introspectively responded. “Remained positive through all the negative situations, all the negative times. Stuck with it through good times, through bad times. Never wavered. Somebody who stayed professional throughout my seven years here.

“And somebody who had hopes and dreams of winning a championship here in New York and fell short of that,” Anthony continued with genuine emotion. “So that’s something that I will always hold over my head as far as it comes to that. But I’ll always be kinda part of this culture here. And for me it’s different than any other basketball player that comes through here that plays with the Knicks because it’s deeper than basketball when it comes to me and this city.”

The Knicks have not had a marquee player since the exits of Anthony and Porzingis. They entered the game against the Trailblazers on a two-game winning streak but with a record of 9-24 and a difficult six-day, four-game road trip out west set to begin tomorrow against the Phoenix Suns.

They’ll also face the Los Angeles Clippers (Sunday), Los Angeles Lakers (Tuesday) and Utah Jazz (Wednesday). The 35-year-old Anthony, who left the Thunder, signed with the Houston Rockets in August of 2018 and was essentially lost playing with James Harden, spent a year in basketball limbo. He had not played in a NBA game since Nov. 8, 2018 before being signed by the Trailblazers and debuting with them this past Nov. 19. In Portland, alongside All-Star point guard Damian Lillard, one of sports’ great leaders, Anthony has found a measure of basketball peace.

Conversely, the Knicks remain in perpetual transition with an interim head coach in Mike Miller and still in search of their next franchise player, a role Anthony once proudly filled.