Here’s what Melo’s former teammate had to say, per ESPN New York’s Ian Begley:
Chauncey Billups, an ESPN analyst who played with Anthony for three seasons in Denver and New York, said recently that vocal leadership isn’t a part of Carmelo’s personality.
“He’s not that guy,” Billups said on “The Knicks Blog with Anthony Donahue” radio show. “Melo’s a good friend of mine, one of the best players I ever played with, but he’s not the guy who’s going to stand up in the locker room and give this rah-rah speech and get the team to rally. That’s not who he is.
“One thing he is, he’s going to come to play every single night, he’s going to practice every single day. He is who he is, He’s not that guy [who leads vocally]. But for who he is, he’s great. You’ve got to find another guy to make speeches, and another guy to do most of the leading. [Carmelo’s] going to most of the time lead by example. He’s not going to be vocal, he’s not going to rock the boat.”
This is important not because it’s new, but because Phil Jackson has spent most of his time at the helm talking about the importance of a soon-to-be 31-year-old Anthony evolving as a player and leader. Both would be nice. Both are long shots.
At least one borders on impossible.
Irrespective of whether you like Melo, he has changed his game quite a bit since the days of yore (aka him running Mike D’Antoni out of town). He’s a better spot-up shooter, a more willing passer and is equipped to play within an actual system that doesn’t involve him holding the ball for 10-plus seconds and creating all his own shots. That remains a valuable part of his game, as well as a necessary one until the Knicks put actual talent around him. But he has changed enough to play nice with others.
What he’ll never be is a vocal leader. He prefers to lead by example, if he’s supposed to be a leader at all. Seldom is he criticized for his on-court diligence, so there’s that to consider. Any teammate should see him working his ass off and be inspired. But when it comes to motivating teammates and being a cheerleader and keeping players’ emotions in check and mentoring a rotation fraught with youngsters, he’s just not the guy. That’s been clear for a while now, and it became even more clear when he lamented the loss of veterans from the 2012-13 playoff squad last year—many of whom didn’t really play key roles on the court.
The Knicks’ job, then, isn’t to push Melo to be someone he’s not. They can harp on his flaws as a player and person all they want, but this is the player and person they invested in. There’s no turning back now, nor should there be. Melo does what he does, and he does it pretty damn well. So Jackson and friends need to let Melo be Melo while looking outside the organization for the player, for the mentor, for the leader they’re mistakenly expecting him to be.