If Carmelo Anthony's return to the New York Knicks makes it apparent that he does not prioritize winning championships as much as he claimed, maybe it's because the public at large doesn't prioritize winning championships as much as it claims.
Melo passed on a chance to join the Chicago Bulls, a team that won 11 more games and finished five spots higher in the Eastern Conference standings than the Knicks -- and did it without a healthy Derrick Rose. Get Rose through a whole season intact, with Joakim Noah anchoring Tom Thibodeau's defensive schemes, some buckets from rookie Doug McDermott and the scoring punch of Carmelo, and even if the Bulls couldn't get Melo to the penthouse, they could at least put him in the elevator and move him up a few floors.
Remember what Anthony said about his pending free agency during All-Star Weekend: "As far as the money goes, it's not my concern. My concern is to be able to compete on a high level, a championship level, coming in this last stretch of my career. I want to compete at that level."
For now it looks more likely that he'll get paid at a high level. Even Phil Jackson, who knows a thing or 11 about championship teams, doesn't think the Knicks are ready to win right away.
The predictable Twitter mockery greeted the news Saturday that Melo was finalizing a new contract with the Knicks, one that would pay him upwards of $120 million. This was one day after America fawned over LeBron James' announcement that he wanted to return home, even if it meant taking a longer route back to that championship stage. This was four years after LeBron incurred the wrath of his hometown and the scorn of everyone else for saying he wanted to go to Miami to win championships.
Can't have it both ways, folks. Can't demand that players prioritize winning and then not applaud them when they do.
Where was the celebration for Dwight Howard a year ago when he left the larger contract and grander tradition of the Lakers for the superior roster of the Rockets? Maybe it was because we were so tired of seeing him move, and Lakers fans were so flabbergasted that an All-Star would actually leave them. Still, Howard adhered to the standard we want followed, and he never gets cited as an example of someone who did free agency the proper way. (Perhaps it's because it took him a couple of tries to get it right, because he sure made a mess in Orlando.)
So unless you stood and applauded LeBron in 2010 and Howard in 2013, there's no sense jeering Carmelo now. It's fine if Carmelo wants New York and the big bucks. The money's guaranteed; championships aren't.
The one who loses privileges is Carmelo. He can't claim championships as his top priority and can't lament missing out if he never gets one. He had his chance to do something about it, and he passed.
It's similar to LeBron and labor issues. He can't be at the player's union forefront in the next collective bargaining negotiation after he just empowered one of the owners who fought so hard against the players in the last round. He made returning to Cleveland a priority over that stance. He gave compelling reasons in his Sports Illustrated story, but that element still applies.
A player agent used to tell his clients he could get them on a winner, get them paid or get them someplace where they could be The Man, but he couldn't get them all three. He was simply being honest. And by choosing the Knicks, so is Carmelo -- more so by his actions in free agency than his words at the All-Star break.