Mike D'Antoni Won't Commit to Carmelo Anthony Starting

When asked on media day about Melo's spot with the Rockets, his former Knicks coach wouldn't confirm a starting slot.

Carmelo Anthony, Mike D'Antoni

Image via Getty/Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE

Carmelo Anthony, Mike D'Antoni

Carmelo Anthony is now a Rocket, which means he's reunited with his former coach in New York, Mike D'Antoni. They had butted heads in the Big Apple, and while time heals all wounds, Melo's sojourn south might pick at the blister that was their previous relationship. That's because the Rockets might bring Anthony off the bench, something he was outwardly allergic to with the Thunder last season.

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Not much has changed since Melo came aboard. On Monday, Mike was opaque about where Anthony fits in their system:

Mike D’Antoni is leaving it open on whether Melo starts or comes off the bench: “We’ll see how it fits. I don’t know how they play together, they fit together.”

— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) September 24, 2018

But things are different in Houston than they were in New York. For one, Carmelo seems to be willing to consider coming off the bench for the Rockets.

Carmelo Anthony, pushed on bench possibility: “Whatever I have to do to help this team win a championship, that’s what’s going to be done.”

— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) September 24, 2018

And for two, D'Antoni doesn't need to walk on eggshells about the decision of whether to start him or not. The money has his back this time (take note James Dolan):

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta on Carmelo Anthony: “He understood the role that we wanted him to play. That could be starting or that could be coming off the bench, but I think you’re going to see that Carmelo is going to get a lot of minutes and contribute a lot.”

— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) September 24, 2018

Houston has been designated the future of the NBA ever since GM Daryl Morey took over: On offense, they're all three-pointers, free throws and shots at the rim. On defense, it was switch everything. Never was this innovative system more explicit than during last year's Western Conference finals. They were constructed to take down the Warriors, and they were one game and Chris Paul hammie from doing just that after going up 3-2 in a surprising Game 5 win. But this offseason has been hard and it's no foregone conclusion they'll find themselves back on the precipice of the Finals.

Underrated 3-and-D wing Trevor Ariza is gone in free agency, and—in a surprise that only resonated on the nerdier side of basketball Twitter—so is their assistant coach and defensive wunderkind, Jeff Bzdelick, who surprisingly resigned in September. The loss of Bzdelick is especially glaring when you consider Carmelo plays defense as if he's got 15-pound concrete blocks on his Js. 

Houston's advantage over Golden State stemmed from their switch-happy defensive scheme, and a super small lineup with bubble-butt (meant in the most complimentary way) PJ Tucker playing the five. Even with the re-signed Clint Capela as the starting center, the biggest reason they re-signed him is how adroitly he stats with perimeter players, which is a key to Bzdelick's switch-everything scheme. That group more than held their own against the finest collection of talent in NBA history. Now, Ariza is gone and Tucker is behind Anthony on the depth chart. At least in theory.

For D'Antoni, the Rockets are one jab-step soliloquy and blown defensive rotation during training camp from bringing Anthony off the bench. How that sits with Melo might depend on his friendship with Chris Paul, or respect garnered from MVP James Harden (who can tell him a thing or two about being effective as a sixth man).  But the whole setup gives off bad vibes, and the Rockets are going to have a harder time than last year getting back in a position to knock off the champs.

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