Usually the first day of school comes before the pep rally, but that’s not how it worked with Carmelo Anthony’s first 24 hours in Oklahoma City.
Before Monday’s Media Day, the annual tradition where every member of the Thunder roster runs through the gauntlet of interviews and photo shoots, Anthony dropped into town on a late afternoon flight from New York City. Awaiting him at the airport were hundreds of hungry Thunder fans, desperate to get a glimpse of the 10-time All-Star, and newest member of Oklahoma City’s team. To the superstar forward, it was an unbelievable sight to behold when his feet first touched the tarmac.
“To and feel that passion and feel that energy, anytime you feel wanted and appreciated, you can’t even put those feelings into words,” Anthony explained.
Watch: Melo’s Arrival
On Friday the news trickled out that Anthony had opened up his list of desired destinations to Oklahoma City, and on Saturday he waived his no-trade clause to ensure that a deal could be completed. Thunder General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti and his staff were prepared for all sorts of scenarios and opportunities, including this one. When the opportunity arose, Presti and his staff pulled the trigger.
The chance to add a player of Anthony’s caliber, a six-time All-NBA performer who has a 24.8 points per game scoring average, was an obvious one. What makes the move all the more sensational for the Thunder is the type of person Anthony will be in the locker room and in the community. Throughout his career, Anthony has devoted himself to giving back, including his recent efforts to raise money and support for those impacted by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
“(The thing) I’ve admired for a very long time is just his professionalism and the way he carries himself,” Presti said. “Everyone in Oklahoma City will have an opportunity to meet him and get to know him, but from afar, he’s a rather dignified guy.”
“We really felt like he would not only be a really good fit for our team, but I think he carries himself with a professionalism and a class that as the Thunder going into our 10th year, we want that to continue to be a hallmark of our organization,” Presti continued.
At one point on Monday as Anthony completed his circuit, he grabbed a new Thunder sweatshirt, slipped it on and suddenly transformed into the summer phenomenon known only as “Hoodie Melo.” What surely will be a running gag this season truly does have a meaning behind it. Anthony attacked his work with a renewed focus and intensity, using the hooded sweatshirt to not only slim down, but to focus his mind.
He had one thing on his mind all offseason – winning. With Russell Westbrook, Paul George and the variety of high-level Thunder role players in place, Anthony sees Oklahoma City as a perfect landing spot. The internal motivation and the collective chip on the shoulders of the Thunder’s three superstars will be a unifying and electrifying force all season.
“Not like this city needs any more energy, but it’s a different energy, a different focus, a different motivation that myself have, Paul has and Russ has, being that we haven’t won a championship yet in our career, and we see that, and that’s our ultimate goal,” Anthony said.
Anthony’s fellow All-Star newcomer, George, had already experienced the whirlwind of the transition to a new team after an extended period in one place. He also felt the same love that Anthony did on Sunday afternoon.
Since then, he’s been feeling that familiar Thunder support system, not just through the personal touch the staff provides, but also with the way Presti and the staff have managed to put together a contender in the span of just one offseason thanks to a utilizing its chess pieces appropriately and being prepared for chances to make a splash.
“The front office is that active in the summer and free agency, and not only acquiring players, but acquiring superstar players,” George said. “It says a lot about the front office, it says a lot to Russ they’re committed to bringing guys and putting guys around him that is going to give them the best chance to win.”
While Anthony and George are still getting their feet under them on the Oklahoma red dirt, Westbrook will be there to steady them through the ups and downs. With two high-caliber scoring options on either side of him, a defensive whiz in Andre Roberson, a behemoth two-way center in Steven Adams and a mix of savvy veterans and intriguing youngsters off the bench, Westbrook will have a heavy arsenal.
It’ll be up to him as the leader of the team to work with Head Coach Billy Donovan to get everyone organized and into positions to succeed. Starting with tomorrow’s first practice of U.S. Cellular Thunder Training Camp, Westbrook will be working to make that process as seamless as possible.
“As a point guard, and that’s a part of my job, is to be able to help all the guys and make their job easy,” Westbrook said. “I will constantly continue to do that for him, and for the rest of our guys as well, in making his job the PG job, and everybody’s job in the transition easy.”
“(Westbrook) was a big reason why I wanted to come here,” Anthony said. “To see his loyalty to the city, to this organization, what he was able to do on the court. I wanted to be a part of that.”
That’ll be the mission all season long, starting now and extending through April, to make sure that everyone is on the same page and that the Thunder is playing its best basketball by the time the postseason rolls around. Sacrifices will need to be made. Roles, lineups and rotations will be tinkered with and the road won’t always be easy. But to start the 2017-18 campaign, the Thunder has a bunch of fighters in their camp, ready to put the team first and ready to play one way: to win.
“It’s awesome to have guys that want to play alongside you and team up with you and share a mission with you,” George stated.