It was the lowest point of Carmelo Anthony’s career.
He went from being a vaunted superstar to jobless after he flamed out in Oklahoma City and then was waived by Houston after just 10 games in 2018.
Anthony’s future in the NBA was bleak.
He was 34. His incredible first step had been slowed by Father Time. He was criticized for his lack of defensive intensity. His attitude had been repeatedly called into question.
Unsure of what was next for him, Anthony turned to trainer Alex Bazzell to help resurrect his career. Anthony knew of Bazzell because Kobe Bryant had given him his stamp of approval.
Bazzell met Bryant in 2019, when the former Lakers superstar brought his daughter Gianna to Manhattan Beach to watch him train Napheesa Collier. At the time, Collier was a star for the vaunted women’s team at UConn, where Gianna dreamed of playing.
After watching the workout, Bryant was floored.
“He’s teaching all of my s—,” Bryant said at the time.
Bryant pulled Bazzell aside after the workout. They chatted for 30 minutes about the trainer’s approach and mindset and how he breaks down film. About a month later, Bazzell’s phone rang.
“He literally cold-called me out of the blue and asked me to move to L.A. and work out with the girls,” Bazzell said, referring to Gianna’s youth basketball team at the Mamba Sports Academy. “I’m not a fool. I picked up and went out there.”
Bazzell and Bryant became close friends.
They worked together at Bryant’s invitation-only mini-camps for NBA and WNBA players at the Mamba Academy. They’d text after NBA games, analyzing players’ moves. Bazzell would even mess with Bryant, teasing him that he wouldn’t be successful in the modern, analytics-driven NBA.
“The shot that you took would probably only produce 1.2 points per possession, and I don’t know if that would cut it in today’s NBA,” Bazzell would tell Bryant. But, of course, Bryant would get the last word. “He goes, ‘All I know is the shots I took produced 5.0 f—ing rings.'”
After Kobe and Gianna died in a helicopter crash in January 2020, Bazzell was overcome with grief.
When he returned to work, a new project helped him to move forward. It was around that time that Anthony approached Bazzell after his physiotherapist recommended they connect.
Bazzell started training Anthony six days a week in Los Angeles. Immediately, he identified a few ways Anthony needed to tweak his game.
Bazzell wanted Anthony to stop dribbling when he caught the ball. He wanted him to learn how to compensate for his diminished first step. He wanted him to become a 3-point specialist. And he wanted him to improve his effort on the defensive end.
Anthony was open to it all.
“He’s very receptive to being taught for someone who has accomplished as much as he has,” Bazzell said. “He’s a [future] Hall of Famer, he’s one of the top-10 scorers in NBA history, but he’s still willing to learn and listen. That just shows me that he’s willing to fit into any role.”
Anthony poured himself into accomplishing the things Bazzell suggested. Unlike many former NBA stars, he arrived at practices alone instead of surrounded by an entourage. There was no pretense or showmanship. He was just determined to get back into the league after spending seven-and-a-half seasons with the Denver Nuggets and six-and-a-half with the New York Knicks before falling out of the NBA for more than a year.
There were some tough days in training. It’s not easy to go from 12-time All-Star to jobless. Sometimes Bazzell would recognize that Anthony was down, and he’d organize fun drills to take his mind off of things. Other days, he’d ride him.
It paid off.
The Portland Trail Blazers offered Anthony a one-year, non-guaranteed deal in 2019, giving him an opportunity to show that he still belonged in the professional ranks.
Anthony made the most of it, averaging 15.4 points on 43% shooting, including 38.5% from beyond the 3-point line. In the NBA bubble, he had six games in which he scored at least 20 points, helping the Blazers reach the 2020 playoffs.
Anthony had clawed out of the depths of irrelevance to star in his role for a playoff team. Portland signed him to another one-year deal the following season.
For Bazzell, the comeback was incredible to witness.
“More than anything, it was just cool to be a part of that,” Bazzell said. “When you meet someone who is that accomplished in the basketball space, you don’t see the side of them being at their lowest. That’s when I met him. I just saw how much he went through to get back to that point.”
Earlier this month, the 37-year-old Anthony signed a deal to play for the Lakers. It’s an opportunity to accomplish the one thing that has eluded him his entire 18-season career. Alongside LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, Anthony hopes to finally win his first championship.
“We all know that this is the one thing that I’m missing, right?” Anthony recently said. “This is the one thing that keeps me up at night. It motivates me because I don’t have it.”
As he prepares for his next chapter, he has been working out with Bazzell five times a week.
They’re constantly trying to figure out the smartest and most effective ways he can open himself up for a shot, knowing that the Lakers need a long-distance sharpshooter after finishing 21st in the league from beyond the arc last season.
Bazzell believes this is a perfect marriage.
“When you have Russ and LeBron, you know there’s going to be a ton of pressure on defenses and the paint,” he said. “When you add AD to that as a lob threat, I think, naturally, defenses are going to try to do everything they can to keep those three out of the paint.
“It’s going to naturally open up Melo from the outside, on the perimeter, and he’s got one of the best touches in the NBA.”
Anthony knows that his role on the Lakers is going to be a complementary one. He’s playing alongside three superstars, and he will have a distinct, limited role on the team.
But he has been humbled over and over again.
He was out of the league for an extended period of time. Last season with the Trail Blazers, he was asked to come off the bench for the first time in his career, which he acknowledged was a huge adjustment.
“You go for 16, 17 years, and you’re the guy on the team, you’re the star, and then all of a sudden, somebody is like, ‘Listen, come off the bench.’ I had to swallow that ego,” Anthony said. “I had to swallow that pride.”
He’s ready to do that again with the Lakers.
Watching Anthony’s renewed success has been one of the highlights of Bazzell’s career. The cherry on top is that Anthony has now joined the franchise with which Bryant spent all 20 of his seasons in the league.
Bryant helped bring Anthony and Bazzell together.
And now, Anthony will try to help the Lakers become the winningest team in NBA history, shooting for an 18th title to pass the Boston Celtics.
That would undoubtedly make Bryant proud.
Credit: Fox Sports