Melo finally at ease being The Man in NYC

It's late March, 2011. Carmelo Anthony has been a Knick for less than three weeks.

He's taking questions from reporters after a home loss to the Bucks that leaves the Knicks with a 7-11 record since he arrived in town.

Shortly after the inquisition ends, Anthony turns and says to no one in particular, "Damn, you have to make every shot in this [expletive]."

It was one of the first times Anthony felt the burden of being the leading man in the NBA's biggest market.

"That's New York. New York expects the world, every day," Anthony said earlier this month. "That's what it is. You're only as good as your last shot, you're only as good as your last game."

In the next year and a half, Anthony would come under heavy criticism from the media and New York's impatient fan base on several occasions.

"It's the belly of the beast," he says.

First, there was Jeremy Lin's rise from end-of-the-bench afterthought to international phenomenon in February 2012. Anthony was sidelined with a groin injury at the time. The Knicks were 6-0 with with Anthony on the bench and Lin running the show, so Anthony was bombarded with questions of whether he could fit in with Lin's ball-movement heavy brand of basketball.

A few weeks later, Anthony was at the center of another storm of criticism when head coach Mike D'Antoni resigned.

D'Antoni walked away from the job following a six-game losing streak.

Naturally, Anthony was viewed as the one to blame.

"That bothers me because I never want that label on me," Anthony said a day after D'Antoni stepped down. "I did everything in my power to try to communicate with Coach Mike."

At the time, Anthony said he heard and read "everything that's being said about me" in the media.

But sometime between D'Antoni's firing and the beginning of last season, that all changed. Anthony stopped reading the newspapers and the internet reports about the Knicks. He turned off the debate shows.

"No offense, but I don't read anything," he said last season.

And he grew more comfortable with what it meant to be the face of a franchise in New York.

Now, more than two-and-a-half years after the blockbuster trade that brought him over from Denver, Anthony seems to be totally at ease with his place in the New York sports scene.

"Absolutely," he says. "When I first got here I always said it would take about three years to figure it out."

Mike Woodson said recently that he noticed a difference in Anthony last season.

"Melo's game really went to a bigger level I thought last season in terms of putting this team on his back," the coach said. "A lot of guys benefited from being around Melo and Melo benefited from his teammates. I think it all goes hand in hand."

Tyson Chandler's also noticed a difference in Anthony over past three seasons.

"I see his comfort level rise year in and year out," Chandler said. "As time goes by he not only is getting comfortable with the city, organization, but also his teammates."

But how much longer will Anthony be around?

He plans to test free agency by opting out of the final season of his contract with the Knicks -- a decision he insists has nothing to do with leaving New York and everything to do with wanted to go through the free-agency process for the first time in his career.

"I don't want to go anywhere, I don't plan on going anywhere. But when that time comes, I'll deal with that situation," Anthony said.

In the meantime, Anthony will lead the Knicks against a revamped Eastern Conference this season. And he'll do so without worrying about the criticism that comes with playing in New York.

A couple of days ago, Anthony spoke about new Knick Andrea Bargnani making an adjustment to playing in his new surroundings.

"It's not going to happen overnight," he said. "He's still getting his feet wet just as far as adjusting to New York. He's not going to adjust to the New York style, the New York way of living, [right away]. It's going to take a little while."

If anyone knows, it's Anthony.

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