When word started to get out Monday morning that Carmelo Anthony had been busted for driving under the influence, one league official found himself fascinated with discovering the time of arrest.
As the basketball elder insisted, there is no appropriate hour to be drinking and driving. Nevertheless, this man had hoped maybe it was a reasonable hour, maybe a traffic stop the result of a late postgame dinner with teammates at the Chop House in downtown Denver.
"But 4 a.m. on a Sunday night in the middle of a playoff run?" he sighed later.
As superstars go, Anthony isn't the only one out late on a school night. As it appears, though, he is the one irresponsible enough to climb behind the wheel of a car and get busted on DUI suspicion. The toxicology report is still pending, but if 'Melo hadn't been terribly wrong here, why did he have his lawyer publicly apologizing for him later in the day?
The way that Anthony had played Sunday night against Houston – his worst shooting performance of the season, even without Rockets defensive star Shane Battier in uniform – offers suspicious minds a reason to believe the worst of 'Melo's most recent activities. With the Nuggets fighting to take hold onto the eighth playoff spot in the wild, wild West, this incident goes a long way to crushing his credibility as a leader, a winner.
Anthony can wear that Team USA uniform, and cash the millions of that fancy new Jordan Brand endorsement deal and yet nothing changes this fundamental truth: He is still the most untrustworthy franchise player in basketball. He's forever screwing up, forever promising change and forever doing it all over again.
These charges are far worse than that sissy sucker-punch of the New York Knicks' Mardy Collins that cost him a 15-game suspension last season. This was an arrest on the suspicion of drunk driving, an act that could've had catastrophic consequences for someone else on Denver's Interstate 25.
His reputation as a partier, as a keeper of late hours, is pronounced in the NBA. This doesn't make him unique. His foolishness was getting behind the wheel. Anthony can afford a car service. He could've awoken any one of a hundred Nuggets employees to climb out of bed and come get him. Now, the Nuggets are left to deal with the fallout of his foolishness.
The Nuggets still made the playoffs, but what about the circus that comes with this distraction? The questions for his teammates, his coaches, come relentlessly now. And here's the question for his bosses: How much longer do they want to construct the Denver Nuggets on such a flimsy foundation?
For years, Denver's GM Mark Warkentien was Tark's recruiter at UNLV and has gone great lengths in the Rockies to replicate those old Rebel rosters. If this incident turns out to be the beginning of the end of their season, this is an organization that needs to reevaluate everything about itself. If they just want to be entertaining, just sell jerseys, they can stay with this core. If they want more, it'll have to change.
Ultimately, it starts with Anthony. He insisted that the fight at Madison Square Garden had changed him as a man, and told me in November that his summer with Team USA had made him resolve to become a complete player. He's still immature, still just a supreme scorer. Once more, he leads in all the wrong ways.
Through every artificial means, he has tried to transform his image. He wore the red, white and blue of Team USA. He had those fancy Brand Jordan commercials. As much as anything, 'Melo wanted to make the big marketing two of his 2003 draft class, with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, a big three. He keeps screwing that up.
His worldly talent will win him a pass with the Nuggets again, but ultimately 'Melo has to take a long look at that pitiful mug shot from near dawn in a Denver police precinct and ask himself: How much more is that guy willing to throw away?