Once Knicks fans calm down, they might start to realize Carmelo Anthony could be a curse.
Sure, the addition of ’Melo adds even more sparkle and cachet to the New York Knicks’ brand, but the 12-player, three-team deal also gutted an already thin rotation. By losing Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler and Timofey Mozgov, the Knicks jettisoned three starters and a key sixth man in Chandler who was able to start or come off the bench while flip-flopping between both forward positions.
It’s far from a guarantee that Carmelo automatically elevates the Knicks (28-26) from fringe playoff team to immediate Eastern Conference contender. Consider that Mike D’Antoni’s offense is predicated on ball movement, crisp passing and guys in constant motion. Now consider the Knicks have two of the top five scorers whose games rely on one-on-one play. Kobe Bryant leads all players with points off of isolation plays, but Anthony is second with 405 points, while Amar’e Stoudemire is fourth at 394.
“I think with the team we have now we just have to figure it out and work together and communicate. We have smart veteran players, so it shouldn’t take long,” Stoudemire said yesterday. “We’re still versatile. ... The court will be so open, so it’ll be hard to guard us.”
It could be even harder, depending on the collective bargaining agreement, to find a way to bring in a top-flight point guard in the summer of 2012. Chris Paul or Deron Williams have long been linked to the Knicks, but with the money tied up in their two current superstars and with most of their assets gone, it will be extremely difficult to make a competitive offer.
Stoudemire, though, seems content with the 1-2 scoring punch they have now.
“We’re both excited. Being in New York is something special. It’s what he wants. It’s what I wanted – to come to New York and play on the biggest stage. He has that same type of swag. He can handle it because we’re going to do it together,” Stoudemire said of him and ‘Melo. “Every [good] team has a 1 and 1A punch. And with us you can’t leave out the rest of the guys like Landry [Fields] and Chauncey [Billups]. Right now we’re pretty confident and like our chances.”
Sure, the Knicks now have two superstars to counterbalance the Miami Heat’s trio and the Boston Celtics’ quadruples but that’s where the comparisons end. Offense was never the problem for the Knicks under D’Antoni, as New York averages 106 points per game – the second highest average in the league, ironically behind Denver. It’s on the defensive end – allowing 106 points per game – where they might’ve actually gotten worse. ‘Melo was never known to be a shutdown defender and Billups hasn’t been a lockdown defender since he left the Detroit Pistons. The immediate future will see a spike in excitement and energy but in the end it could still lead to an early exit in the playoffs. New York is currently the sixth seed and would face the Chicago Bulls [38-16] should the season end today.
But despite knowing all that this trade went through because the NBA is a star-driven league and no team in the history of the game ever won an NBA title without at least two superstars – Isiah Thomas’s Pistons and Hakeem Olajuwon’s Houston Rockets withstanding. Stoudemire said he had no qualms in recruiting Anthony to form a super-team because the blueprint was already laid out for the Knicks in recent seasons.
“It’s a tough situation because you want to win championships and [star] players can’t do it [alone]. The ultimate goal for us is to win a championship, so we’re just trying to accomplish it,” Stoudemire said. “I think this all started with Boston and [Kevin] Garnett [in 2007 offseason] and then getting Ray Allen [draft day 2007]. And then the Lakers followed that up with [Pau] Gasol [in February '08]. And then Miami [LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade] did it. And since Boston was successful and won a championship right after that, teams started to tag along with that idea.”
D’Antoni laughed when asked about forming such a power and had no qualms about doing it in that manner.
“There’s not any more pressure than I thought we had coming into this year. There’s pressure all the time,” he said. “But when you go hunting would you rather have a bigger gun or a little gun? We got a bigger gun, so I feel a little better about us now.”
There’s high hopes for a Knicks team that still acknowledges they don’t have the size to earnestly compete for a title. Nonetheless, this was a move that had to be made because it might’ve saved a job or two. Team president Donnie Walsh’s contract expires May 1 and he had to do this if he wanted team owner James Dolan to even think about re-signing him – providing Walsh even wants to be brought back, thanks to the circus Dolan and Thomas have created behind the scenes.
Walsh insisted that he was the trigger man on this trade and that Dolan wasn’t leading him around in any way.
“He didn’t try to put any words in my mouth or any thoughts in my head. He was always asking my opinions,” Walsh said when asked if Dolan was steering him in any direction that Walsh didn’t want to go. “And he shouldn’t because I’m the one who knows basketball. My job is to advise him and I did that.”
The word ‘advisor’ has been attached to Thomas’s name lately but Walsh also put an end to the thought that Thomas had a role in the negotiations.
“I have no idea? Only what I read in the papers,” Walsh said incredulously when asked if he was aware of any Thomas involvement. “I’m assuming that Isiah is getting ready for the NCAA tournament.”
There are so many layers – and rumors -- to the backdrop of this deal that maybe Walsh won’t want to be brought back when his contract expires. Should Walsh decide to wash his hands of the Dolan-Thomas spectacle – or if Walsh isn’t brought back -- Knicks fans should be warned that the sordid Thomas is lurking to retake control.
Either way, Walsh said any moves he’s made were for the best interest of the team and had nothing to do with the ghost of Thomas re-appearing.
“I could care less. There are a lot of people who talk,” Walsh said when asked if this move was made hoping that he’d get re-upped. “I haven’t even thought about my future. You guys are making more out of it than I am.”
Knowing all the juicy sidebars make this team that much more entertaining. All this Melo-drama just added to the prestige and thrill of being associated with the Knicks because no city puts on a bigger production. And judging by the number that ‘Melo did to fans, peers, and media alike he’s right where he belongs.
The question that remains, though, is if Anthony’s addition is a gift or a curse?
Potential playoff matchups
The good: Carmelo can match Paul Pierce blow for blow and their size won’t kill them against the NBA’s second-worst rebounding team.
The bad: They can’t match the energy of Rajon Rondo and Nate Robinson.
In a series: Boston in five.
The good: Miami is a terrible passing team and the isolation matchups are ideal for a sorry defense like the Knicks.
The bad: The Heat’s Big Three is far superior to the Knicks’.
In a series: Wade and LeBron run wild in a sweep.
The good: Jason Richardson will be embarrassed by Carmelo.
The bad: Perhaps the most physical front line in the East will truly expose the Knicks inside.
In a series: It’s really a toss-up depending on home court. Knicks in seven.