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Keidel: Carmeloholics

By Jason Keidel
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The Carmelo Kool-Aid is strong these days. You gulp, guzzle, and gargle the stuff. Perhaps an intervention is in order.

Toney Douglas emptied his quiver on Memphis Grizzlies with robotic accuracy (9-of-12 from 3-point range), and so today the Knickerbockers keep their nostrils barely above the .500 waters. Nonetheless, they've been no better than mediocre (7-6) since they surrendered three good, young players, a first-round draft pick, and cash for Carmelo.

For this woeful return on his investment, Jimmy Dolan bestows a St. Patrick's present of spiked ticket prices – by 49 percent.

"This is about the long-term!" you say, which is rather convenient, because after the Knicks beat the Heat on Feb. 27 The New York Post led a conga line of Carmeloholics in declaring the Knicks were title contenders this year.

So which is it? Are they better now or next year?

"It takes time to practice and gel!"

Really? Tell the Nuggets that. Denver has darted to an 8-2 record since the trade. Haters are asserting that Denver has won on the backs of bums. At least they're winning. New York can't beat Cleveland and Indiana, who have run the Knicks out of the gym four times in four tries. If you watched the home-and-home series against the Pacers, you know Indiana is a bad basketball team. Tyler Hansbrough, as sublime a college player as you'll see, has all the bona fides of a journeyman (10 PPG, 5 RPG over his career) in the NBA.

The popular template calls for two stars and a room of role players. But someone must play defense. When you give up 119 points to the Pacers it speaks to toughness, not talent. If the Knicks are to win their first playoff series – or first playoff game! – in a decade, they must play defense with purpose.

We can't blame the beloved players, the ones who make $20 million per season, because to do so would cast doubt on the deal. When you refuse to acknowledge the record or the lack of effort, you reach for a life raft.

The final default excuse falls on the coach. That's rich. You're the first to say this is a players' league, until your cherished players fail. Then it's the coach's fault. Mike D'Antoni doesn't coach defense. That's the problem. He never has, so why expect otherwise?

And were Amar'e and Carmelo brought to New York for defense? Is it Mike D'Antoni's fault that Tyler Hansbrough went George Gervin on the Knicks?

And if the Knicks plucked Carmelo with next year in mind, they should be mindful of their surrounding cast.

Chauncey Billups, whom the cognoscenti consider the hidden gem of the deal, has missed half of the twelve games since he arrived. It takes a lot longer to recover from a thigh bruise on a 34-year-old leg. If they don't buy Billups out, they owe him $14 million next year, and $54 million to three players under a $58 million cap. And how many games do you honestly expect Billups to play?

But star power seems to trump firepower. This is what the Knicks and their fans are reduced to, name-dropping and stargazing. Every chance they get, the MSG media hounds stalk the stars in the front row, as though they score points or add karma. Kevin Bacon, Johnny Mac, and Penny Marshall preen courtside. Who cares?

New York is not a city that settles for moral victories. But the Knicks have been so pungent for so long that we've settled for the superficial. We concoct a history that belies what our eyes tell us.

There is no history, unless you're resigned to blow the dust off the 8-tracks, the grainy footage of Willis Reed's limp out of the locker room. It has been 38 years since the Knicks won an NBA championship. It's a morbid truth, that MSG is more impressive with the realtor than with reality.

Clearly, Carmelo and New York are deep in a honeymoon. But we all know honeymoons end. Let's see if the wedding lasts.

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