By John Schmeelk
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Despite the back pages, headlines and talking heads drawing conclusions, it is still far too early to make any sort of judgment on the trade that brought Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks. It takes NBA teams time to figure out how to play together, a process that was interrupted by Chauncey Billups' thigh injury. In fact, the Knicks recent slide coincides with his return to the starting lineup. (The Knicks are 4-2 without him since the trade, 3-6 with him.) He's still adjusting to running Mike D'Antoni's offense, running the pick and roll with Amar'e Stoudemire and constantly pushing the ball. There's no reason he can't figure it out, and I don't think anyone will argue the Knicks are better off with Billups on the bench. The adjustment will happen.
But until it does the team will look bad, then great at times, and back to terrible at others. Odds are the Knicks won't have it completely figured it out by the playoffs, and will get knocked out of the first round after winning only a couple games and that's fine. The instant hysteria from fringe Knicks fans put aside, this trade was about the future, not this season. Unfortunately, as I look into my little crystal ball I see some problems in the future with Carmelo.
After just a dozen games some (insane or idiotic, take your pick) fans are already calling for the head of D'Antoni. Whether they are given the pleasure of that execution after the season remains to be seen (unlikely), but once the fans move past the coach they'll be staring at one person: Carmelo Anthony. I don't think he knows it or quite understands the fish bowl, circus, and pressure cooker he has parachuted into. With all the glitz and glamour of New York comes the unrelenting glare of the spotlight.
Unlike Stoudemire who arrived here and immediately did all the right things, Carmelo has managed to do the following in his short time as a Knick: (Are many of these overblown? Yes. But that's how it works in New York.)
- Announce a reality TV show with his wife
- Complain about Mike D'Antoni's defensive schemes
- Sulk and act like a spoiled child when he was having a bad game
- Blow off the media after a bad game
- Show up Toney Douglas after not getting the ball when he wanted it
- Get semi-called out by Amar'e Stoudemire
- Get eviscerated by his former, and very well respected head Coach George Karl, and his former teammates about being "me first" on offense, a bad defender, and less than great teammate
In fact, the most disappointing part of this trade for me is that Carmelo has not dispelled one of the things I thought I knew about him watching him from afar. He is not a leader. He has not interest in focusing on defense unless the man in front of him is holding the ball. He is a ball stopper on offense that often seems way more interested in getting his own than getting W's. Sure, he has said the right things about sharing the ball and defense, but his game on the floor contradicts those statements.
Fans notice these things, and when things don't go right they will blame the superstar. Amar'e has already earned his street cred. The fingers won't point at him. They will be point at Carmelo. Melo is a Baltimore guy, but he will soon learn the hard part of what it means to be a superstar for the New York Knicks. This is the same fan base that booed Patrick Ewing.
When that happens, this can go a couple ways. Carmelo can finally decide to grow up, become a hardnosed leader that is completely dedicated to being part of the team and winning games on both ends of the floor. Or he will be belligerent, hunker down, become more aloof and be a constant target for the fans' and media's animosity and scorn. At some point this is going to get ugly, and how Carmelo handles it and reacts to it will go a long way to cementing his legacy here.
This won't be much different than what happened with Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod had to deal with it and he finally figured out how to overcome it. He changed his behavior, but also finally won on the field. Carmelo will also need to do both. Is it fair to him? Nope. The expectations after the trade are so out of whack with reality (challenge for a championship right away) that he doesn't have a much of a chance to succeed in the short term. But that's what happens when you're the star player on the Knicks. He has enjoyed the euphoria of the trade. Now, he's about to the see the dark side that comes with bad results. This city can eat even the biggest stars alive, and Carmelo is next up on the menu.
UP AND UNDER
Up: Toney Douglas has officially found his niche. He is an instant offense player off the bench that can score in bunches. He also brings constant defensive intensity. As long as he isn't needed to run the show and get his teammates involved he will be a very valuable member of the Knicks.
Down: Anthony Carter has been glued to the bench since Chauncey Billups has returned from injury. I understand the decision, but Carter is one of the few Knicks that think defense first, and never looked for his own shot. This team needs more of both things.
AROUND THE WORLD
Everyone needs to calm down about the Nuggets success since the Knicks trade. First of all, the Nuggets did most of that winning without Danilo Gallinari, one of the biggest parts of the trade. Timofey Mozgov has barely played since the trade. So, in essence, the Nuggets are playing Wilson Chandler and Raymond Felton instead of Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony. I don't care what any of the numbers say, the Nuggets are not better because they are playing Felton and Chandler instead of Melo and Billups. It's insane. They have a much easier adjustment than the Knicks. Ty Lawson, a good young point guard that knows the system has stepped in and the offense hasn't missed a beat. The defense has improved. With the players the Knicks imported, neither of those was going to happen.
Amar'e Stoudemire has managed to avoid criticism for this during most of the season, but it's time someone wrote something about it. His defense has been inexcusable. His post defense can be non-existent, letting post players catch the ball wherever they want and operate with impunity. There's simply no resistance. This is especially the case when he picks up a foul. His pick and roll defense is worse. He never aggressively shows and gets into the guard going over the screen, or gets back to his man on pick and pop plays. With his athleticism, there's no excuse for either. Teams get easy shots whenever they want from those sets, and if the Knicks defense is to improve it has to start there. Amar'e is their leader and he talks a lot about defense but he needs to show it on the floor before he can be taken seriously. And until he does it, he can't convince Carmelo to do it.
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