Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Melo's Drama arrives in New York

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA - The Guiding Light is the longest running soap opera in American television history. Over the past few months I couldn't help but feel Carmelo Anthony was intent on giving it a run for its money as he held the Denver Nuggets hostage with an eye on Manhattan.

To borrow a catchphrase from the world's most electrifying entertainer, finally...finally Carmelo Anthony is on his way to New York.

I don't mean to play sing along with The Rock but I can't help rejoicing in the fact that our long national nightmare is over and we can all get back to paying attention to more important things like the economy, the NBA playoff race or the latest episode of Parks and Recreation.

A slightly overrated, tad bit selfish, defensively-challenged, narcissistic scorer is on his way to the so-called Mecca of professional basketball as the Nuggets mercifully pulled the trigger on their long-awaited trade with the Knicks a couple days before the deadline.

I don't have the heart to tell 'Melo that Staples Center, which opened in 1999, has seen far more championship basketball that the aged, crumbling Garden he so reveres. But, this is what he wanted and if you are a pending free agent and have built up the kind of leverage Carmelo did, you certainly have the right to steer things as best you can.

To acquire Anthony, the Knicks sent the sharp-shooting Danilo Gallinari, point guard Raymond Felton, swingman Wilson Chandler, center Timofey Mozgov, a 2014 first-round pick and two second-round picks acquired from Golden State in the David Lee sign-and-trade, along with $3 million in exchange for Mr. La La.

Chauncey Billups and assorted flotsam like Shelden Williams, Renaldo Balkman and Anthony Carter will join 'Melo on 8th Avenue, while New York also agreed to trade Anthony Randolph and Eddy Curry's expiring contract to Minnesota for slight swingman Corey Brewer in a separate deal.

As for the Knicks, while it's certainly flattering to have the new flavor of the month making overtures, especially after being spurned by LeBron James in the offseason, it's a risky move to gut a team finally heading in the right direction.

With or without 'Melo the Knicks were on their way to their first playoff berth since 2004 and were threatening to finish over .500 for the first time since 2001.

The "relevance" argument can cut both ways. Columnists from the New York papers were already showing up for the first time since the Clinton Administration, at least for big games. On the other hand, having two superstars on hand certainly helps in a league obsessed with marketing individuals. It also makes it far more likely that the next set of NBA superstars looking for a way out of the mid-markets, think Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Deron Williams, chose Gotham as a preferred destination.

Meanwhile, it's undeniably harder to secure the services of a so-called superstar like Anthony than competent role players like Felton and Gallinari so it's tough to say don't pull the trigger.

That said, Anthony is a lot closer to the level of the Knicks other star, Amare Stoudemire, than a true difference-maker like James, Kobe Bryant or Howard.

Anthony's individual accomplishments in the Rockies are never going to be questioned but his effect on the franchise as a whole is generally overstated.

Yes, the Nuggets were a moribund team the two seasons before Anthony arrived in Denver, winning just 27 and 17 games, and his presence turned the club into an instant playoff threat. But, the franchise didn't reach the 50-win barrier until his fifth NBA season and was unable to win a playoff series until his sixth year.

In fact, Carmelo's Nuggets were just 2-7 in postseason series total and advanced past the first round just once, in 2008-09, when the club made a run to the Western Conference finals before succumbing to the eventual champion Lakers.

It's certainly not fair to put all of Denver's postseason failings on Anthony's shoulders but fair or not superstars in the NBA are judged on playoff success.

Heck, Denver coach George Karl seemed more concerned about the absence of Billups in his locker room than 'Melo.

"I'm 100 percent behind the decision we made, even though it will be dangerous and there won't be the veteran point guard back there," Karl told the Denver Post. "Felton, I thought was having a great season this year. But I think Ty (Lawson) and Felton are going to have a great challenge to live up to what Chauncey has given us in past years."

Karl's dispassion over Anthony's exit should raise more than a few eyebrows and directly speaks to Anthony's lack of leadership skills.

On the bright side for the Knicks, Billups is along for the ride for the short term and still has enough gas left in the tank to elevate his new teammates. "Stat" has proven to be a legit star while rookie Landry Fields and undersized center Ronny Turiaf should be competent role players next to the big three. Toney Douglas, Shawne Williams and Brewer, meanwhile, will be the headliners on a thin bench.

New York currently sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference at 28-26, 5 1/2 games south of Atlanta and two games clear of seventh-place Philadelphia. Expecting a serious move past the Hawks or Orlando is folly, meaning a first round playoff matchup with a team like Chicago, something that could have been accomplished with the previous cast.

But this isn't about 2011 unless you're talking about drawing more C-level stars for Jill Martin's always entertaining Celebrity Row segments. It's about next season and beyond.

So, let's be blunt -- if this game is all about winning championships, Anthony hasn't had the kind of success worthy of a $65 million dollar extension from anyone.

The Knicks, unfortunately, are about to learn that the hard way.

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