By Jason Keidel
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If New York City is still a holy basketball land, with ancient, blacktop altars dotting the map, then tonight’s NBA game is a savage sacrilege, an affront on all the refined sensibilities in the five boroughs and beyond.
Call it what you will. Dumb versus dumber. Helpless versus hopeless. No matter your moniker, it’s hard to recall a time when both local teams were this horrific. But they must play, and someone must win, by default.
The Nets (5-13) coughed up all its assets for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. And it’s not working. They hired fledgling coach Jason Kidd, and it’s not working. They built a new arena, and it’s not working. There’s no clue, no chemistry, and coach Kidd has already tossed his top assistant under the team bus. It seems Lawrence Frank was the problem, you see…
And the Knicks (3-13) may have it worse. Beyond their franchise-worst 9-game losing streak at home, they have no first-round draft pick this year, courtesy of Carmelo Anthony, who was brought here to avoid these nightmare opening acts. Add to that the reality that the Knicks are New York’s flagship franchise, on which comes great weight, expectations, and scrutiny, then the problems feel more pronounced.
If there’s any light, any sliver of sunrise down that deep wasteland we call b-ball, it’s the fact that Carmelo Anthony is very unhappy here and is ready to pack his opulent bags for greener pastures.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because this was the sound of his curtain call in Denver. When Carmelo bolted the Rocky Mountains for the five boroughs, he was trapped, wildly under appreciated, and misunderstood by his coach. Now it seems he is all the above again in the Big Apple.
If Stephen A Smith is to be believed, Melo wants out.
Smith, at times the media bard of basketball, other times a confidant, but always in the proper graces with those who matter, is not shy about sharing Carmelo’s discontent.. Perhaps his proximity to the NBA aristocracy could cloud his judgement. But it’s quite easy to believe that someone in Carmelo’s camp whispered this discontent into Smith’s ear.
And that’s a good thing.
While you might miss the transitory glow that comes with having an All-Star, Melo’s departure is exactly what the team and the town need. If he’s telling the truth, if his entourage got the message right, then you should pop a bottle of expensive booze.
Last year was the apex, a confluence of timing and talent that, at its best, got the Knicks to the second round. Surely they aren’t really this bad now, but they won’t ever be as good as they were. And that’s because Carmelo Anthony, despite his sublime skill set, cannot lead an NBA team to a title.
At some point it becomes about the player. It wasn’t Melo’s fault in Denver. It’s not his fault in NYC. What will be the excuse next time? The immutable truth – and we have ten years of it now – is that Anthony doesn’t have the leadership inherent in nearly all basketball Alpha males.
In a strict basketball sense, it makes sense. You can’t take 25 shots a game, make 11, record microscopic assists, play marginal defense, and expect your club to rally around you. Maybe it was the fact that he was born in Brooklyn. Maybe it was his six-game run at Syracuse. Maybe it’s his spats of unselfishness in the Olympics. Whatever it is, you’ve been duped.
A decade-deep into any pro sports career, you are what you are. Could Carmelo exist on a championship team? Surely. It would require a Wade-like subjugation, swallowing your epic pride for the greater good.
Maybe Melo will have such an epiphany in a few years, realizing that he needs the very ring so many of his gifted peers wear in order to have his legacy taken seriously. But he’s not there now.
James Dolan doesn’t have the foresight to abandon the Anthony Project. If Melo wants back, Dolan will crack open the cable vault, give the talented but tormented forward whatever he wants.
It will take his typical selfishness to see that this isn’t working – which, in this case, does everyone good. Carmelo Anthony is ready to blame someone else for his failures.
But he will jump ship and see that the world west of the Hudson is still equally cruel. Thankfully, he won’t be our problem anymore.