Paging Carmelo: Knicks may soon be in best position to challenge Heat

By Steve Silverman
>> More Columns

New York, NY (WFAN) – There’s about to be a major vacancy in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.

The void will be created by the end of the Boston Celtics Big 3 plus 1 run that will take place after the playoffs conclude and the Chicago Bulls go into survival mode as Derrick Rose recovers from knee surgery and Luol Deng has wrist surgery after the Olympics.

With those two teams fading back in the pack, the only major force in the East will be LeBron and the fellas down in Miami. The team that has the best chance to step into the void is the New York Knicks.

The talent level is there. Start with Carmelo Anthony, who was named to the All-NBA third team along with teammate Tyson Chandler yesterday. Anthony is often portrayed as a selfish player who wants to get his points and accolades. That may well be true, but if you look at the outgoing Celtics, you will see their core group of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo that came together and produced a championship and several other deep playoff runs when they all decided that playoff victories were a lot more important than individual accolades.

When Garnett joined the Celtics prior to the 2007-08 season, he was viewed as a great individual player who could pile up the stats while serving as the face of the Minnesota Timberwolves, but team play was not his forte. Allen, the greatest 3-point shooter in the history of the league, can’t be categorized as a selfish player because his role in the team concept has always been as a scorer. However, until he became a Celtic, the scoring burden was primarily on him.

When Garnett and Allen joined Pierce and Rondo was added to the mix, the Celtics made a commitment to each other to sacrifice their individual stats in the pursuit of playoff glory that had escaped the great trio in their previous stops. After his Philadelphia 76ers were eliminated by the Celtics in the seventh game of the Easter Conference semifinals, Philadelphia head coach Doug Collins pointed to the sacrifice that Garnett, Allen and Pierce had made when it came to individual honors and stats so they could become a competitive team. He had no regrets about his own team because the Sixers simply lacked the basketball skills to go any further than they did. That they eliminated the injury-ravaged Bulls and pushed the Celtics to seven game is testimony to the Sixers’ athleticism and effort. However, they are truly the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

Which brings us back to the Knicks. OK, the Garden brass never gave Phil Jackson any serious consideration and they have handed the team back to Mike Woodson. The team certainly responded to Woodson far better than it did to Mike D’Antoni. But it’s not really about Woodson next year. It’s all about Anthony and the commitment he makes to the team. The Knicks should have plenty to work with next year. In addition to the honors that Anthony and Chandler won, Iman Shumpert won first-team honors on the NBA’s All-Rookie team. Amar’e Stoudemire gives the Knicks additional presence on the front line. Jeremy Lin has proven he can contribute and fits in the team concept. J.R. Smith may have top individual talent but he will never fit in with the team concept and the Knicks would be far better off without him.

While Woodson will play a role in facilitating this change on the Knicks, it is really up to Anthony to commit to it. He is going to have to make a decision to lead this team by sacrificing his scoring numbers for the overall improvement of the Knicks. While some may see him as too selfish to do this, the same type of things were said about Garnett before he joined the Celtics. In some cases, it takes time for great individuals to truly understand the team concept.

There will be a huge void in the Eastern Conference next year. The Pacers are solid and the Sixers try hard, but the Knicks will be in the best position to challenge the Heat if Anthony finally buys into the team concept.