Monday, March 7, 2011

‘Melo Out, Knicks Fans

By Bill Hazell

It has become the most celebrated moment in the past 10 years of obscure, meaningless, lost Knicks history. The trade of Carmelo Anthony to New York instantly seemed to signify a return to relevance for one of the NBA's (allegedly) most significant franchises, even if they remain somewhere behind the Celtics, Lakers, Bulls, Spurs, Pistons, and 76ers in that category.

Right away, MSG network and the New York Knicks married the trade to a sensitive, comforting musical chorus by Skylar Gray from a P. Diddy song called "Coming Home" in tv commercials, as well as the lineup introductions to hype up the coming games. Cell phone cameras filled the Garden seats when Anthony finally was introduced in a moment like few others.

In fact, Knicks analyst Walt "Clyde" Frazier, in a moment of mind-boggling basketball blasphemy, even proclaimed that to be a greater "fan moment" than the reaction to Willis Reed coming out to play Game 7 of the 1970 Finals, a game in which Frazier himself dominated and won his first title in.

Suddenly, fans who had given up on Knicks basketball for the better part of a decade began watching every game with the same passion and intensity once known to them during the Patrick Ewing era of the 1980s and '90s. Before that time, the Knicks had played 54 games this season with moderately heightened interest due to the preseason acquisition of Amar'e Stoudemire. Since that time, they have played 7 games in a bubbling cauldron of Big Apple buzz.

So let's take a closer look and break down both incarnations of the 2010-2011 New York Knicks.

The pre-'Melo Knicks had a record of 28-26, good for sixth-best in the Eastern Conference. They figured to be a playoff team regardless of whether or not the trade would happen, just not a top playoff team. This team had impressed with an 8-game winning streak, as well as wins over the Heat, Spurs, and two over the Bulls. They had also lost games to the likes of the Clippers, Cavaliers, Kings, and Timberwolves, and had suffered two separate 6-game losing streaks.

This team had Ronny Turiaf at center, Amar'e Stoudemire at forward alongside Danilo Gallinari, and a backcourt of rookie Landry Fields and emerging star Raymond Felton. Wilson Chandler also saw 30 starts at forward. They had greater depth and more role players who appeared to play well together, but were also an enigma as the above numbers suggest. At just 2 games above .500, they were mercurial and exciting, but still little more than mediocre.

The post-'Melo Knicks have gone 4-3 and remain in sixth place in the East. They still expect to be a playoff team, but now many speculate them to move a few spots up in the East before all is said and done. After all, they now have two (actually, it appears to be three) elite players in their starting lineup, right? This was now a team capable of setting the league on fire with its dripping talent. It was also a team trading away two and a half starters (Chandler being the half) with the new acquisitions struggling to gel with teammates they get few chances to practice with.

This team on paper included Turiaf at center, Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony at the forwards, with Fields and Chauncey Billups at guard, with Toney Douglas frequently coming off the bench to relieve the aging Billups and provide a youthful spark of energy. The surprise was that while Anthony has not disappointed, he has not taken a game over yet or scored 30 yet.

Meanwhile, Chauncey Billups has scored 30 in a Knicks uniform and has been a godsend to the orange and blue thus far. While the team figured to suffer at the position due to losing Raymond Felton, Billups has shown his championship pedigree, veteran guile, and ability to step up and make big threes throughout all of his games. He has also gotten to the line 50 times in his 4 games, making 45 of his free throws.

Yet for all the pluses mentioned in these paragraphs, the Knicks have little to show for it. They have won no more than 1 in a row, as they repeat the tedious process of taking one step forward, then one step back. Their wins have reached great heights, such as convincing double-digit wins over solid New Orleans and Atlanta teams, and a dramatic victory in Miami punctuated by an Amare Stoudemire block on LeBron James in the final seconds.

In this time, they have also managed the staggering task of losing twice to the Cleveland Cavaliers, James' old team and the laughingstock of the league, the last time at Madison Square Garden. Their 4-3 record, when you consider those 2 losses to Cleveland (0-3 this season against the Cavs), is both inexcusable and alarming.

While Toney Douglas has played well starting in place of Billups over the last 3 games in which Billups has suffered a bruised thigh, the team's play overall remains an enigma. At 32-29, in sixth place in the East, the Knicks remain mercurial and exciting, but still little more than mediocre. Thus far, little has changed for the Knicks, despite the acquisition of one of the league's superstar forwards and excitement and anticipation surrounding every game.

Far from Willis Reed-like status, eh, Clyde?

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