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’Melo Out

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But just as Isiah keeps popping up to remind us he’s immortal—his interview earlier this month with ESPN.com’s Ian O’Connor, in which he claimed he was planning on returning to the team and defended his comically incompetent Knicks tenure with the tenacity of the Iraqi information minister, sending shivers down any Knicks fan’s spine—the old itches are coming back. With the LeBron/Wade/Bosh trio in Miami revolutionizing the notion of roster construction into a sort of Super Friends League of Justice, it’s starting to look like the Knicks have more patience than the men and women who write about them. Now that the Knicks have compiled all this developing talent, people want them to get rid of it. Everyone wants the Knicks to flip this house.

The object of affection is, of course, Carmelo Anthony, the disgruntled Denver Nuggets swingman who has openly stated that he wants to be traded. More specifically, he has said he wants to come here. (One of the people who claims Anthony talked to him about this is Isiah, of course.) In many ways, Anthony is a perfect fit. He’s an East Coast guy, born in Red Hook, and he’s the type of superstar scorer who salivates over playing in D’Antoni’s offense. (Even if we haven’t really seen that offense since Phoenix.) He’s also close friends with Stoudemire, whom he’s desperate to play with. And he’s with an organization that might even be more dysfunctional than the Knicks, if that’s even possible.

More to the point: He wants to get paid before it’s too late. At the end of this season, the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement expires, and it’s possible (likely, even) that the max salary for superstars like Anthony will be lowered. So Anthony wants to be traded and have his contract extended while he still can. Obviously, a player of Anthony’s caliber—it’s worth noting that as good as he is, he’s not at the level of a LeBron or Wade or even Kevin Durant—is going to have plenty of suitors, the most rabid of which has been New Jersey, with its Russian-billionaire owner eager to steal some market share before the Nets move to Brooklyn. New Jersey makes a lot of sense, with its young talent, tradable assets, and deep pockets, but there’s one major problem: Anthony doesn’t want to play there. If he did, he would be there already. It’s clear he wants to come here. Following the LeBron/Wade/Bosh model, his plan is to come here with Stoudemire and persuade fellow pal Chris Paul to join up, building a triumvirate that would challenge the Heat for the next decade.

The Nuggets aren’t yet convinced that the Knicks have enough to trade for Anthony, but come February, at the trading deadline, when the Nuggets will have no choice but to make a move lest they risk losing Anthony for nothing, they may change their minds. By then, the Knicks’ six youngsters will likely be more attractive as well, as long as they keep progressing. And hey, who doesn’t like the idea of Anthony, Stoudemire, and Paul together?

But trading for Anthony, now or this February, would be a mistake. What the Knicks are building here is interesting because it can only appreciate in value. The Knicks would be making an Isiah move. For the first time in recent memory, the Knicks hold all the cards. Anthony wants to come here more quickly than the Knicks need him to. If they want, they can call his bluff: If he truly wants to be a Knick as much as he claims, he’ll sign in the off-season, no matter what the Nuggets do in February. After all, that’s what LeBron and Bosh did in Miami. Right now, Anthony wants what those two had without their sacrifice—his super-team and the maximum contract. The Knicks have built up enough cap space, through the excavation of the past two seasons, that they can afford to bring him in and keep their current talent on hand, which will make it easier for them to bring in Paul (or Utah’s Deron Williams, if they so desire) once Anthony comes here. And they’ll have better players to surround all of them. If he really does want to come here, he will; otherwise, hey, Carmelo, there’s Jersey, right over there. As great as Anthony is, surrounding him and Stoudemire with spare parts is not a recipe for a championship. Waiting, remaining patient, keeping Gallinari and Randolph and Chandler and seeing what happens, very well might be.

The Knicks have become a likable, exciting team on the way up by not making rash moves, by not pulling an Isiah and just bringing in whoever the hot name happens to be that moment. They have resisted quick fixes and hasty judgments. They are in the process of building something fascinating. We should let them do it. We’ve waited this long—what’s another year? It’s time to take a deep breath, relax, as athletes are taught to do, and let the game come to us. The Knicks are, finally, in a position of power. They must use the power wisely by not using it all.

You can write to Leitch at will.leitch@nymag.com.


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