A month ago, on November 17, the New York Knicks suffered their fifth consecutive defeat with a loss to the Denver Nuggets, who were led by Carmelo Anthony and his 26 points. Despite being very early in the season, a 3-8 start had most bystanders questioning the chances the Knicks had to legitimately compete with their revamped roster, which features free agent additions Raymond Felton and Amar'e Stoudemire.
Fast forward to present day and the Knicks are boasting a strong 16-10 record after winning thirteen of their last fifteen contests. For the first time since Patrick Ewing's departure from the Big Apple in 2000, Knicks fans, some of the most knowledgeable and passionate in the league, have discovered another franchise star in Stoudemire, who has amazingly scored at least 30 points in the last nine games.
Despite last night's heartbreaking, last-second loss to their Atlantic Division rivals, the Boston Celtics, in what may have been the season's most entertaining game to date, Mike D'Antoni's high-scoring group established themselves as a sure-fire future contender and a team on the cusp of long-term success.
With a solid core of players that includes Stoudemire, Felton, the ever-improving Danilo Gallinari, and breakout rookie Landry Fields, most analysts would tell you that New York is one player away from being a threat in the Eastern Conference. Most players would say that player is none other than Carmelo Anthony, whose 26-point scorching of the Knicks in November infuriated Stoudemire, who would transfer his frustration into leading his team to two lengthy winning streaks.
After South Beach became the preferred destination for this summer's three biggest free agents, the Knicks inked the injury prone Stoudemire, who was once a star under D'Antoni with the Phoenix Suns, to a $100 million contract. Some considered the massive deal to be a fatal mistake for the already struggling New York franchise. I can say that I was leaning towards supporting that opinion.
Following the the somewhat disappointing summer and during the aforementioned beginning of the season drought, Knicks fans were enticed by the possibility of bringing Anthony into town via trade if the Denver star decided against signing an extension with his current team before his contract expires in 2011.
Other than New York, the Chicago Bulls and the New Jersey Nets were the leading suitors for Melo. Since Carlos Boozer's return in Chicago, though, a move for the Nuggets' star seems all but out of the question.
Furthermore, all indications rule out New Jersey as a favorable landing spot for Carmelo and his representatives. That would leave most to believe Carmelo Anthony will almost assuredly be playing in Madison Square Garden on the nightly basis before the trade deadline in February.
A month ago, the Denver Nuggets were definitely in a position of demand if the Knicks were to inquire about their superstar's availability. Whispering from several NBA insiders suggested Denver would exchange their franchise player for any package that included the expiring contract of Eddy Curry (worth somewhere $11.2 million) and a combination of the following players: Gallinari, Fields, and sharpshooting swingman Wilson Chandler. If New York's season had continued on the path it began in the first ten games, I am almost positive Denver general manager Masai Ujiri and head coach George Karl would have secured what they desired from the deal.
However, as the weeks went by and the Knicks began to win far more often than they lost, talks slowly, but gradually, died down. Now, with New York tied for fifth in the East and Denver placing sixth in the West, a swap involving Carmelo between the two teams is more of a suggestion for Knicks GM Donnie Walsh than a must-do. While adding the high-scoring Anthony to the fold of D'Antoni's fast-paced offense would undoubtedly improve his rotation, Denver's asking price may be too much for the adapting Knicks to pay.
Shipping away both Fields and Gallinari could be a disastrous transaction for Walsh to make. Only a rookie, Fields, who graduated from Stanford in the spring, is already filling the stat sheets with averages of 10.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and a steal per game. The 22-year old guard is also shooting an admirable 36-percent from long range. Gallinari, whose sixth overall selection in the 2008 NBA Draft originally angered fans, continues to improve as a clutch scorer and all-around forward. The 22-year old Italian, who is in his third year in the NBA, has always been lethal from behind the three-point line and he has recently added the ability to drive the baseline and expose defenders from all areas of the court.
Chandler, in the fourth year of his NBA career, has proved himself to be a reliable shooter and an overall versatile player. Despite his 16 points per game, though, he may be the easiest player to part with considering Fields' and Gallo's value in the future.
Along with Chandler, the Knicks could add Curry's expiring contract and a serviceable big man, considering the recent injuries to Denver's back-up center Chris Andersen and their desire to part with Kenyon Martin and his unfavorable contract as soon as possible. With that said, New York could trade young power forward Anthony Randolph without consequences.
Randolph, who was brought to the Big Apple this summer in the trade that sent David Lee to Golden State, played poorly early on and struggled to get along with his new coach. The 21-year old, who left LSU after his freshman year, now finds himself out of D'Antoni's rotation for the foreseeable future. Removing him from his current environment may be beneficial for all three parties.
A package deal of Wilson Chandler, Anthony Randolph, Curry and his contract, and a future first-rounder would be my offer to the Denver Nuggets' management in exchange for Carmelo Anthony and whatever else they would be willing to yield. If that transaction isn't satisfactory for Ujiri and the Nuggets' brass, so be it, for it isn't the Knicks who are pinned against the wall, waiting for their franchise's savior. It is the Nuggets, rather, who must quickly alter their team's future. If Carmelo isn't signed to the rumored three-year, $65 million extension and he is not traded before the deadline, the Nuggets' chances at a Western Conference title may be slim to none for the near future.
To clarify, the Knicks' recent, impressive run is much more than a streak of victories. Under the guidance of head coach Mike D'Antoni, the young New York roster has commanded the respect of players and teams around the league. It's hard to believe just eleven months ago, the Knicks suffered their worst home defeat in the team's 64-year history. It is true, though, that the former NBA powerhouse Knickerbockers are shockingly close to returning to the forefront of professional basketball.
Regardless if Carmelo Anthony is acquired or not, it seems altogether possible that New York could earn a playoff berth for the first time in six years. While adding the three-time All-Star would result in prolonged success, it may not be completely necessary. The Knicks could look to strengthen their defense, which is currently ranked 28th in the league, by adding a shooter that is strong on both sides of the ball such as Shane Battier, Mickeal Peitrus, Troy Murphy, or Andrei Kirilenko, who are all free agents at the conclusion of this season.
In closing, judging by the New York Knicks' current roster and considerable cap space, I would not label the team's recent success as a fluke. Taking into account the bright futures of Amar'e Stoudemire, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, and Landry Fields, nearly all the pieces for the team's long term success are in place.
But as was the concern with D'Antoni's Phoenix Suns, New York's defense is nothing to envy. While a high-speed, shooting-based game plan may earn a team an appearance in the second or third round of the playoffs, the NBA's elite teams will expose weak defenses in the both the Conference and League Championship series. If adequate adjustments are made on the defensive end and one final key player is acquired, potentially Carmelo Anthony, Mike D'Antoni could soon be making his third career appearance in a Conference Finals. Not only is the success of the rejuvenated New York Knicks exciting for the nearly 20,000 fans who crowd Madison Square Garden 41 times a season, the return of this historic franchise to contention would be greatly beneficial to the entire NBA.