"It’s not easy and it’s not going to get any easier for us now because the target is on our back. Teams are going to be eager to play against us.” -- Knicks not-so-tough guy Amar'e Stoudemire (AP story).
It's probably news to Amar'e, but nearly every team in the NBA has looked forward to playing the New York Knicks this season, and last season and the season before when Mike D'Antoni took over as coach.
Opposing teams love D'Antoni's no-defense-no-rebounding approach, as players are ever-eager to shoot unimpeded and pad their scoring stats against the run and gun New Yorkers.
Carmelo Anthony is set to make his Knicks debut tonight in New York against the Milwaukee Bucks. The last time the Knicks met the Bucks, Nov. 9 in Milwaukee, they were blown out of the building, 107-80.
After the game, Amar'e complained that Bucks center Andrew Bogut whacked him, not once, but twice (only twice?) with "intentional" elbows.
Stoudemire also questioned whether Bucks coach Scott Skiles might have instructed the Bucks to "play physical" in retaliation for the incident last March, when Amar'e (then with the Suns) shoved Bogut in the back (just a little) on a breakaway, instigating Bogut's horrific, season-ending arm injury.
"I wouldn't say coach Skiles intentionally told [Bogut] to play physical. But again, it's a team effort so I'm going after the whole team." -- Full NY Daily News article.
"Playing physical" is something Bogut does every game, Mr. Stoudemire. It's what tough, defensive-minded players on tough, defensive-minded teams do.
It's business as usual in Boston, Chicago, San Antonio, Miami, places where teams compete and win in the NBA. But then, Amar'e complained about that, too, after a loss to the San Antonio Spurs earlier this season.
Man, it must be tough for Knicks fans to hear this stuff coming from their star player.
Enter Carmelo and Chauncey Billups, and three other guys from a Denver team affectionately known as "the Thuggets."
Perhaps as much as his scoring, Carmelo brings to the Knicks toughness that they sorely lack. No, Anthony's no gritty defender, but then it's never easy to judge whether a player from George Karl's trapping zone system plays good individual D (in other words, Karl's system doesn't really work). What Carmelo doesn't do is back down from anybody while scoring his 25-30 points a game.
At 6'8", 240 pounds, Anthony's able to go toe-to-toe in the post with the likes of Bogut, Elton Brand, Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins. Al Horford. Carlos Boozer and Josh Gibson. Lebron James. Some might even say Anthony can be intimidating.
None of the guys mentioned above would, but some might.
Billups may be slow on the quick these days, too slow for Jameer Nelson, Rajon Rondo and Lou Williams (or Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday and Derrick Rose for that matter). But Chauncey brings smarts, good shooting and his brand of physical point guard play to the Knicks.
He may slow the D'Antoni offense down, but, with Anthony, he can't help but improve the Knicks in the half court, offensively and defensively.
The other players going to the Knicks in the deal—Anthony Carter, Shelden Williams and Renaldo Balkman—may be end-of-the-bench players, but they bring some toughness of their own to New York. Williams was a Celtic last season. Balkman's a rugged 6'8". Carter, at 35, is another smart, experienced point guard, the kind of player who's good to have around in the playoffs.
It may be just coincidence but the Knicks going to Denver in this trade are hardly what anybody would call NBA tough guys, center Timofey Mosgov excused.
Good-shooting Danilo Gallinari still has some upside to fill, but Wilson Chandler is, by definition, soft. No knock on Ray Felton, a diligent defender courtesy of Larry Brown's Charlotte Bobcats, but he's no Billups.
It's probably less a coincidence that three of the players the Knicks held onto, Ronny Turiaf, rookie Landry Fields and Shawne Williams, happen to be the hardworking tough guys on the Knicks roster.
No, nobody's going to confuse D'Antoni's Carmelo-Amar'e squad with the Knicks of the Patrick Ewing-Charles Oakley era, but a trend seems to be emerging in New York, one that probably won't make Amar'e's practice life any easier.
Hopefully, it will at least serve to spare NBA fans any further complaints from New York about "physical play."
Given the track records of Amar'e and his coach, that may be asking a lot.
J.D. Mo is perpetrator-in-chief of the NBA/Milwaukee Bucks blog The Bob Boozer Jinx.