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Knicks and Mike D'Antoni Part Ways: Is Carmelo Anthony Finally Satisfied?

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When the Knicks pursued Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets last year the vast majority of fans were willing to part with many, but not all, of the Knicks’ important players in order to land the volume scorer. Specifically, most were in favor of trading one, but not both, of the Knicks’ two young rising talents, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, along with a few extraneous pieces. Fans understood what James Dolan never did: if Anthony truly wanted to be a Knick, he could sign as a free agent the following off-season without the Knicks losing much talent in the process.

Carmelo, for his part, wanted desperately to land in New York before the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, which would enable him to sign a maximum contract extension under the old rules rather than risking free agency and settling for an undoubtedly still-lucrative deal. Carmelo’s leverage resided in the threat that if the Knicks did not trade for him immediately and provide him with a maximum contract extension, he would instead accept a trade to the upstart New Jersey Nets and sign a maximum extension with them instead.

That would leave the Knicks many other options to pursue. For example, Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard all became available. Additionally, Danilo Gallinari has continued his ascent towards stardom and could have continued to flourish as a Knick.

In forcing the Dolan’s panicky hand though, Anthony declined to follow the example of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who all took less than the maximum deals they could have signed in order to play together while still leaving some space for a decent teammate or two. Indications are that Dwight Howard, who is angling to join the Nets, is reticent for the Nets to trade for him because he, like James, Wade and Bosh, wants the Nets to retain some quality pieces to surround him and star point guard Deron Williams.

So the Knicks caved. They traded Timofey Mozgov, Raymond Felton, several draft picks, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler to ensure that they, and not the Nets, would wind up with Anthony. Anthony would get his money.

And he would be joining a team that was several games over .500 and playing a team-oriented brand of basketball for the first time in about a decade.

Almost from the start of Anthony’s Knicks’ stint there were murmurs that he was not interested in buying-in to coach Mike D’Antoni’s system which is predicated on ball-movement and spacing, since Anthony is a ball dominating, one-on-one volume scorer. When the Knicks struggled immediately upon Anthony’s arrival, team leader Amar’e Stoudemire beseeched his teammates to accept D’Antoni’s principles which had guided the Knicks during their successful first half run. After a scare, the Knicks ultimately made the playoffs last year but key injuries derailed their run before it started.

This season started off with the Knicks struggling and wallowing several games under .500. The team appeared unwilling to share the ball, spacing was off, and consequently the offense could not get off the ground. Most observers blamed, among other things, the Knicks’ lack of a point guard for the Knicks’ struggles. Then arrived the magical moment when Jeremy Lin took over the reigns of the Knicks offense and at least fleetingly appeared to prove those observers right. But lack of a point guard proved to just be part of the issue. Contemporaneously with Lin’s emergence, Anthony injured his groin.

With Anthony out, the Knicks won 7 games in a row by ascribing to D’Antoni’s coaching philosophy which required the team to spread the court, move the ball, and play with energy and passion on both ends. The Knicks beat several good teams including the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers. Grumbles regarding D’Antoni’s shaky future turned into relieved exhortations that Lin “saved D’Antoni’s job”.

Eventually Carmelo Anthony would return from injury. The Knicks would promptly lose eight of ten and six in a row to find themselves back to where they started before “Linsanity” began. Anthony seemed unwilling to do many of the things that D’Antoni required from his players such as ball spacing, movement and passing. He sulked on the bench, declined to participate in huddles, lashed out at teammates for not bending to his will when he broke plays, and perhaps most damningly, was frequently outhustled, including by Kyle Korver, who beat Anthony to a lose ball in the closing minutes of a close loss to the Bulls by sacrificing his body to dive for it. Anthony, the Knicks “superstar”, stood and watched.

Stoudemire’s year-old calls for unnamed teammates to buy-in reemerged.

Anthony knew who the coach was before he asked to be traded to New York. He also knew that for the Knicks to trade for him, they would have to sacrifice much of their future, many incredibly talented young players who they could have kept if he was willing to sacrifice like some of the game’s other true stars. But he demanded the trade anyway in order to line his pocket. And when he got to New York, Anthony did not fit in. Rather he demanded that everyone else bend to his whims. That the culture change to suit him, instead of adapting to a system that had repeatedly proven itself in his absence.

It cost the coach his job, which according to Howard Beck of the New York Times, shocked and upset his teammates, many of whom came to New York specifically to play for D’Antoni.

Many fans do not care about any of this. They view Anthony as the Knicks most marketable player, their flashiest scorer, their leader, someone who can lead them to the promised land.

Others are of the opinion that even if ‘Melo does accomplish the impossible here in New York, it will feel off. It will be difficult to reward this kind of chicanery with what is left of the limited and repeatedly frazzled emotional stores that they can devote to the basketball portion of their consciousness. All of the worst stereotypes that these fans did not want to indulge about Anthony when they were talking themselves into trading their future for the man have come to pass.

But hey, at least he got paid.

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