A year ago this time at NBA all-star weekend New York Knicks fans were clamoring over Knicks power forward Amar’e Stoudamire. Amar’e not only was the lone all-star player the franchise was able to lock up after the big fish of the 2010 summer sweepstakes, Lebron James and Dwayne Wade, choose to join forces and compliment each other’s talents by playing together on South Beach, but he had a first half worthy of MVP consideration. Before the Knicks acquired Stoudamire during 4th of July weekend 2010 the Knicks had gone nine consecutive seasons with a losing record and an equally amount of time since they had last won a playoff game. Over that time the team brought in talented players one after another who made no impact in terms of turning this team around anywhere towards a winning direction. Players such such as Stephon Marbury, Jamal Crawford, Zach Randolph, David Lee and others who at one time or another in their careers have proven that they can be very good NBA players whether it was making an all-star team, winning individual season awards or having a major impact on a team making a postseason run, but collectively as a unit or individually were not able to rise the Knicks franchise from underneath the cesspool of humility and futility that has perpetuated Knicks basketball over the last decade. They all came to star studded Madison Square Garden with eyes on playing big meaningful games late in the regular season, playoff games, and even the big dream of being canonized for life in this town by bringing the city its first hoops championship since 1973. Because after all folks, as they say there is no place like New York City when you are a winner.
But once the dreaming stops and reality begins by stepping onto the big lights of the Madison Square Garden stage where the only thing higher than the fans fervor for a winner is the scrutiny of a watchful media eye the resolve and the character of a ball player always comes to the forefront and we see what they are really made of. None of those guys were cut out to play any kind of winning basketball in New York City. But Amar’e was built for that even if the sample size we got from him was only through the first half of one season. In Amar’e Stoudamire’s first season with the Knicks a season ago the team began 3-8 and things looked as if New York was also going to suck Amar’e up in its whirlpool of disaster and the team appeared as if it were headed down the same disastrous road as the previous nine seasons.
Following a home loss early in the season to the Houston Rockets in which the team fell to 3-7 before they would lose another game to Denver to drop their record to 3-8 Stoudamire sat at his locker disappointed and said loud enough for anyone to hear that the losing was not acceptable and that he was a winner and not used to losing. Shortly after that the Knicks turned a 3-8 record into a 5 game winning streak before a home loss to Atlanta ended the streak which immediately led to the start of another win streak of eight games which gave the Knicks 13 wins in 14 games propelling them over the .500 mark which is not to be taken lightly when you consider the string of losing seasons the team had going into last season. During the eight game win streak Stoudamire scored 30 points each game. He even scored 30 in a ninth consecutive contest to set a franchise record in what was the game of the year at Madison Square against the Boston Celtics on December 15th where Stoudamire finished a point shy of 40 and hit a deep straight away three at the buzzer for the game winner only to have it reviewed and waved off. When Amar’e spoke in the locker room everyone listened. He was the one who the young Knicks roster looked up to, he was the superstar that they all followed on television growing up and he was the undisputed leader of the locker room, it was Amar’e Stoudamire’s team and he backed every bit of that up.
For most of the first half of last season Amar’e Stoudamire trailed only Kevin Durant for the league’s scoring lead and Amar’e was the number one player in the league in fourth quarter scoring and all of sudden he had MVP chants rained down upon him from the Madison Square Garden crowd on a nightly occasion, so much so that some had to ask the crowd to tone down the chants while he was at the free throw line because it might have been getting in the way of his concentration at the line. In three and a half months through the first half of last season Amar’e did what so many all-star talented players could not do before him and that was bring winning basketball, watchable basketball back to the greatest basketball city in the world for the first time in a decade. Amar’e showed what he was made of as soon as he jumped into the New York spotlight and a year ago he was rewarded with that by becoming the first Knick to start an all-star game since Patrick Ewing in the mid 90’s which was a proud accomplishment and well deserved. That was an accomplishment worthy of thunderous applause and high praise and Amar’e even represented New York well with 29 points in the game. But as we sit here at this year’s all-star break Amar’e Stoudamire is not on an all-star roster for the first time since 2006 when he missed all but three games that season due to microfracture knee surgery. But after ending the Knicks’ streak of not having a starter In the all-star game after all those years just last season this year for the second consecutive year there was a New York Knick starting in the game, and he hardly deserved it.
It was the day after the all-star break a season ago when the Knicks and Denver Nuggets pulled off the blockbuster trade of the season as the Knicks acquired Carmelo Anthony in a deal that the majority of Knick fans lauded and celebrated. Constant trade rumors involving key members of the team before the trade put a bit of a cramp into the Knicks’ winning style but at the time of the trade they had a record of 28-26 and because of the youth of the team they were only going to get better as the years went on and the young players continued to develop their games to an even higher level. The Carmelo Anthony trade was not made for Carmelo to come in and save the Knicks. Amar’e had already done that. The trade was made to make the team even better and put them closer to competing for a NBA championship. Despite Amar’e proving to be a dominate force, a force higher than anything Carmelo had ever proven to be in Denver, and the best fourth quarter scorer of last season the franchise still handed Carmelo Anthony the keys to the franchise and to the offense the minute he stepped through the door which as the last year has shown has had a negative effect on the team’s offense, chemistry and winning ways, and we’ve seen Amar’e Stoudamire’s game along with those of other Knicks take a decline. Quite simply because of the hype that surrounds the name “Carmelo Anthony” and his game the Knicks organization just gave him free reign of everything like there was nothing already established before he got here. If you want to put that much stock into a player than he better be able to live up to it and that has not been close to being the case with Carmelo Anthony
Before the trade and even now Carmelo Anthony it has been said is the “best scorer” or “best pure scorer” in basketball. In fact Charles Barkley said it countless times during TNT’s all-star weekend broadcasts the last couple of days. How anyone said that before the trade was a question mark but for anyone to still be saying this now is a head scratcher which leads one to ask, have you been watching the Knicks games? Barkley obviously is not because if he actually was he surely would not be signing that tune and in fact his opinion of Carmelo might even fall. After acquiring Anthony last season the Knicks finished the regular season 14-14 including a stretch where they lost 7 consecutive games. During that losing streak you watched Carmelo not be able to buy a basket in the second half so many times, let alone in the 4th quarter and this is a guy who a lot of fans and media members like to proclaim as “the best closer in the game” this side of Kobe Bryant. In fact there is even a statistic out there that says Carmelo has made more last second shots than anyone in the league over the last few years and that includes Kobe Bryant and everyone else. But could there be more of a misleading statistic that over hypes someone’s true game than this one?
How about the three point shot that Carmelo bricked at the end of game one of their first round playoff series against Boston last April when despite being ice cold and 1-11 in the second half, and 5-17 for the game up to that point, Carmelo took it upon himself to take a deep three in the game’s final seconds with the team down two and Amar’e Stoudamire rolling in the game going 12-16 from the field for 28 points. In that instance Carmelo was trying to play what Boston head coach Doc Rivers likes to call “hero ball.” The Knicks would go on to lose that series to Boston who swept Carmelo and the Knicks away in four games to make the Knicks’ record post trade with Carmelo 14-18. Of the four playoff games vs. Boston Carmelo played well in just one of them which was a 42 point, 17 rebound effort in game 2. A game in which the Knicks still lost and the supposed “best closer in the game” this side of Kobe Bryant scored zero points in the game’s final 2:30.
This season begins and Carmelo Anthony is shooting under 40% from the field and the team starts with a record of 8-15 before Jeremy Lin is inserted into the rotation the day before Super Bowl XLVI and drops 25 points, 5 rebounds, and seven assists on the New Jersey Nets. The next game against Utah the Knicks give Lin the first start of his career, a game in which Anthony injured his groin in the first quarter and did not return to the court until two weeks later. Over that time including the first New Jersey game the Knicks behind Jeremy Lin won 8 of 9 games overall and saved their season and literally stunned the world by leading the Knicks to seven straight victories during that stretch. Before Lin entered the rotation on February 4th the Knicks were a ship sinking fast and everybody from Carmelo to Mike D’antoni would have been ripped to shreds come the end of the season when they would have been sitting from the outside looking in at the playoffs. But come playoff time however Carmelo who was on stage with Dwight Howard, Lebron James, Derrick Rose, and Dwayne Wade last night as the Eastern conference starters were announced has only made it out of the first round of the playoffs once in eight NBA seasons. Clearly Carmelo is not in the same class as the four gentlemen he shared the eastern conference starting lineup with. Those four are real superstars and play like it every time they take the court.
With Anthony out and Lin in the team did not miss Anthony One Iota and the Knicks played their best ball of the season and clearly played better with Carmelo off the court in way of ball movement, player movement, desire, leadership and winning. At the all-star break the Knicks have a record of 17-18 and are currently seventh in the eastern conference playoff standings. When Carmelo brought his star to New York he was supposed to bring a superstar game with him. The latter has yet to happen and when your team proves to play better without you than with you it’s time for some real substance and not just a name.