For Knicks, Celebrated Trade, Celebrated No More

The imagery will be irresistible, the temptation for sweeping judgments overpowering. Conclusions will be drawn and proclamations made, all of it justifiable, albeit possibly premature.

The are coming to Madison Square Garden on Saturday, bringing with them a fluid, egalitarian offense, a gleaming win-loss record and a vivid reminder of the trade that irrevocably altered the ’ destiny.

Judgment will be in the eyes of the beholder, although those eyes may be stinging with rage.

The Nuggets are 28-12 since the day they sent their star, , to New York for a package of young players and draft picks. The Knicks are 20-22 since Anthony arrived.

cannot be fully appraised after 40 games, stretched over 11 months. But prudence has never been the New York way, and the results so far stand as a searing indictment.

Few Knicks trades have been so polarizing.

Anthony is the franchise’s most dynamic player in decades. But the Knicks paid a steep price: four starters and at least one first-round pick. The trade destroyed a promising youth movement, choked the payroll and made the Knicks wholly dependent on one fabulously skilled but flawed superstar.

The payoff was supposed to be instant and glorious. It has yet to arrive.

It goes beyond the win-loss records, to the makeup and personality of the teams, post-trade.

, with the N.B.A.’s fifth-highest scoring average, its highest assist rate and a lineup of understated, complementary stars. The Knicks are top-heavy but talent poor, with a domineering star, a weak supporting cast and an offense that ranks among the N.B.A.’s most feeble.

That is the contrast that will be on display Saturday night at the Garden.

“I think it’s an awkward contrast,” Coach said Thursday, “just because we’re still filling up holes in behind that trade.” But, he said, “We got some really good players.”

The Nuggets clearly did, too.

Danilo Gallinari, the Knicks’ lottery pick in 2008, is now Denver’s second-leading scorer, averaging 15.9 points. Timofey Mozgov, a skilled and young 7-footer discovered by the Knicks in 2010, is now the Nuggets’ starting center. Denver flipped Raymond Felton — the Knicks’ former starting point guard — for Andre Miller, who is providing bench depth. Wilson Chandler, the final player in the Anthony deal, is playing in China, but the Nuggets could re-sign him in March.

The Nuggets are two deep at nearly every position. Their second-string guards — Miller and Rudy Fernandez — could start for the Knicks. The Knicks’ bench is beyond dreadful, a collection of eighth and ninth men masquerading as sixth men.

The trade robbed the Knicks of their depth, so it can be judged harshly under present circumstances. But that is also why it is still too soon to properly assess it. It takes time to replenish a roster after jettisoning four starters.

As difficult as it is to acquire a player of Anthony’s caliber, it is nearly as challenging to find high-caliber starters as good as Gallinari, Chandler, Felton and Mozgov under a salary-cap system. The Knicks did well in acquiring Tyson Chandler and drafting Iman Shumpert last year, but they need another off-season to finish the roster.

This is the conundrum that the Garden chairman James L. Dolan created when he rammed through the Anthony deal over the concerns of his basketball executives.

Eleven months and one truncated training camp later, the Knicks are still trying to mesh Anthony with Stoudemire, and with an offense predicated on passing and tempo, not plodding isolation. Anthony is still playing the way he did for seven-plus seasons in Denver, dominating the ball, firing contested jump shots and forcing his team to live and die with his shooting streaks.

, the Nuggets’ respected head coach, tussled with Anthony over the same concerns through five and a half tense seasons together. Anthony always got the Nuggets to the playoffs, but he led them past the first round only once. He always scored a lot, but he rarely seemed to lift those around him, averaging 3.1 assists for his career.

It is no coincidence that every Nuggets player speaks in terms of selfishness and selflessness in assessing their remade roster.

Arron Afflalo was the latest, saying this week, “We have a group of unselfish players,” and adding, “From a selfish mentality to the willingness to grow and learn together, this group is very good.”

Karl tried for years to get Anthony to pull back a little, to pass a little more, to shoot a little less, to defend a little more passionately. Those burdens now fall to D’Antoni, who has no job security and no desire to engage in a battle of wills with the owner’s hand-picked star.

Anthony is averaging a career-best 4.1 assists, but is shooting a career-low .411 from the field. He remains an impulsive shooter who shows little faith in teammates, going 14 for 49 over the last two games while playing with an injured wrist. (Anthony missed Thursday’s practice to deal with a family matter, but is expected to play Friday night against the Milwaukee Bucks.)

On Thursday, D’Antoni again preached the need for ball movement, pace and rhythm, without naming the primary culprit. The most illuminating remarks came from Stoudemire, a longtime D’Antoni disciple who — for all his flaws — has become the most vocal defender of his playbook.

“Coach D’Antoni is an offensive genius,” Stoudemire said. “He’s been very successful with this offense, and he knows what it takes to score and how to win. So we just got to make sure we believe in his strategy and follow through with it.”

No names were necessary. The Knicks know that the only person who can ultimately validate the Carmelo Anthony trade is Carmelo Anthony.

Enthusiasm for Return of These Knicks and Nets Fades Fast

Tepidly, I would say, judging from a quick swath of television interviews over the weekend. Even men in the playground, shooting hoops, professed ambiguity over the return of the rich guys.

Then again, maybe it was the warm weather in the Northeast. People were outdoors, feeling good, not thinking ahead to being cooped up inside and needing diversions on the tube when winter finally arrives.

Or maybe it is hard to be worked up over yet another sport when there is such a creepy pall spreading from and . The depravity oozing out from those two Northeastern hotbeds — you should pardon the expression — is not going away any time soon.

Meantime, we have our diversions, as the N.B.A. prepares to certify a shortened season starting on Christmas Day and lasting into June.

That leaves plenty of time for all right-thinking fans to unite in true continental sporting teamwork, anticipating LeBron James’s tossing up bricks in the final month of spring.

Every franchise in the N.B.A. will have its own reaction to the end of the lockout. In the New York region, we have two teams, but so much else going on that it’s hard to get worked up over a revival of pro basketball.

My first flittering reaction was what scientists might call a false positive. I couldn’t remember why, but I found myself harboring a vague fondness for the . I had an impression of alert young players moving the ball, setting up Amar’e Stoudemire, playing the heady basketball we claim we like in New York.

But then I remembered I was wasting nostalgia on a last Feb. 21. That team does not exist anymore, since the big trade of four rotation players, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Timofey Mozgov; a first-round pick in 2014; and second-round picks in 2012 and 2013 to Denver, in return for and Chauncey Billups.

The Knicks had a 28-26 record when, as far as I can reason, the Madison Square Garden chairman, James L. Dolan, engineered the trade, ignoring the builder instincts of his president, , who has since been .

Now it all comes back to me. Billups, a wise old head, was in charge of getting the ball to Anthony, who could not waste his time playing defense because he needed to shoot every time down the court. Stoudemire’s body pretty much wore down by springtime. The Knicks had a after the trade, then lost four straight to the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.

We are told that cannot be judged until next season, when the team might afford the and sign a younger star point guard. So much for this season, now looming over us. My euphoria faded fast.

I had a vague recollection that I also liked , the other team in the New York metropolitan region. But the more I thought about it, my momentary reaction was based upon their brief era of glory, when they two years in a row in the springs of 2002 and 2003. They were really fun to watch, with Jason Kidd making everybody better, but that team has not existed for many years.

My flicker of enthusiasm for the Nets included their move from that dismal spot in the swamps into that struggling, but recognizable, urban center, Newark. Next year they will move into a much more vibrant place — the land grab near downtown Brooklyn being a separate issue. Just the mention of Brooklyn evokes the scent of restaurants and walks in cool neighborhoods.

Then reality struck. Quick, I said to myself, . There’s the guy whose was shorter than the lockout itself. Hey, Kris, what did you do during the off-season? That guy. And didn’t they make a trade for Deron Williams, who has been keeping his shooting arm warm by playing in Turkey? And Brook Lopez. I envisioned him, too.

But just like the Knicks, the Nets seem to be a year away from anything.

Do we really need the N.B.A. to come back this soon? The N.F.L. will dominate the tube until the end of January. If we can get Penn State and Syracuse out of our nostrils — no sure thing — then we have college football into January and college basketball for four more months. The best soccer in the world has become a multiple-network reality in this region. We still have three hockey teams in our area. And call it habit, but on these long, dark evenings, I feel the urge to hit the clicker just to get the Yankees and Mets scores. Won’t be long now.

The N.B.A. players and owners may have demonstrated their irrelevancy. In the first days since the tentative labor agreement, vox populi seems to be reacting to the 66-game schedule by asking: That long, huh?


Walsh Has One Last Chance to Reshape Knicks

Walsh was the chief executive of the Indiana Pacers. Danny Granger was a smooth-scoring swingman for New Mexico. He was projected as a top-10 pick, way beyond the Pacers’ reach.

“I had no hope that Granger would be there,” said Walsh, who became the president of the in 2008. “I mean, none.”

But the draft got weird around the 11th pick, when the Orlando Magic took Fran Vázquez of Spain, and got weirder when the Los Angeles Clippers selected Yaroslav Korolev of Russia next. Then the Charlotte Bobcats chose sentiment over talent, taking North Carolina’s Sean May.

Names kept coming off the board — Rashad McCants to Minnesota, Antoine Wright to the Nets, Joey Graham to Toronto — but Granger remained.

“I was shocked when he got to us,” Walsh said.

Granger became a Pacer and an All-Star and has outperformed all but 4 of the 16 players taken ahead of him, proving once more that the draft is rarely predictable, or even logical.

That is an axiom worth remembering as Walsh heads into Thursday’s draft with the 17th selection, to make what will probably be the last pick of his storied career.

Walsh, 70, is stepping down as the Knicks’ president at the end of the month, ending a 25-year run as a team executive in Indianapolis and in New York. He will slide into semiretirement as a consultant for the Knicks in the near term, with no intent to return to a prominent role.

Walsh’s legacy at Madison Square Garden is secure. He restored sanity and respectability, cleared the books, signed Amar’e Stoudemire and collected the assets that helped the Knicks acquire Carmelo Anthony. They now boast two of the brightest stars in the game.

So the choice Walsh makes Thursday will not define his tenure, though it could enhance it. Expectations from the 17th pick are generally low, and it usually takes a few years to judge a draft intelligently.

If this is in fact his last draft, Walsh said he would feel no added pressure and no sense of sentimentality.

“You guys always talk like this,” Walsh said gruffly, chuckling, “like it’s going to be a big star put next to my name or something.”

He added, “This draft is as exciting to me as the first draft and all the drafts in between.”

It may be as challenging as any of them, with an extraordinarily weak pool of prospects and no predictability beyond the top 10, or perhaps even the top five. As one personnel director put it, the players available at 11 may be no better than those available at 18.

The Knicks’ rotation is full of holes — center, shooting guard, backup point guard and throughout the bench. They need shooters, defenders and rebounders. They will probably have to wait for free agency, whenever it begins, to fill those needs.

The two best shooters in the draft, Jimmer Fredette and Klay Thompson, are expected to be taken in the top 15. Chris Singleton, who may be the best perimeter defender, will probably not fall to the Knicks either. Nor are there likely to be any skilled big men on the board at 17.

The Knicks are keeping an eye on shooting guards Marshon Brooks of Providence and Alec Burks of Colorado, one of whom could fall to them. They are among the many teams intrigued by Bismack Biyombo, an 18-year-old center from Congo, who has drawn frequent (and probably premature) comparisons to Ben Wallace. They could find rebounding help from Kenneth Faried, a 6-foot-8 power forward from Morehead State who offsets his lack of height with a 7-foot wingspan.

Trading up is unlikely. The Knicks have just two young players who might entice another team — Landry Fields and Toney Douglas — both of whom might be better than anyone available with, say, the 10th pick. Given the Knicks’ crippling lack of depth, they cannot afford to give up, effectively, two players (the 17th pick and Douglas or Fields) for one middling prospect in a bad draft class.

For those reasons, Walsh said, “I wouldn’t say we’ve been really active” in trying to move up.

Walsh’s draft record in New York has been mixed. His first pick, Danilo Gallinari (sixth in 2008), has shown great skill and promise and was the key piece in the Anthony deal. Douglas (29th in 2009 in a trade with the Los Angeles Lakers) and Fields (39th in 2010) were fantastic late pickups. Walsh missed in 2009, when he took Jordan Hill with the eighth pick.

But the draft is an inexact science, and every veteran general manager has his share of hits and misses. Walsh is comfortable with his track record and the Knicks’ future.

“The first step has been taken, and I’m glad I was part of that,” Walsh said, “and I want to finish that off with a good draft and hopefully we can improve upon our team for next year.”