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.

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