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?


Anthony’s Choice Becomes the Knicks’ Conundrum

When he strong-armed his way out of Denver in February, surely did not envision a late-April night when his playoff fate would rest in the trembling hands of Jared Jeffries, the shaky jump shot of Roger Mason Jr. or the shaky confidence of Landry Fields.

But as Anthony pointed out Monday while assessing , the team “lost four key components” at midseason and had “to start off fresh with something new.”

He offered this analysis with no sense of irony or self-awareness, as if the , which gutted the roster and stalled their progress, was caused by unknown forces.

It was, of course, caused by Anthony himself — a fact that was lost in the giddiness over his arrival and forgotten by the time the swept the .

Anthony wanted the Knicks, and the Knicks wanted him. That much was always clear. The question was one of delivery method: by trade or free agency. Anthony could have waited, opted out of his contract this summer and signed with the Knicks.

Had he chosen that path, Anthony could have joined a Knicks team with Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov, Anthony Randolph and most of its draft picks — although the Knicks probably would have had to let Wilson Chandler go to sign him.

But Anthony chose not to wait. He wanted a maximum, three-year, $65 million extension before the collective bargaining agreement expired July 1. He feared the terms of a new labor deal. If he was going to become a Knick — and get the richest possible contract — he had to force a trade.

As a rival executive who closely monitored the talks said in February, “The money was first, second and third” in driving the deal.

Knicks officials knew this, too, which is why they rushed to meet Denver’s high demands rather than risk losing Anthony to . They believed, as others did, that Anthony would have signed an extension with the Nets. He might never have reached free agency.

So the Knicks made a rational decision. But it was one that was necessitated by Anthony’s impatience and his drive for a rich extension.

Anthony confirmed as much, in less blunt terms, when he was asked on Monday why he did not wait for free agency.

“That’s just something that I didn’t really want to have to deal with, not really knowing what the C.B.A. would be like,” he said. He added: “I don’t regret anything, any decision that I’ve made. And I’m happy with that. I’ll live with that.”

So the Knicks are living with a roster full of holes and severe limitations in trying to plug them.

They used all of their best assets — four rotation players, all 26 or younger — to land Anthony. They also traded their first-round pick in 2014 and second-round picks in 2012 and 2013, and gave Denver the right to swap first-round picks in 2016. They are also without their 2012 first-round pick, which they .

The Knicks have no chips left to make a deal if Chris Paul or follows Anthony’s lead and starts pushing to be traded. They may not have any cap room this summer, either, although that depends on the new labor deal.

The team has until Friday to buy out Chauncey Billups for $3.8 million or keep him next season for $14.2 million. If he stays, the Knicks would be over the current cap ($58.5 million). If he is bought out, the Knicks might have $8 million to $10 million to spend, assuming the cap stays the same.

But the Knicks would still need a top point guard to keep Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire humming, and Billups would be the best one on the market.

Even if they re-signed him for less, they would not have much left to spend, and certainly not enough to fill all of their holes.

The Knicks desperately need a 7-footer to rebound and defend, an established shooting guard to replace Fields (who should be a reserve), a backup power forward to spell Stoudemire, and more size and shooting off the bench. Billups and Stoudemire listed big men as a top priority.

Scouts and executives often say that it is much harder to acquire a star like Anthony than it is to acquire top role players. But the Knicks will not have an easy time replacing the ones they traded.

Gallinari and Felton were high lottery picks. Chandler, drafted 23rd, would be a top-10 pick if the were held again.

The Knicks are drafting 17th this June and will probably not be back in the lottery for many years. They have just one first-round pick in the next three drafts. When they do pick, they will have to be nearly perfect.

No team, even with two elite players, can contend for a title without a strong supporting cast.

How are the Knicks going to acquire the high-value, low-cost players that Stoudemire and Anthony need around them?

Perhaps the answers will be found in a new labor deal, possibly with a higher cap (as a trade-off for a hard cap) and reduced salaries. Otherwise, the Knicks could be handcuffed until the summer of 2012, when they have just $43 million in committed salaries.

They will also have just four players under contract, and nine roster spots to fill. If they somehow signed Paul or Howard, the Knicks would probably be capped out.

No one knows what the new labor deal will entail. But the quest to restock the roster is going to become tougher, not easier.

On Monday, a smiling Anthony said that he wanted input on the Knicks’ personnel decisions this summer. But he was already dictating those decisions in February. His general manager skills leave a lot to be desired.