How do Knicks, Nets trades look now?
Because he fancies himself as a latter-day Jerry West or Michael Jordan as a closer — he’s not on their level, not when you examine his skimpy playoff resume — Carmelo Anthony just couldn’t resist.
After burying the game-winner in the final seconds against Memphis, for the first time making his presence felt as a New York Knick, Anthony looked at the Grizzlies bench and shouted, “I do this!”
But since arriving from Denver to more fanfare than maybe any other player in Knick history, ‘Melo hasn’t been doing enough of this:
Meanwhile, the Nets have been prospering with Deron Williams after they tried to match the Knicks in mega-deals by bringing in Williams from Utah. Granted, the Nets’ five-game winning streak has been made up of two parts Toronto, and home wins over the Warriors and Celtics, both of whom were playing the second night of back-to-back games, and a victory over a Clippers team that has lost 27 of 35 road games.
But it seems as if the Knicks, since the Anthony deal, are merely spinning their wheels, still unable to break free and put some distance between themselves and the Sixers, while Williams is putting the Nets on the right path.
It’s too late for the playoffs, but his presence has the Nets thinking they’ve still got an outside shot as they trail No. 8 Indiana by four games in the loss column entering Thursday’s home game in Newark against the Beast of the East Bulls.
So who got the better of the deals? All we know is, the Knicks still have Anthony for the long-term — for better or for worse — while the Nets still don’t know whether they’ll get Williams to sign on to stay for their move to Brooklyn.
Going into Thursday’s game in the Garden against Memphis, the Knicks are only 6-6 with Anthony, with some very big highs (winning at Miami and at Atlanta) and some very big lows (losing twice to Cleveland and twice in the last five days to the Pacers). Defensively is where everyone knew they’d struggle, because putting a weak defender like Anthony on a team that already wasn’t able to stop anyone looked like basketball suicide.
Sure enough, the Knicks are even worse in that department. Before the deal they were allowing opponents 105.8 ppg on 46.9 percent shooting. Since Anthony’s arrival they are allowing 106.7 ppg on 48.3 percent shooting.
So you can question why the Knicks gutted their team and pulled the trigger on the Anthony deal.
“That's going to be our Achilles heel," coach Mike D'Antoni admitted after the second loss to Indiana, where the Knicks allowed a late-game basket by Danny Granger. "We're going to dance with certain guys and we have to figure out how to guard."
Even after they held LeBron James and Dwyane Wade without a basket in the final 3:00 of their win in Miami Feb. 27, Chauncey Billups predicted it would take at least a month for the Knicks to figure out how to become a good defensive team. Still, skeptics abound, recalling that D’Antoni’s best teams in Phoenix were always unmitigated failures at stopping the best teams in the playoffs. Unless the Knicks figure out how to import players who can help shore up their defense in the coming seasons or make a coaching change down the line that will address that area, having Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire together isn’t going to get them very close to a title.
“I’ve seen this situation in Phoenix when you’re trying to outscore people,’’ said TNT’s Charles Barkley. “When I go to a movie and I know the ending, I’m not going to see it again. Carmelo and Amar’e are great offensive players, but when it comes to defense and rebounding, they’re going to struggle.’’
Here’s the good news for Knicks fans. At least in the playoffs, the Knicks can be a more dangerous team right now than they would have been had they held onto Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton and Timofey Mozgov.
The Knicks did have some chemistry going before the deal, along with better ball movement and more depth. But it’s not as if they broke up the ‘96 Bulls. The pre-trade Knicks team was also only two games over .500 and severely limited in the area of playoff experience.
Although Anthony has been past the first round just once, Billups promises to be a valuable asset in the postseason because of his track record for making big shots. Along with Anthony and Stoudemire, it could make the Knicks a team no one wants to have to defend in the opening round. Compare that to the pre-trade team, with only Felton having postseason experience among the players sent to Denver, and only four games at that.
“We’ll find out how good they are,’’ said Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy before his team racked up 116 points against the Knicks two weeks ago. “This trade makes them better and makes the East better. Where this puts them in relation to everyone else, that will just have to play out over time. But they have two offensive stars now and a proven winner in Billups. Normally, the way you judge a trade is who got the best player in the trade. Well they got the two best players in the trade, which is very unusual.’’
But Billups, 34, has already been injured and missed six games. Then there is the big question of whether Anthony and Stoudemire can work together. Anthony was frustrated by not getting the ball late against the Pacers Tuesday night. Despite his heroics in Memphis, he hasn’t always delivered. In the home loss to Cleveland in which the Cavs snapped a 26-game road losing streak, he failed to deliver despite having the ball at the end. To his credit, Stoudemire has not made any waves as Anthony has assumed his role of getting the last shot. But no one is guaranteeing it will last. After all, this is still viewed as Stoudemire’s team, even if Anthony is the better offensive player.
D’Antoni is leaving it in the hands of Billups, whose absence during the six-game stretch because of a deep thigh bruise did not do anything to speed the Knicks’ assimilation process.
“We were sitting in a meeting the first day we were all together and I said, ‘Look, there are a lot of alpha dogs sitting in this meeting here.’ D’Antoni recalled. ‘The ball is going to be in Chauncey’s hands, and he’s deciding who gets it. So if anybody gets mad, get mad at Chauncey.’”
Normally, you’d think the coach should decide.
“But Chauncey’s the only one who’s got a ring in this room” D’Antoni said. “So he’s the one deciding who gets the ball.”
From that standpoint, Billups has more power than Williams does with the Nets. But Williams still has the ultimate control — deciding where he wants to be after next season when he becomes a free agent.
Williams could still very easily look to go home to Dallas, perhaps make a run to the Clippers to join Blake Griffin, or maybe even decide to become a Knick, depending on what kind of money they have at that time.
Avery Johnson issued a guarantee of sorts, telling a New York radio station “No doubt we are going to re-sign Deron.” But Johnson doesn’t really know, and the Nets did roll the dice in sending off some prime assets for a player they might have for only one more season.
For now, the Nets just hope that winning helps convince Williams to stay. The only win out of the recent streak that really stood out came against Boston.
“It'll get our confidence going," Williams said. “The first four were definitely good wins. So you don't want to take anything away from wins ever. But they weren't against playoff teams. (The Celtics) had the best team with the best record. It was a big win for us, especially with the way we played. We battled. It was a playoff-type game, a defensive game."
The Nets played that style in the past, going back to when Jason Kidd finished second to Tim Duncan in the MVP voting and the Nets were going to back-to-back Finals.
Williams is the most important player the Nets have had since Kidd. So far, he’s been the upgrade that everyone expected when the Nets had to give up some potentially great assets to get him. They sent off veteran playmaker Devin Harris, who is struggling with the Jazz. But they also parted with promising rookie Derrick Favors and two No. 1 draft picks, with their own for this June and Golden State’s for next June both potential lottery selections.
But after watching the Knicks land Anthony, after they had tried time and again for five months to get him, New Jersey and owner Mikhail Prokhorov had to do something bold. They got the best player in the trade and Williams has been doing something that Harris could not do: He’s lifted everyone’s play. But he's still surrounded by too many role players and no other star. So the Nets are going to have to do a lot to get him to stay.
"(The Nets) have been playing well lately, with a lot more energy," Kevin Garnett said. "D-Will has come over there and given them a winning mentality. It seems to be working for them."
It’s working in the short term, anyway. But beyond that, no one can know for sure.
Mitch Lawrence covers the NBA for the New York Daily News.