The New York Knicks have lost six straight games, the latest a Saturday night bender in Madison Square Garden to Carmelo Anthony's old club, the Denver Nuggets. Danilo Gallinari, the best player New York sent out in the 'Melo trade, dropped 37 points and 11 rebounds and is having an excellent season. Anthony managed 25 points on 30 (!) field goal attempts, and apparently wrapped Amar'e Stoudemire's arms up with invisible duct tape or something, as the power forward took just nine shot attempts.
The good ship U.S.S. Knicks is sinking, and it's time for the smart men to go Schettino on this bad boy. Ergo, a column from CBS Sports' Ken Berger in which Mike D'Antoni seeks absolution.
MSG chairman James L. Dolan, who pushed the Anthony trade through over the objections of D'Antoni and former team president Donnie Walsh, wasn't at the game Friday night. [...]
But make no mistake: D'Antoni resides not at the Garden right now, but in no-man's land. [...]
But those days are becoming increasingly dim, as all of D'Antoni's worst fears about the roster-gutting trade for Anthony last February are coming true. And dare I say, it's even worse than D'Antoni thought [...]
It isn't D'Antoni's fault; that much should be clear. [...]
It's not totally D'Antoni's fault insomuch as he has a clearly flawed roster and he surely works hard to do his job properly. He is not exactly failing. But Berger's column and a prevailing sentiment are rife with the sort of coach-absolving, player-blaming false equivalence that pervades coverage of the NBA, and it's a little sickening.
Berger connects the dots between Anthony's obvious power to shape rosters as a top-flight member of the CAA cabal, and Amar'e Stoudemire's decreasing role in the offense. One more snip from the column:
If you give up four starting players and at least one first-round pick for Anthony, and give him a max extension as part of the deal, the fear was that Anthony -- and CAA -- would have the power. And that power would dwarf D'Antoni's, and also Stoudemire's. That the whole rancid concoction also has transformed Stoudemire into a $100 million version of Jason Collins -- wandering around, setting screens, attempting nine shots in a double-overtime game -- is a stunning lesson in the sheer breadth and power of star/agent capital in the NBA.
First of all, Jason Collins actually plays defense, which is a sellable NBA skill. When Stoudemire isn't scoring, he's less useful than Collins. But more importantly, this is one wild conspiracy Berger presents. 'Melo wanted to come to New York not to win, but to wrest power of the franchise from D'Antoni and Stoudemire? CAA has ruined the Knicks? This is some real grassy knoll stuff.
We blame 'Melo because we use false equivalence when considering the Knicks' current plight. We say, "The Nuggets are 29-12 since trading 'Melo and the Knicks are only 20-23!" and pretend that actually means something. It doesn't, and here's why: the Nuggets were 33-25 before trading Anthony last season and the Knicks were 28-27. The Nuggets were far better than the Knicks before the trade, and are considerably better afterward.
After the trade last season, the Nuggets did much better with their old Knicks than New York had, and the Knicks did considerably worse with their new Nuggets than Denver had. The spread has gotten bigger this season as Denver made additional moves and New York essentially swapped Chauncey Billups for Tyson Chandler. We're seeing that D'Antoni coached the Knicks to be completely average with Stoudemire and the cast-offs, and completely average with Stoudemire and 'Melo. We're seeing that George Karl coached the Nuggets to be well above-average with 'Melo, Billups and the rest of the old Nuggets core, and well above-average with the Knicks' cast-offs and pieces of the old Nuggets core.
That doesn't tell us that 'Melo is a meglamaniac power-broker more concerned with status than victory. That tells us that George Karl is far superior to Mike D'Antoni as a coach, and that Denver's front office -- first Mark Warkentien, and now Masai Ujiri -- is far superior to New York's front office -- first Donnie Walsh, and now Glen Grunwald and (oddly) Mark Warkentien.
Carmelo Anthony never had a single losing season under George Karl. The Knicks are 6-10 this season.
It isn't D'Antoni's fault; that much should be clear.
You could have fooled me. It's not like 'Melo suddenly became a worse player upon being trade. Context matters.
The Knicks' front office has been far more sane since Isiah Thomas left, but that doesn't mean it's been good. That near-max deal for Amar'e looks more nauseating by the minute, the decision to excise Billups without a suitable replacement in place is proving to be painful. There's no question: the Knicks should be better with this roster, and the Knicks should have a better roster. D'Antoni is being asked to put square pegs in round holes -- that's on the front office. But Karl certainly found success doing the same -- he won plenty of games with 'Melo and Allen Iverson playing together. The failure to adapt and develop a workable solution is on D'Antoni.
But let's not act as if 'Melo is at fault for the mess. He's virtually the same player he's always been. Why should anyone in New York be surprised that he's doing what he has always done (namely, take a copious amount of shots)? Is he also supposed to recruit a decent point guard for Amar'e and install an offensive system that plays to the players' strengths?
He can't do D'Antoni's nor Grunwald's jobs for them, and that's the crux of the issue for New York.