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Paul Flannery | December 14, 2014

Sunday Shootaround

Don't pity Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks

Don't pity Carmelo and the Knicks

BOSTON -- The first step toward rebuilding in the NBA is acceptance. The promise of hope can sustain at the beginning, but in order to be good one has to realize that first, there must be struggle. There must be an understanding that there will be long days ahead filled with false hopes, mixed results and countless frustrations.

The Knicks never seem to understand that. For whatever reason, they’ve never been able to accept that being bad is a means to an end. There have been quick-fixes, flashy trades and a parade of saviors who would somehow circumvent the time-honored process of rebuilding by producing quick results without the pain.

In doing so, they put the onus on the fans. Surely they wouldn’t tolerate such a pedestrian way of doing things. Like any rationalization, it misses the mark. Some fans undoubtedly would welcome a realistic approach, while others would call up WFAN and loudly complain. Either way, they’re still filling Madison Square Garden.

The burden of rebuilding is not on the fans, who through it all have been some of the most loyal and passionate in the league. It’s on the litany of the other people invested in the outcome from the owner to the front office and on down to the players and coaches who have to understand it for what it is.

Beginning with the 2008-09 season, Donnie Walsh attempted an honest rebuilding plan that was as transparent as anything Sam Hinkie is doing in Philadelphia. He willfully took on bloated contracts with the same expiration date to open up enough cap room to make a run at LeBron James and others.

They wound up with Amar’e Stoudemire after two forgettable seasons, which should have shown the limits of the cap space or bust approach. Yet Walsh also put together an intriguing roster that brought genuine excitement back to the Garden. For a brief moment in time, the Knicks had not only hope, but direction.

The Carmelo Anthony trade that followed has been debated, rehashed and picked over so many times there’s little reason to do so again, yet it’s worth mentioning that adding Melo was worth the cost. The players who went to Denver had a short inspired run, but the Nuggets are mired in mediocrity, which may be a worse fate than the perpetual slog the Knicks have endured.

The problem wasn’t Melo as much as the supporting cast. There have been a handful of unintended inspirations like Linsanity and the small-ball approach of 2012-13, but neither proved sustainable.

Instead, the Knicks have made an artform out of creating unrealistic expectations. They are always one player, one move, one cap-space summer away from contention and that has led to an impossible situation in which they are never really rebuilding. If Laker exceptionalism is rooted in the idea that every player wants to come to Los Angeles, Knick exceptionalism is borne from the idea that the normal rules of rebuilding don’t apply because hey, it’s New York.

There’s no real mystery about the Knicks’ struggles. Despite having one of the league’s great natural scorers, the roster is full of mismatched parts and overpaid veterans whose games have not aged well along with their contracts. They lack capable defenders at important positions and solid role players at others.

No one expected much out of the Knicks this season, except for the Knicks themselves. Everyone from new team president Phil Jackson to Melo talked about making the playoffs during the preseason, yet even the most optimistic preseason predictions had them hovering around the bottom of the postseason picture in the mediocre Eastern Conference.

Still, no one expected them to be closer to the Sixers in the standings than the fringes of contention. Because the Knicks can never just be bad like a normal team, they have to be a dysfunctional trainwreck with locker room sniping leaked to the press and open conflict on the court.

In that environment, small things become big things and everything makes the back pages where they become an endless series of controversies with one bleeding into the next in a cacophony of noise to rival Manhattan at rush hour. The latest was a story in the New York Post that suggested Anthony would be open to waiving his no-trade clause in the right situation, which was immediately shot down by everyone hours after it appeared.

"I don’t really know what to say to that," a weary-looking Melo said before the team’s shootaround on Friday. "I guess that’s what happens when you hit the wall of adversity and everything is a snowball effect. It comes with the territory. Whether it’s fair or not, it comes with the territory. The cure to all of this is winning. That’s what we have to do, win some basketball games. I’ve been here before. I’ve lost some games and had all types of things written about me, written about the team. It’s going to happen."

Anthony is in a no-win situation. He had a chance to go to another team with more realistic hopes of competing for a title last summer, but he chose to stay in New York for the largest possible payday. That’s his right, and it’s always easier to make life changes with someone else’s money. But he also gave up any expectation of empathy for his plight.

Asked if it bothered him that the insinuation was that he was already looking to bail after signing a five-year max deal, Anthony responded:

"Yeah, come on man. After all the work I did to get here and get back here, if I was to get up and want to leave now that would just make me weak, make me have a weak mind. I’ve never been the type of person to run from any adversity. So, I’m not going to pick today to do that.

"When you’re losing games, everything gets questioned," he continued. "That’s the state where we’re at as a team. That’s the state where we’re at as individuals. It comes with the territory. There’s no need to defend myself because at the end of the day that’s not going to mean anything. That’s not going to prove anything."

Later that night, Anthony suited up despite knee pain that had him somewhere between questionable and doubtful. He scored 22 points and the Knicks snapped a 10-game losing streak with a win over the Celtics that was somewhere between a breath of fresh air and a deep sigh of relief. With eight of their next nine games against teams with winning records, their losing streak had the potential to get much worse.

Thrust into all of this is first-year coach Derek Fisher, who often seems to be the only one who understands that it will take time to get where they need to go.

"Whether you’re a new coach or you have more experience than I do, you’re always searching for how do you get the best out of your group, and how do you help develop a team in a way that can be successful," Fisher said. "Obviously with our lack of success so far, that’s what’s on my mind the most. How do we continue to instill habits that even in the face of struggle will be good for us long-term, but not discounting or assuming what’s going on short-term has no impact. I’m not stuck on where we are now. There’s a long way to go in this season and there’s a bright future for us, but we have to work at creating what we want as opposed to assuming it will happen."

"When you’re losing games, everything gets questioned." -Carmelo Anthony

What’s different about all this is that they appear to be doing things correctly. Jackson made modest deals during the offseason, adding a modicum of young talent and late-round draft choices in exchange for players they no longer wanted. He resisted pricey free agent band-aids and began the unenviable task of cleaning up the salary cap mess he inherited from his predecessors.

There is arguably more talent now than there was last season and certainly fewer wasted roster spots. The Knicks finally seemed to be in capable hands. The mistake was in assuming that responsible management would also equal immediate results.

"I think patience is a choice," Fisher said. "Despite what you may be going through at the time, you choose to be patient and choose to continue to work at it even if you’re not getting the results you want at the time."

Patience is what’s required here. Even in New York.

The ListConsumable NBA thoughts

Every year a handful of offseason deals slip through the cracks and yield higher dividends than anyone expected. This year is no exception. Here are five under-the-radar additions doing quality work for their new teams.

Trevor Ariza: We’re cheating a little but with this one because Ariza has long been regarded as a quality two-way wing and the Rockets paid handsomely to bring him back. But Ariza was cast as everyone’s offseason Plan B, so his return was seen as a concession when loftier aims for the likes of Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony came up short. Ariza was brought in to provide shooting and defense, and while his accuracy has actually decreased his importance to the Rockets’ rejuvenated defense can’t be overstated.

Lou Williams: In exchange for modest cap relief in the form of John Salmons, the Raptors landed the bench scorer they desperately needed. How good has Lou been in Toronto: How does 14 points in just over 21 minutes a night with a PER over 20 sound? Not a bad bit of work by Masai Ujiri, who also landed Brazilian big man Bebe in the transaction.

Aaron Brooks: While Tom Thibodeau is renowned for his defensive acumen, his odd ability to extract production out of scoring point guards may warrant further investigation. Last year it was D.J. Augustin. This year’s it’s been the well-traveled Brooks, who has provided offensive punch off the bench and a dose of D-Rose insurance.

Chris Kaman: Everyone’s favorite survivalist, Kaman has given the Blazers bench scoring, rebounding and a solid reserve to spell Robin Lopez. General manager Neil Olshey has done a terrific job of scooping up veterans to fill in behind that formidable starting five.

Rasual Butler: He was out of the league two years ago and a bit player for the Pacers last season. This year, Butler’s averaging better than 10 points a game for the Wizards while posting a remarkable .688 True Shooting percentage. Is it sustainable? Probably not, but Butler has more than earned his minimum money through the first quarter of the season.

ICYMIor In Case You Missed It

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The Tayshaun Renaissance

You know the Grizzlies have become one of the league’s best teams. Did you know Tayshaun Prince is playing a meaningful role? Chip Williams breaks it down at Grizzly Bear Blues.

Does Monta have it all?

Monta Ellis had himself a pretty good week. Kate Crawford from Mavs Moneyball offers a detailed assessment.

Still the Thunder

Oklahoma City still has a chance and the Thunder have the Western Conference to thank? Kevin Zimmerman explains.

Say WhatRamblings of NBA players, coaches and GMs

"Now, initially — I’m human. I was like, Oh, I can’t wait to show everybody what it’s like! But then it’s, Just chill. It’s a process. I know I’m gonna get a lot better over the season. You can’t get caught up trying to prove everyone wrong right now, when I’m not ready, so to speak." -- Chris Bosh, speaking to Grantland’s Zach Lowe.

Reaction: We always talk about players maturing and it usually coincides with increased production on the court (see: Wall, John and Cousins, DeMarcus). What some people chalk up to maturity, others rightly see as emerging skillsets. Real maturity is a much harder thing to pin down. Over the last few years, Chris Bosh has become one of the league’s most interesting and thoughtful interview subjects. You can call it maturity, wisdom, or anything you like, but Bosh’s evolution doesn’t seem like it ends with the basketball court.

"The problem was my cartilage was wearing down, and it's been wearing down because I've been playing basketball for a very long time. When you have the bone rubbing on bone, it brings a lot of pain. Every step, every movement I would make, there was just a lot of pain. I wasn't going to put myself and my teammates through that by just trying to play through that. It was something that needed to go away in order for me to be where I wanted to be as a player, to be who my teammates needed me to be every night. So I'm happy that a lot of that stuff is going away. The best thing I can do now is just try and prevent it from happening again." -- Dwight Howard explaining his knee injury to USA Today’s Sam Amick.

Reaction: This does not sound good at all. The Rockets have admirably held things together without Howard, but they are starting to feel like a now or never proposition.

"Now I know why we’ve lost so many games. We’re soft like Charmin." -- Kobe Bryant.

Reaction: Tick, tick, tick ...

"Listen, you get paid $12 million a year, there is no way you can have a bad day. You can’t have a bad day. There is so many people having problems in the world. What it is your problem? Coming to practice and work out for two, three hours? Is this your problem? I mean, come on, man, let’s be honest. You know what I’m saying? There shouldn’t be any problems if you set up things in your private life and family environment the right way, then you don’t have problems with your team and your team is winning. . . . Life is beautiful. What else do you need?" -- Marcin Gortat, explaining his life philosophy to Mike Wise of the Washington Post.

Reaction: When did Gortat become the league’s Mr. Sunshine?

"To be honest, we never realized it would have this much traction." -- Carmen Perez, the executive director of the Gathering for Justice in Scott Cacciola’s terrific tick-tock in the New York Times about the Nets and Cavs wearing ‘I Can’t Breathe’ t-shirts.

Reaction: People have called this a players’ protest, but that’s the wrong verbiage. This is an assertion of basic human rights, and we all anxiously wait for the day when someone above the player’s level -- owners, coaches, GMs -- echoes this call. Not just as a right to free expression, but as a call for dignity and respect from people who have profited so much off black players’ toil and sweat.

GIF Of The Weekfurther explanation unnecessary

Designer: Josh Laincz | Producer: Tom Ziller | Editors: Tom Ziller and J.R. Wilco

About the Author

After covering everything from 8-man football in Idaho to city politics in Boston, Paul came to SB Nation in 2013 to write about the NBA. He developed the Sunday Shootaround column and profiled players such as Damian Lillard, Draymond Green, and Isaiah Thomas. When not in arenas, he can usually be found running somewhere.

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