NBA PM: Carmelo To Blame for Knicks’ Demise?
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Carmelo To Blame for Knicks’ Demise?
For three quarters, Carmelo Anthony was nothing short of brilliant. Scoring with apparent ease from all over the court, dropping threes, driving to the hole for dunks and drawing fouls to get to the charity stripe, Carmelo was every bit the player whom many considered to be a strong Most Valuable Player candidate this season. Three quarters into Saturday night’s elimination game in Indiana, he had 35 points and the Knicks were tied 81-81, apparently well on their way to forcing Game 7 back in the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden.
And then the fourth quarter started.
What most people will remember about the New York Knicks’ Game 6 loss to the Indiana Pacers will not be Carmelo’s 39 points and seven rebounds, but rather the three critical turnovers he had in the fourth quarter, and possibly the highlight reel block Roy Hibbert used to erase one of Carmelo’s shot attempts. That block sparked an 11-2 Pacers run from which the Knicks would never recover, and when the dust settled the season that was supposed to see New York return to the ranks of the contenders saw them ousted in the second round.
Now the blame game begins, and that game will no doubt be particularly bloody as the fervent New York media begins to gnaw on the carcass of their fallen team. No doubt, the appetizer will be the low-hanging fruit, none other than Carmelo Anthony. Where was he in the fourth quarter? If you’re going to be the team leader and an MVP candidate, you must shine when it matter most, and it can never matter more than in the fourth quarter of an elimination game. Carmelo all but disappeared, and actually critically hurt his team’s chances with turnovers. Surely he’s to blame for their fate, right?
First of all, let’s be clear. The Knicks had an outstanding season, finishing second only to the defending champion Miami HEAT in the Eastern Conference standings. Their 54 wins marked their highest win total since they won 57 games during the 1996-97 season, and they advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since they lost in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2000. This season was a huge success for the Knicks, regardless of the disappointment that is to follow.
Second, the Knicks didn’t just lose, they were beaten by a superior team. The Pacers were first in the NBA in overall defensive rating this season, including second in blocks (OKC was first) and number one in defending the three-point attack and in opponent’s field goal percentage (42.0). In some ways, the Pacers were built to counter the strengths of the Knicks, who made their living beyond the arc, ranking fourth in three-point field goal percentage this season and first in three-pointers made, at 10.9 per contest and shooting 44.8 percent from the field overall. In their six games against the Pacers, the Knicks managed just eight three-pointers made on 35.3 percent shooting while shooting 40.9 percent overall.
Simply put, the Pacers forced New York away from their strengths and the Knicks had a hard time adjusting.
Finally, as much as Carmelo was the Knicks’ leader, where was his help against Indiana? One player cannot win a playoff series; not Michael Jordan, not Hakeem Olajuwon, not Kobe Bryant, not LeBron James and not Carmelo Anthony. Sure, Carmelo led the team in scoring this season with 28.7 points per game, but J.R. Smith averaged 18.1 points, Amar’e Stoudemire contributed 14.2, Raymond Felton added 13.9 and Tyson Chandler rounded out the top five with 10.4. In their first-round series against the Boston Celtics, Carmelo poured in 29.2 points per game, Felton added 17.2 and Smith racked up 15.2. Against the Pacers in round two, Anthony got his 28.5 points per game, but Smith managed just 13.5 points and Felton just 11.0. Smith shot a dismal 28.9 percent from the field, 23.1 percent from three, and Felton went 0-for-7 in Game 6, managing just two points, both from the foul line. Chandler all but disappeared under the watchful eye of Hibbert, averaging 6.2 points and 6.0 rebounds in the series; he fouled out after just 23 minutes played in Game 6, just two points and six rebounds to his credit.
Will Carmelo Anthony get the lion’s share of the blame for the Knicks’ untimely exit from the playoffs this season? Sure. But make no mistake about it, if his teammates had supported him better, as well as they did leading up to the second round, the Knicks might still be fighting for a championship.
The Sequel To LeBron James’ “Decision”?
One of the worst spectacles in the history of professional sports was the television special in which LeBron James announced his decision regarding where to sign as a free agent. After a series of inane questions that included what he fed his dog for breakfast, LeBron told the world that he was going to sign with the Miami HEAT. I’m told the special was an hour long, though I only watched the part that my journalistic duty required.
Of course, in the world of entertainment today we can’t make just one movie; there always has to be a sequel. In the case of “The Decision,” be prepared for more of the same. Dwight Howard may not stage a TV show and have Jim Gray ask questions about his pets’ respective breakfasts, but you can rest assured that, “The Decision Part II: The Indecision,” will be no less frustrating for fans.
The 2013 NBA Playoffs are still in full swing, of course, with the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs doing battle for the Western Conference crown and the Indiana Pacers and Miami HEAT set to square off tomorrow, but the rumor mill is already churning with every little tidbit anyone with even the slightest knowledge about any situation is willing to throw out. The biggest bit of the tidbits will, of course, revolve around Dwight Howard, and more observant fans already feel a nightmare coming on.
Howard, of course, is now notorious for his inability to make a decision. He wanted out of Orlando, but then decided to waive his early termination option and put off free agency by one year. However, he still wanted out last summer, so the Magic traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers. Now, as teams like the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks are looking for creative ways to make a maximum offer and lure Howard away from the Lakers, the question of how to go about getting a decision out of Howard is going to loom large.
There is a strong case to be made that the most logical and lucrative place for Howard to land is in Houston, where the Rockets offer a team that appears to be ready to contend with Howard in the middle. The Lakers can offer him more money up front, but the fact remains that in Houston Dwight would likely make more money over the course of his contract. (To read my lengthy explanation of the math behind that statement, click here!) But if you’re the Rockets, how long do you wait for him to make a decision? After doing all the work to free up the space to sign a max contract, do you allow Howard to drag things out for months, watching all of the other key free agents land elsewhere in the process?
What if you’re the Atlanta Hawks, and you have an entire roster to fill out? The Hawks would like to add Chris Paul as well as Howard, with the hope that having Howard in the mix might convince Paul to leave the Los Angeles Clippers. Of course, sources close to Chris Paul’s camp have assured us over and over that Paul is not leaving the Clippers, but if you’re the Hawks, do you wait weeks for Howard to make his decision, only to be left in the lurch when Paul stays put and Howard signs elsewhere?
The bottom line is, general managers simply cannot afford to have a gaping max contract hole in the middle of their rosters for very long, especially when this year’s free agency class is notably short on max contract players. For teams like Atlanta and Dallas, with nearly empty rosters, the ability to sit around and wait on Howard is limited. The sense of urgency will be even greater in Dallas, where the clock is ticking on Dirk Nowitzki’s career.
There is really only one sensible way to approach signing Dwight Howard. If you meet with him and he seems genuinely interested in your team, you put your max offer on the table and give him a time frame. Maybe it’s five business days. You give him five business days to accept your offer, and if he doesn’t meet the deadline you have to move on. The Rockets can afford to wait a little longer, as the core of their team is already in place and Dwight would really just be the cherry on top. The Lakers can also afford to wait long, as they can put the biggest contract on the table and dare him to walk way from the extra year, the money, and the status that comes with being a Los Angeles Laker.
For anyone else, there simply isn’t time to wait for “The Decision II: The Indecision” to play out.
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