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Monday, February 21, 2011
Updated: February 25, 7:40 AM ET
An all-time great deal for New York

By Ian O'Connor
ESPNNewYork.com

Carmelo Anthony is not Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, but he is a New York Knick who embodies a brave new world of possibilities for a franchise forever leading the league in dysfunction and doubt.

This is a great deal for the Knicks, a greater moment for their fan base. It doesn't matter if Jim Dolan and Isiah Thomas pushed this trade with Denver a lot harder than Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni pushed it, because it's one of the best trades this team has made since Eddie Donovan acquired Dave DeBusschere in 1968.

Dolan and Isiah were all over this one? Well, they were overdue to be right, weren't they?

And yes, they were about as right as DeBusschere was when he made Patrick Ewing the No. 1 pick of the 1985 draft.

Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton and Timofey Mozgov -- hey, thanks for the memories and for helping to restore life to the morgue that was masquerading as the world's most famous arena. The NBA is a game of superstars, and that's a game none of the outgoing Knicks will ever be skilled enough to play.

Anthony might be a defensively challenged diva, but there's no doubting his stardom or his standing as an offensive juggernaut almost without peer, Bryant and James included. The Boston Celtics have four stars and the Miami Heat have three, and the Knicks were never going to make their Eastern Conference math work until they executed the transition from one (Amare Stoudemire) to two.

Walsh and D'Antoni wanted Anthony on their team; they just didn't want to add Mozgov to a package that already included three young and capable starters (counting Chandler), and they weren't the only ones.

But if the Knicks allowed the middling likes of Mozgov to prevent them from acquiring Anthony and announcing to all future free agents -- starting with Chris Paul and Deron Williams and Dwight Howard -- that New York is an awakening giant of the city game, they never would have forgiven themselves.

Anthony had told Dolan he wanted that $65 million contract extension, and had no plans on waiting for free agency and the massive pay cut the new collective bargaining agreement would bring. That's why Denver kept pushing for more and more in this deal, and why the Knicks had to keep giving more and more.

As much as the Brooklyn-born forward burned to play for the hometown team, he wasn't about to risk his $65 million payday to do it. Anthony wanted his money, even if he had to take it from the Nuggets or the New Jersey Nets.

"The Knicks knew if they didn't get Carmelo at the trade deadline," said one source close to the negotiations, "they were never going to get him."

This wasn't the case with LeBron James, because James never said he wanted to play in New York. Anthony told everyone he wanted to spend the balance of his prime in the Garden. If the Knicks didn't make it happen, they would've lost whatever respect they had left around the league.

Now they have a starting five of Anthony, Stoudemire, Chauncey Billups, Landry Fields and Ronny Turiaf, a much stronger starting five than the one that made it to the All-Star break with a 28-26 record. And that isn't even half the point of this deal.

The Knicks have believed all along that the vision Chris Paul laid out during his infamous toast at Anthony's summertime wedding would indeed come to be, and now they are two-thirds of the way home. The new and not-so-improved salary-cap number could complicate matters to the nth degree, but the Knicks still believe they can find a way to secure Paul, whose reps at Creative Artists Agency are eager to help another client, Anthony, feel home, sweet home at the Garden.

Isiah Thomas has strong relationships with CAA and Paul, who idolized Isiah the point guard, and Dolan believes Thomas will help him on that front as much as he helped him with Stoudemire and Anthony.

For now, this much is certain: The Knicks were never going to have a "big three" if they never graduated to a "big two." Walsh and D'Antoni had to be convinced to add Mozgov to the Knicks' ever-growing proposal, and the team president and head coach caved when they weighed the potential consequences of holding out.

"Did Donnie and Mike really want to have that on their résumé?" said one source involved in the trade talks. "Did they really want to deal with being the guys who protected Mozgov and sent Melo to the Nets?"

In the end, this trade made sense for the Knicks on every level. They were going to have to renounce Chandler anyway, and Anthony is a much better player than Gallinari. Felton was meant to be a rental through next season, the very role assumed by the aging Billups, who represents a slight upgrade on the tough and noble point he's replacing.

"Landry Fields was the breaking point for the Knicks," said one executive with knowledge of the negotiations. "He's the guy that had to be kept."

So the Knicks kept him. They kept Fields because of his youth, his fundamental grace and his bargain-basement contract.

Walsh, D'Antoni, and scores of Knicks fans would've loved to keep Gallinari, too. But in November, when asked if he believed he could develop into a star or superstar, Gallinari provided this answer:

"I don't think so ... I don't think I have those abilities. ... To get to be a superstar you have to have a lot of things, and if you compare me to Carmelo and LeBron, there's a big difference."

Jim Dolan agreed, and made a trade with Denver he had to make. The Carmelo Anthony deal won't win the Knicks their first championship since 1973, but yes, it will allow them to chase that prize with a credible bounce to their step.