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I hate to drape a cold, wet blanket on the warm and fuzzy hoop story that is Jeremy Lin, but the reality is the New York Knicks are not better than they were a week ago. And despite the emergence of Lin and two superstars sucking up a lot of cap space, Spike Lee and the rest of the New York faithful should not lose sight of this: If the playoffs were to start today, the Knicks would not be there.
In fact, the team is closer to the 1990 Minnesota Vikings than they are the playoffs.
And by that I'm referring to the first full season after the infamous blockbuster trade with the Dallas Cowboys that sent Herschel Walker to Minnesota in exchange for what became the foundation for three Super Bowl titles in Dallas. Yes, it's still early, but it's hard not to notice that Anthony's old team, the Denver Nuggets, has played much better without him and the Knicks are a heck of a lot worse with him.
|Carmelo Anthony takes another shot.|
Before I can even begin to talk about this week's All-Star surprises, I'm still stuck on last week's surprise of fans voting Melo in as a starter. This is arguably the worst statistical season of his career and given how Denver -- up until a recent rash of injuries -- was soaring without him, I can only see his selection as further proof that a lot of NBA fans are more interested in name than game.
Now keep in mind, I'm a Melo fan. I thought he should have been rookie of the year over LeBron James, was irritated it took so long for him to be properly recognized as an elite player and still believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that he's one of the most gifted offensive forces in the league.
But he's always been an inefficient ball hog -- something that can be overlooked when his team is winning but is pretty glaring when the team is losing.
Denver coach George Karl, too much of a gentleman to outright say "I told you so" did say "where we are now, I think it's a positive place for us."
For a moment there, it seemed Melo had a career-changing epiphany following the Knicks' 119-114 double-overtime loss to his former team at the Garden on Jan. 21.
"Maybe I need to not take so many shots," he wondered out loud.
The next two games he shot a combined for 5-for-21, and it was as if someone else had uttered those words.
I'm sure some of his New York struggles have to do with the pressure Melo is undoubtedly placing on himself to carry the Knicks back to the promised land. But it's hard to feel sorry for him because he twisted the arm of Denver's management to make the trade.
True, every player goes through a shooting slump every now and then, but what's been more damning in Melo's case is the lack of production everywhere else. Though the offense runs through him, he's managed only 92 assists in 22 games. It-boy Lin just started playing significant minutes this week and he already has 42. Melo also has only three double-doubles on the season. Fellow All-Star starters Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin both had that many in the past seven days alone. All-Star reserve Steve Nash has four this week and he plays fewer minutes.
Anthony is still an elite player but Chris Bosh should have his spot in the starting lineup in Orlando.
You could argue that Boston's Paul Pierce should have his spot. Shoot, if we had a redo in the New York area right now, I'm not so sure Melo would have more votes than Lin. Not because the point guard is a better player, per se, but because he's doing what Melo was supposed to do -- make the team better on the court, not just on paper.
Anthony's game remains comparable to those of other All-Stars, but but since coming to New York he has taken a step back mentally. And if the Knicks are going to be what the blockbuster trade was supposed to make them, they need Melo to stop trying to carry his teammates and instead join them.
|Jeremy Lin isn't afraid to dish the ball.|
Perhaps the groin injury, which will have him out at least another week, is a blessing in disguise. Now he can sit back and see up close what happens when the ball is moved in Mike D'Antoni's system. What happens when the guy with the ball finds the hot hand as opposed to shooting until he gets the hot hand. To quote my friend Michael Smith: numbers never lie. When Lin is on the court the team scores more, has more assists and shoots a higher field goal percentage than when Lin is not on the court. When you're an All-Star starter, that is supposed to be said about you.
Now, Lin's buzz has been amplified by numbers put up against three of the worse defenses (Utah, New Jersey and Washington) in the league. But it's also a reflection of how he fits the team concept. That's also how Denver has managed to thrive without Anthony; Karl has the Nuggets playing as a team.
Fans sometimes miss that distinction. Voting Melo in as an All-Star starter is a reflection of the respect we all have for his one-on-one skills. But eight years in the league is way past the point in which an All-Star caliber player is supposed to know what it means to play five on five.
Amare Stoudemire was an MVP candidate before Melo joined him. Now he's not even an All-Star. That is not a coinkidink. New York was winning and was exciting to watch before Melo got there. Now people are talking about New York with excitement in large part because he's not there.
All of this could either lead Anthony to press more when he returns -- which would keep the ball in his hands, and out of Lin's -- or maybe the light bulb will finally come on and the Knicks will be what they were supposed to be when they traded everything but the Garden (and Amare) to get him.
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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