Commentary

It's now up to you, D'Antoni and Melo!

Now that we know Jeremy Lin's the real deal, the burden is on coach and star to adapt

Updated: February 13, 2012, 6:56 PM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

We can all shut up about Jeremy Lin now.

There's no need to talk if you still have questions. There should be no doubts that Lin, who's averaging 28 points and eight assists over his past four games, and who just torched the Lakers for 38, can actually play. After watching this Harvard graduate with Taiwanese parents evolve from an unknown into the NBA's version -- in popularity -- of Tim Tebow in the span of four games, any skepticism about Lin has officially evaporated.

Too bad the same can't be said for Mike D'Antoni and Carmelo Anthony, two guys who won't escape blame if things go south for the Knicks this season.

It didn't take long for anyone to figure out the real storylines for the days ahead. Not after watching Lin's 38 points and seven assists against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, treating L.A.'s defense like it was nonexistent and irritating the Lakers star in ways we haven't seen an opposing player do in quite some time.

Once Lin validated all the hype and hoopla coming into the game, running rings around the Lakers' guards and skirting past, around and over 7-footers Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, folks remembered that he had done so without the services of Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. They fantasized about how good this team could be if all three managed to gel. Then they thought about D'Antoni's system and Melo's temperament, about the apparent inability of both to adapt and change, before sighing a collective "damn."

Simply because history tells us we should know better than to expect change from those two.

[+] EnlargeCarmelo Anthony and Mike D'Antoni
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesCarmelo Anthony and Mike D'Antoni are both set in their ways.

"We're playing a lot better," D'Antoni said after the game. "Lin is a very smart point guard. He's kind of what I was searching for. He's [played well] and he's continued to do it. It's put everybody back in the role where they feel comfortable and they're producing."

Such statements by D'Antoni would be a lot more comforting if they were true.

Except they aren't true, and won't be valid until Stoudemire and Anthony return and prove him correct. No matter how sensational Lin looked in throwing alley-oops and bounce-passes, no matter how sweet his jumper looked at Madison Square Garden on Friday night, he didn't have to do it with Anthony on the floor. Which means the jury is still out ...

On D'Antoni, Melo and the Knicks, that is.

It's time to put all the cards on the table. D'Antoni is coaching in New York City for a reason, ladies and gentlemen. He's coaching there because the Phoenix Suns did not want him anymore. Despite the Suns averaging 58 wins over four complete regular seasons with Steve Nash as his point guard, team brass, led by current TNT analyst Steve Kerr, knew that no matter how successful his record was, D'Antoni's style of play would not materialize into championships.

A frenetic pace in which everyone has the green light was not going to cut it. Neither was jacking up 3-pointers while playing limited defense.

Knowing this, D'Antoni was more inclined to leave than change. We've seen nothing in New York that says he's willing to change. And Lin's productivity, another Nash in the making, according to Magic Johnson, will only serve to embolden D'Antoni that his system works, provoking even more stubbornness on his part.

For Anthony, matters could end up just as bad.

Despite a career average of 24.8 points on 45.7 percent shooting and a history of hitting big-time shots (second only to Bryant in shots made in the final 10 seconds of regulation or overtime since 2003), former coaches and teammates swear there's a reason he's gone past the first round of the playoffs only once in his nine-year career.

For all of Anthony's size, skills and shooting abilities, the fact that he's perceived as someone needing to hog the ball to be effective is precisely the reason folks are raising eyebrows at the thought of his return to the lineup, pondering if he'll be able to mesh with Lin. They'll be quick to lean on the reasons behind D'Antoni's desire to keep Raymond Felton and Danilo Gallinari as opposed to recognizing that Anthony, according to teammates, was the one imploring D'Antoni to put Lin in the lineup in the first place -- knowing the team needed a legitimate point guard and not Anthony playing point himself in order for the team to have a chance at success this season.

"Every single coach in this game respects Melo's talent, his skills," one opposing Eastern Conference coach told me recently. "How can you not? The boy's a stud. He'll put up numbers and he can close. But it's what happens before those waning moments, in those first 46 minutes, when everything he's doing, no matter how good, is working to the detriment of the rest of the team because other players simply are not involved. That's what has to change with him for the Knicks to be effective. But it's not just his job. It's D'Antoni's job to get him to adapt for the betterment of the team."

The Knicks were 14-14 in the 28 games they played since Anthony arrived last February before being swept 4-0 in the playoffs. They were 8-15 this season before his hamstring hampered him to the point of Linsanity. And although Anthony was playing out of position, forced to try to play point forward because D'Antoni simply couldn't rely on Iman Shumpert, Toney Douglas or Mike Bibby to run the show, here the Knicks are.

They have a point guard. One who can score, who can run a team and has garnered Tebow-like popularity -- because he can actually play.

Normally, Linsanity would be a cause for celebration.

If only D'Antoni and Anthony were allowed to feel that way.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, a co-host on First Take" and a regular on "SportsCenter."

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