Commentary

If LeBron wins … watch out, Melo!

With James on verge of elusive ring, title pressure will shift to Anthony

Updated: June 26, 2012, 1:47 PM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

With the Miami Heat on the precipice of a real coronation -- in which celebrations occur following championships, not before them -- a transformation is taking place in the basketball world, yet especially in New York City. An end to the fashionable tendency of maligning LeBron James is rapidly approaching, as is the case with Dwyane Wade and the rest of The King's supporting cast, up 3-1 in these NBA Finals.

All that energy will turn to the New York Knicks, still searching for their first title since 1973. Still saddled with their own star in search of his first championship, no longer shielded by the media's preoccupation with someone else chasing the elusive crown.

LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony
Robert Duyos/Getty ImagesWill Carmelo Anthony embrace the added pressure he'll face to bring a title to the Knicks?

Congratulations LeBron! It took you long enough, but if you can close it out against the Oklahoma City Thunder, you deserve it.

Now move over!

Your friend, Carmelo Anthony, will take over the hot seat.

Perhaps, there are those who would consider such an application of pressure to Anthony grossly unfair. After all, it was not Melo who orchestrated The Decision, swore he was "about business" and uttered the infamous "Not 2! … Not 3! … Not 4! … Not 5! … Not 6! … Not 7!" proclamation, indicative of how many titles James said he expected to capture. And Anthony does play for the Knicks, after all.

(Translation: If we're really going to sit here and expect Anthony to take the Knicks to the promised land, why not just ask him to fix the U.S. economy, too?)

Except it was Anthony who pushed his way out of Denver. Who coveted Gotham City. Who vowed that his unwavering pursuit of fame and wealth would never usurp his commitment to bringing a championship back to Madison Square Garden.

Yet here we are two postseasons later and Anthony is home. Out in the first round for the eighth time in his nine-year career, watching his friends play instead of playing himself.

So it's only fair to ask if Anthony is ready.

To ask when Anthony's time to shine will arrive.

"It's fair," Anthony has told me on many occasions this past season. "I can't even deny that."

Kudos to Anthony for admitting the obvious, because we definitely would've picked up on it had he failed to do so. But it's hard to attach any legitimacy to his words right now considering the state of affairs with this reclamation project in New York.

The Knicks still don't have a point guard, because Jeremy Lin is unsigned, although he's a restricted free agent. And even if Lin signs, it'll probably come via the Knicks being forced to spend their mid-level exception on him, meaning they wouldn't have money available to sign Steve Nash, Raymond Felton, Goran Dragic or Andre Miller, which means Lin has to suffice as the Knicks' point guard of the future.

The Knicks still don't know if J.R. Smith will exercise his player option and stay in New York next season. There's also the issue of Amare Stoudemire's questionable health (back and knees). Nobody knows definitively if defensive ace Iman Shumpert will be able to contribute. Few believe Landry Fields will ever perform, at least once the postseason arrives. And Tyson Chandler admittedly needs to develop a post game on offense as opposed to improving on it.

Add all of this up and that just "puts pressure on Carmelo," Knicks coach Mike Woodson proclaimed upon having the interim tag lifted from his title weeks ago. "We think we have a good, solid team capable of doing some things. But let's just be real about it: We're going where Carmelo takes us. We all know this."

Where that is, exactly, remains a question mark, even concerning a career 24.7 points-per-game scorer such as Melo. The Knicks' 28-year-old forward wanted New York. The bright lights of Broadway. The appearances on ABC's "The View" and Showtimes' "Nurse Jackie" and whatever else his Hollywood representatives at Creative Artist Agency could get for him.

They appear to be doing their part, as have the Knicks, evidenced by the near $65 million they owe Anthony over the next three years. Now it's up to Melo to figure things out the way LeBron appears to have done.

Melo was drafted two spots behind the former No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA draft, but has somehow escaped the expectations. For reasons well known, James' three trips to the NBA Finals and five appearances in the Eastern Conference finals somehow garnered underachieving status without anyone asking, "Where does that leave Carmelo?"

Needless to say, that ends now.

In the interest of fairness, it has to, because Anthony is too great of a talent to avoid that question any longer.

When James finally hoists the trophy -- assuming he does -- and he's asked about his emotions, he'll be surrounded, literally and figuratively, by loved ones filled with tears in their eyes, aware of all the questions and naysayers he shoved aside to become a champion.

There's no doubt Anthony will be one of those people, present in spirit, if nothing else.

Only time will tell what he takes from it.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, host of a weekday show for ESPN New York 98.7 and a regular on "SportsCenter" and "First Take."

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