Delirious fans of the New York Knicks should keep one important tidbit in mind amid the now-we’re-back, look-out-LeBron euphoria inspired by the arrival of Carmelo Anthony: The basketball brain of the franchise didn’t want to make this trade.
Of course Donnie Walsh, the team’s president of basketball operations, will never dissent. Not publicly, anyway. He’s got too much class and respect for the organization chart. His boss, Jim Dolan, wanted Anthony at any cost, which in this particular case was three fulltime starters, Wilson Chandler, and a first-round draft pick. Dolan has always liked sizzle at the expense of substance. Sizzle sells, especially when courtside seats require a second mortgage.
Walsh did what he was told. And he’ll smile for the cameras when the Knicks put their newest acquisition on display at one of those everyone’s smiling press conferences. The kind of affair they threw for, oh, Stephon Marbury, who, like Anthony, was hailed as the Brooklyn kid coming back to save the hometown team.
Make no mistake, though, this trade was directed by Dolan, whose basketball-related track record is, well, let’s be kind and say suspect.
The clearest sign that Dolan, Walsh, and Coach Mike D’Antoni weren’t in agreement was a statement released the day before saying that they were.
“Together,” the men said in a joint statement, “we will do what is best for the long-term success of the franchise.”
Long term. Ha. That’s a good one. It’s no secret that Dolan, who so often can be seen slouching in his baseline seat at Madison Square Garden, wants to win now. At any cost.
He saw the chance for a quick fix and took it, even if it meant jettisoning most of his starting lineup.
This is what happens when the Lakers team Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, the Miami Heat add LeBron James and Chris Bosh to a roster that already included Dwyane Wade, and the Celtics compile a big three of their own.
Somewhere along the line it’s become the accepted notion that it takes at least two superstars to win it all.
Dolan was so focused on Anthony. Maybe he should’ve had a little chat with Denver native Chauncey Billups, who, unlike Anthony, didn’t pine for bright lights and the big city.
But Billups is a member of the Knicks, too.
“Chauncey,” said his now former coach, George Karl, “will go down as one of the greatest winners.”
Billups was the floor leader of 2003-04 championship Detroit Pistons, who beat a Lakers team with Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
Those Pistons didn’t have stars. They had a talented group that played together, each fulfilling their roles, and, as their coach Larry Brown liked to say, played the right way.
These Knicks, 28-26 at the All-Star break, showed promise. And moxie. Walsh had surrounded Amar’e Stoudemire with kids who were eager to prove that they belonged. They did. And now they’re gone, except Landry Fields, who, and this is just a guess, Walsh fought like heck to keep. Smart man that Walsh.
Championship teams require more than capable role players. Beware those who’ll tell you that it’s easy to fill in the roster. It isn’t. Not with the right person, the right player. It requires a skill set, yes, but a mindset, too.
Anthony pushed for the trade because he wanted not only the Knicks but a big payday, too. Unsure of what the rules would be in the new labor contract, Anthony wasn’t willing to risk that he might be able to join the Knicks as a free agent without their having to surrender anything. He put himself above his new team.
Top Six Players
There are only six A-list stars in the National Basketball Association: Bryant, James, Wade, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, Orlando’s Dwight Howard and Chicago’s Derrick Rose.
You give up anything to get any one of them. They’re cornerstones. Anthony isn’t. He’s a great scorer, which makes headlines. But great scorer and great player isn’t the same thing.
Proponents of the trade will say that Stoudemire pushed for the Knicks to get Anthony. Of course he did. Players think in the here and now, too. Especially those with surgically repaired knees.
An executive like Walsh weighs today and tomorrow.
But Walsh doesn’t own the Knicks. He has a boss, and it’s Dolan, who overruled his basketball brain on this matter. The Melodrama, at long last, is over.
With Dolan and the Knicks, however, it’s only a matter of time until there’s another drama with which to contend. Only in all likelihood Walsh won’t be around to fix it.
(Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)