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Melo’s 180 Degree Turnaround

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I was all for the Anthony trade last Februrary. Gallo and Chandler were nice pieces, but there were only 5 players in the league who could score like Melo. You trade role players to get your horse any day of the week. Walsh and D’antoni didn’t want it. Dolan did. And thank God, because D’antoni is gone, Walsh had his moments occasionally but is gone too, the path was cleared for Grunwald (who has been nearly perfect) and Mike Woodson (who has been nearly perfect), and the stage was set for what we’ve seen the past 3-4 weeks:

CARMELO ANTHONY PLAYING LIKE THE BEST PLAYER IN THE NBA.

Fast forward to the beginning of this season. We were facing the same joke of a schedule everybody else was facing, with minimal training camp and only 2 games of preseason. The Knicks had high expectations for the first time in a decade, where being a top 4 seed was mandatory, winning the division was the goal, and anything short of competing for a championship would be unacceptable. On Christmas day, Melo made big shot after big shot to deliver a season opening victory over the hated Celtics. It looked like it was going to be a fun season at MSG.

How surprising it was for Knicks/Jets/Mets fans like myself that everything went wrong. We were reminded that we had one of the 5 worst NBA coaches in the league. We were reminded that Toney Douglas is a very, VERY bad basketball player (we were relying on him to be the point man on our title contending team, frightening thought). We forgot that Amar’e doesn’t play any defense or box out. And worst of all, the horror stories from Denver about Carmelo were coming true before our eyes: couldn’t care less about defense, is a front runner, will quit on his coach, and only cares about himself offensively.

All the Melo haters came out in full force. His play was lackluster (although he was clearly banged up), the team was losing, and he looked fat and out of shape. Quite honestly, it was impossible to defend the guy, somebody who demanded a trade here, wanted the attention, wanted the pressure, and proceeded to eat himself to the point he resembled Michael Sweetney.

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And then came the D’antoni feud, which believe it or not, ended with the superstar having the last laugh. In most cases, the sentiment would be solely with the superstar, who the team cannot be without, over the embattled head coach, who lost the exact same game to Doc Rivers 31 times (or so it felt) in a row. But Anthony was far from a superstar at the time, a chucker who was shooting under 40% and the player who put an end to the euphoric Linsanity that brought the Knicks and MSG back to life. Believe it or not, a majority of fans were siding with D’antoni

And then it all changed. Mike Woodson, sitting in front of dozens of media members inside the MSG press room made it clear who’s team it was and what was at stake. “I’m going to be held accountable, and I’m going to make damn sure that they’re held accountable to win.” The message was aimed at Anthony, whom Woodson later addressed as a guy the offense would run through, putting the pressure on the player who wanted New York to be his playground. The guy who couldn’t handle just being a part of D’antoni’s offense, who looked so lost during games that you wondered had he somehow lost the fire. This was it for Anthony, who somehow got to the point where the Garden crowd moaned in disgust during his isolation plays.

As we sit here 26 days later, playoff birth clinched and rooting for a team that’s peaking at the right time, is there even 5 players we would trade Melo for? A guy who has raised his game to an absurd level when his back was against the wall, when his team’s back was against the wall, where the 9th seeded Bucks were charging hard trying to take away our playoff spot. He’s simply been the MVP of the league since Woodson took over, doing it with a banged up shoddy roster of role players, a team with only one big and no point guard, a team missing it’s highest paid player, during the most fierce part of the schedule.

During the month of April, the Knicks have played 9 times. Of those 9, 6 were playoff teams that had beaten the Knicks earlier in the season. Melo led the Knicks to a 6-3 record, averaging 32 per game at an obscene 51.4%, adding 8 rebounds and 4 assists, all culminating with his masterpiece at home against the Celtics this week where he had his 2nd career triple double (35,12,10). Melo’s performance led to this gem from Doc Rivers, “When he’s playing right, you would put Melo, Durant & Dirk in a category by themselves.” I went to the Knicks Heat game this past Sunday and watched one of the best defenders in the world, LeBron James, looking helpless guarding Anthony 1 on 1. That’s the level we’re talking about right now.

As we head to the last weekend of this wacky season, looking at a probable Knicks Heat 1st round matchup, there is a ton of uncertainty surrounding the Knicks. Is Amare’s back healthy? Can we truly expect to win a playoff series as huge underdogs with Baron Davis as our starting point guard? Is Landry Fields headed to the bench? Will Shumpert be the kind of player that rises to the occasion in the playoffs? Will J.R. Smith and Novak be hot when we need it so desperately?

But above the question marks, 2 certainties stand over all else. Our coach will have the team ready to fight. And most importantly, we have the hottest superstar in the NBA who is on a mission. Now we know why trading for Melo was the right move. Because even against a better team with 2 superstars, Anthony is so good that we have a chance to overcome it. It’s been a pleasure to watch Anthony over the past month. You just have to hope the rest of the team steps up with him when it matters most.

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