Thanks to the most anticipated trade of this year’s NBA season, Carmelo Anthony (“Melo” for short) has left behind the soothing powder blue uniform of the Denver Nuggets and switched to the orange-and-royal-blue hues of the New York Knicks. In order to acquire Anthony, the Knicks had to trade four very promising young players, plus future draft picks and what seems like a lot of cash, to Anthony’s former team. When the deal was done, Melo flew to NYC and the four guys he replaced flew to Denver. Given no time to practice with his new squad and barely any time to even say hello to New York’s coach, Melo donned a Knicks uniform, waved to the fans at Madison Square Garden and dropped 27 points on the Milwaukee Bucks, including a pair of crucial baskets in the closing minutes. The Knicks won. This was a reminder to Knicks fans who were against the trade that it’s extremely handy to have born scorers on your team, especially when the game is tight. But is Melo worth all that the Knicks gave up for him?
I was against the Carmelo Anthony trade before it happened. This year, the Knicks already had a pretty good basketball team (for once) without Melo; more than that, New York had an interesting cast of characters. Amar’e Stoudemire was the star of the show, but there were several appealing role players on the team as well: Raymond Felton was having his best season as a pro at point guard; the Italian forward Danilo Gallinari was developing nicely and starting to add more aggressive drives to his regimen of long-range jump shots; Wilson Chandler balanced toughness with a deft touch in the lane. These were good basketball players! Really, how could one player, star or no star, be worth as much to the Knicks as these three talented professionals, plus a very large Russian with a perfect Frankenstein monster utterance (Mozgov) for a name?
I am coming around to the wisdom of exchanging three-fifths of the team’s starting rotation for a shining star, though. (It should be noted that the Knicks also acquired a few other players in the trade, including the veteran point guard Chauncey Billups, who, though a little on the old side, is no joke.) I feel for the players who had to uproot their lives in the middle of the season, move halfway across the country and transfer their loyalty to a new team, a new city. It was good having Felton and Gallinari on the Knicks’ list of dramatis personae for a while. But I also want the Knicks to win.
The Carmelo Anthony Experiment has been going fairly well. As of this writing, the Knicks are 5-3 since Anthony joined the team. The most crucial thing that Melo and the aging Chauncey Billups (who has already missed several games due to injury) give the Knicks is an increased capability to make big shots in the waning moments of games. In this sense, at least, the Melo trade looks smarter than the Miami Heat’s recent construction of their instant Evil Empire. Once the organization lured LeBron James and Chris Bosh to South Florida, the Heat seemed invincible—on paper. But James has recently missed a string of big shots at the buzzer, and partly because of his ineptitude-under-pressure, the Heat lost four straight.
Does that mean the Knicks have any realistic chance of beating the Heat in the NBA playoffs? Hard to say. But it’s interesting to watch teams like New York and Miami as they try to assemble superhuman teams by crudely stitching together the abilities and egos of major stars. There’s something very Mary Shelley about it; watching these stars try to work together raises questions about individual splendor and the limits of Romanticism on the basketball court. Normally at this time of year I’m much more interested in college basketball, but now that college teams are suspending their star players for having consensual sex, I feel like some sort of protest is in order. Maybe I’ll boycott March Madness this spring and turn my attention to the pros instead. After all, the early-round possibilities of the NBA playoffs are truly compelling this year. For once, we can look at the likely Eastern Conference postseason bracket and say, It’s Alive.