Tuesday, February 22, 2011


The Knicks have now paired two of the NBA's best scorers on one team. Anthony is sixth in the league with 25.2 points per game, while Amar'e Stoudemire scores 26.1. It's a historic pairing, and if the numbers hold, the Knicks would become the fifth team in the past 20 years to have two players average at least 25 points per game. This may sound like a nice piece of trivia, but it's actually great news for the Knicks: Rarely have high-profile scorers failed to deliver.
It's commonly believed that basketball is about the little things—defense, hustling, chemistry—but many of the great teams in NBA history featured elite scorers and little else. Elgin Baylor and Jerry West hit the mark five times with the Lakers, and the title-winning 1987 Celtics had Kevin McHale and Larry Bird do it.
The Knicks don't have much experience with pure scorers. They haven't had a tandem average even 20 points each in the past 30 years, and the last time it was happening regularly—when Walt Frazier and Willis Reed did it twice in the early '70s, it resulted in the team's 1970 NBA title.
In the past 20 years, only four NBA teams have had two players average 25 points per game over a full season: Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant averaged 25-plus for three straight seasons in L.A.—winning titles in two of them. Anthony and Allen Iverson both hit the 25-point mark for Denver in 2007-08 in a 50-win season.
Teamwork is important in a lot of sports—just not basketball. Knicks team president Donnie Walsh said that it is his experience that great players usually figure out a way to play together and win. As long as Stoudemire and Anthony do that, it looks likely the Knicks will contend because stars are prerequisites for success. With the exception of possibly the 2004 Detroit Pistons, whose best player was forward Rasheed Wallace, every NBA champion in recent memory has held at least one mega-star and sometimes more—Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan have all led their teams to championships in the past two decades.
Sorry, Wilson Chandler, but you probably aren't going to be hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy any time soon.
Conventional wisdom in the past 24 hours has doomed the Knicks to mediocrity. Chandler and Gallinari are talented scorers who combine for 31 points a game and Mozgov is seen as a raw commodity who, at 7-foot-1, could develop at any time. Felton, who showed flashes of brilliance early in the season, faded of late and should be replaced easily by Billups, the 2004 NBA Finals MVP. Upon closer inspection, though, the Knicks got a deal. Chandler will be a free agent after this season and any reasonable sum of money paid to him would have eliminated the possibility of signing Anthony. Gallinari is the team's starting small forward, the position Anthony plays, which would have relegated Gallinari to the bench. Eddy Curry had not dressed this season and Anthony Randolph looked lost in limited playing time. The Knicks gave up quantity, not necessarily quality.
The Knicks may not be done dealing, according to Walsh, who said they are still planning out the rest of their time before Thursday's trade deadline, and the possibility of adding a center remains. Walsh also would not say if some of the role players acquired in the trade, like Shelden Williams, will remain with the team or get waived. Here's the thing about that: It probably doesn't matter. History overrates role players that surround superstars. Just ask the Miami Heat, who are currently fielding LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as superstars and a supporting cast that includes Joel Anthony at center and Carlos Arroyo at point guard—the same Arroyo who was playing professional basketball in Israel two years ago. The Heat, by the way, are 41-15, with the second most wins in the NBA.
Walsh, a 69-year-old basketball lifer, said he was not thinking about marketing when making this deal—but many of his bosses probably were. Madison Square Garden is going through an $850 million renovation, which has started already and will kick into high gear this summer. Walsh said the Garden officials will be excited for what he can bring off the court, and we can guess that Walsh is not familiar with the work of Anthony's wife, former MTV VJ La La Vazquez, who will no doubt become a staple of celebrity row at Knicks games.

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