Labor talks force Walsh into Knicks' deal

Knicks president of basketball operations Donnie Walsh, right,

Knicks president of basketball operations Donnie Walsh, right, answers questions from the media concerning the acquisition of Carmelo Anthony as head coach Mike D'Antoni looks on. (Feb. 22, 2011) (Credit: AP)

GREENBURGH, N.Y.

Well-trained public figures generally know enough to avoid hypothetical questions from journalists, especially when it comes to a topic as sensitive as labor negotiations.

So when I asked Donnie Walsh Tuesday to imagine how different the Melodrama might have been if only it were another year - one without an expiring CBA looming over the NBA - he took a pass.

But the Knicks president did encourage me to draw my own conclusions. He knew that would be easy (even for a novice).

Carmelo Anthony probably would have signed with the team this summer, as Amar'e Stoudemire did in 2010, and Walsh would not have had to raid his roster of useful role players to make it happen.

Alas, that is not the world Walsh lives in, and that, as much as any single factor, was why the Knicks made the right decision late Monday.

Whether it was in New York, New Jersey, Denver or parts unknown, Anthony made no secret of his intention to sign an extension now rather than risk many millions of dollars on an unknown labor landscape come July.

"It became more like, 'Oh, boy, we're in a bind here, because he might not make the summer,' '' Walsh said. "The minute Carmelo said he wanted to sign an extension, now you have to deal with Denver. It's not waiting until he becomes a free agent and you deal with him. Now it needs to be a trade."

Even if Anthony had just stayed in Denver? Even if the Nuggets had shipped him somewhere else as a late-season rental?

"I think if he could sign an extension, that's what he wanted to do, for his reasons," Walsh said. "He wasn't going to make free agency.''

Anthony could have put himself in a better basketball position had he simply announced he would not sign an extension now, then joined a more robust Knicks roster after the season.

That's easy for the rest of us to say. But it is asking a lot of a player in his prime to risk not maximizing his earning power for the sake of preserving a role player or two.

If you don't like it, blame the system, not 'Melo.

Walsh said it is inaccurate to charge the Knicks with bidding against themselves. He also downplayed the role played by the most intense rival bidder, the Nets, whose owner has been tweaking the Knicks for months.

One of Mikhail Prokhorov's goals presumably is to try to elevate his franchise by building a rivalry with its soon-to-be-city counterpart. Instead, the Knicks now are poised to become legitimate rivals of the likes of the Celtics, Heat, Bulls and Magic, while the Nets still are left grasping for an identity.

When I asked whether the Nets had been a factor in driving up the price, Walsh said, "It seemed to me we were talking about the same thing whether the Nets were involved or not. It didn't get much bigger; it didn't get much smaller."

Knicks fans will celebrate Anthony's arrival Tuesday, as they should. But in the backs of their minds will be the likable, serviceable players they spent the past first four months enjoying, now sacrificed in the name of a greater good.

It is not what anyone would have preferred when all this started. But stars win championships, and there was one for the taking now, or perhaps never.

"You can't say, 'What if, what if,' '' coach Mike D'Antoni said.

"We could be here forever and what ifs never happen. But we know we have two of the best players in the league."

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