Knicks still have time to win with Carmelo

New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony gestures after scoring New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony gestures after scoring a 3-point shot in the first quarter against the New Jersey Nets. (April 18, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept. ...

With a playoff win continuing to prove elusive, perhaps Carmelo Anthony should set a more attainable goal for the near future: Host "Saturday Night Live." Seriously.

Melo did make a cameo appearance on the show last spring, but I am talking about the full-blown, opening-monologue, closing-credit-hugs gig, the job Derek Jeter did in 2001 and Eli Manning did Saturday night.

What does that have to do with sports? It goes beyond the obvious, which is that Jeter and Manning hosted only after securing multiple championships for New York teams.

More to the point, they were athletes who won not only games but the respect and admiration of fans, thanks to clearly defined, consistent personas, both on and off the field.

We feel as if we know and like those guys, even if neither is known for yuk-filled quotes. In other words: They're stars.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Anthony? Fourteen months after his gala introduction, most Knicks fans do not have a good feel for him, and most of what they do feel is wary at best, negative at worst.

Melo is in dire need of an image makeover, and the first step -- and perhaps his last chance in 2011-12 -- will come at the Garden Sunday in Game 4 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal against the Heat.

It is too soon to give up on Anthony, a seemingly amiable fellow with offensive skills, relative youth and a contract that ensures he'll be around for a while.

But despite some highlights -- an epic outing in a Game 2 loss to the Celtics last year and a stellar April 2012 -- he has done little to assuage fears that he is set in his movement-congealing ways and is a lackluster playoff performer.

His 16-36 career postseason record has gotten almost as much attention this weekend as his meager shooting percentage.

Anthony tried to maintain a brave front Saturday with reporters, saying of his time with the Knicks, "It's great. It's been fun. It's been up and down. But for the most part, I don't regret my decision for wanting to come here.

"It's been a year and a half. Things haven't gone the way we want them to go. But we still have time. I am not worried about that. I love my decision. I stick with my decision. I'm a New York Knick and I'm going to be here."

It has been difficult to watch LeBron James in this series and not imagine what might have been if he had taken his talents to Midtown rather than South Beach. But envying the Heat won't get the Knicks anywhere.

They must find a way to win with Melo, period. At 27, he has time for professional and personal growth, especially if the Knicks find a coach who can push his buttons, preferably one with excellent job security.

Interim boss Mike Woodson said Anthony has work to do, from his game to his conditioning. But the first step toward solving problems is acknowledging them.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Sometimes Anthony can seem blasé, but he insisted he burns to win and that not doing so "hurts.''

"Do I want to win? Hell, yeah, I want to win," he said. "It's tough out there. There's no excuses, no complaints, despite injuries and things like that. I've never made an excuse about that."

In fairness, Anthony has faced withering attention from the defensive-minded Heat, and after several damaging injuries, the Knicks do not have many viable alternatives.

Even if the Knicks earn a face-saving victory, the real test will come in autumn. Meanwhile, remember that at this time last year, many believed Jeter was through as an elite player and Manning still was explaining his 25-interception season in 2010.

Things can turn around quickly in a town where the biggest stages are reserved for stars who know how to deliver when the bright lights come on.

You also may be interested in: