Title time frame slowly shrinking for sidekick-less Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony walks off the court after the Carmelo Anthony walks off the court after the Indiana Pacers defeated the Knicks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinal in Indianapolis. (May 18, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

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

Carmelo Anthony turns 29 on May 29, in case you want to send a card.

So he still is a young man by any definition and is not old even by the skewed standards of pro sports. That explains this answer when he was asked near midnight Saturday about not getting a much-coveted crack at the Heat in the NBA Eastern Conference finals:

"It's a disappointment, but my career is far from over, so I'm not really too concerned about that. I still have a lot more time in this league."

Well, yes and no.

As Melo should know, and Knicks management surely does, windows of opportunity tend to close quickly for star athletes approaching the wrong side of 30, especially stars with planetary systems as dim as the Knicks'.

Quick, who is their second-best player? J.R. Smith?

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Even under the best of circumstances, Smith is not at the level of most championship-caliber sidekicks, and as we observed this spring, he remains an unpredictable fellow both on and off the court.

Plus, he is likely to opt out of his contract and become a free agent this summer. (He said Saturday he would prefer to remain and retire as a Knick, though.)

The Knicks have little wiggle room with the salary cap, and the bulk of their non-Melo money is tied up in Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire, neither of whom looked to be worth anything close to their salaries during the Pacers series.

So barring something brilliant and/or lucky, there is no A-list complement for Anthony in sight.

That could leave him where Hall of Famers Bernard King and Patrick Ewing were in their Knicks primes, with no elite second option and no championship ring, even if Ewing did come tantalizingly close in 1994.

History lesson: Second-best Knick on their last championship team? Hmm, well, let's see. The 1973 squad had five other Hall of Famers alongside Walt Frazier. Let's go with Earl Monroe.

For fans too young to remember him, yes, Mr. Monroe was better than J.R. Smith.

Meanwhile, come fall, the Bulls will be healthier, the Pacers will be less inexperienced and the Heat still will have the best player of the current millennium. So this is not going to get any easier.

Complicating matters for the Knicks is that as good as Anthony is, he clearly needs help to do his thing in a way that the more multidimensional LeBron James does not.

Anthony was correct when he said after Game 6 that the Knicks "had a hell of a season," and let's give him a pass for adding "we'll take that" regarding a season that did not even reach the third round.

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Adding to the complicated narrative was the fact that after three brilliant quarters in Game 6, he was awful in the final one, missing his first five shots and committing three devastating turnovers.

Roy Hibbert's block of Anthony's dunk attempt with five minutes left replaced Smith's elbow to the kisser of the Celtics' Jason Terry as the most searing image of the Knicks' postseason. But the loudest Bankers Life Fieldhouse got was when Lance Stephenson made a driving layup and was fouled -- off a Melo turnover -- putting the home team ahead to stay.

All that is history now. Onward, as Anthony emphasized during his postgame remarks, promising the Knicks "will be back better and stronger next season for sure."

We shall see about that. Regardless, sometime during next year's conference finals, Anthony will turn 30, with 11 seasons of NBA mileage on him.

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That does not mean he has to win it all by next spring. But it does mean he has to win it all soon -- perhaps sooner than he can imagine in his final full week as a 28-year-old.

Happy birthday, Melo. At least he will have the day free to celebrate. His trip to Miami that afternoon for Game 5 has been canceled.

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