The Knicks were never able to show LeBron James this kind of potential, but maybe it'll work for Carmelo Anthony. Amar'e Stoudemire is playing at an MVP level and Raymond Felton like an all-star and on Sunday afternoon, the Garden crowd will be singing along to Mariah Carey:
All I want for Christmas is you....
This ought to be an interesting weekend in New York. Carmelo, who sat out Wednesday's game in Boston with knee inflammation, plays in Toronto on Friday. He and the Nuggets will practice in New York City on Saturday before Sunday's 12 noon game at the Garden. Anthony, who spent the first eight years of his life living in Brooklyn, always has a huge entourage waiting for him when he arrives here but now that group has doubled after his marriage to fellow Brooklynite Lala Vazquez, who will likely make the trip, as well. How much rest do you think Carmelo gets Saturday night in Manhattan? The Knicks are hoping none.
And unlike those games when the Knicks would play LeBron, look incredibly meek and years from being a contender, Carmelo is likely to witness a raucous atmosphere and see a team, led by the Stoudemire-Felton duo, that may be a lot closer than anyone expected them to be at this point in the rebuilding process.
[Bloghost note: This run of 11 wins in the last 12 started after the Knicks loss in Denver. Considering the difficulty of the upcoming schedule, it would be coincidence if the run ended against Denver, too.]
As Fixer buddy K-Berg reported tonight for CBSSports.com, the Nuggets are prepared to trade their star if he isn't going to accept a contract extension to remain in Denver. The idea is they don't want to lose him for nothing, or next-to-nothing in a sign-and-trade. But they don't have the power to be greedy here, so unless Carmelo decides New Jersey is an acceptable result -- not to mention joining a Nets team that is already 10 games under .500 at 6-16 -- or a team such as the Bulls or Magic surprisingly emerge (don't sleep on either), the Nuggets may not have a choice. Their only other option may be to sell him as a mercenary to the highest bidder, who is willing to acquire him without an extension in place.
Donnie Walsh will play this with his usual poker face. You certainly don't want to gut the roster right when Mike D'Antoni has his rotation working and there is obvious chemistry on the court. And do you really want to give up Landry Fields with the likelihood that you would have to take back J.R. Smith (George Karl will certainly insist it) in almost any scenario?
This will be a difficult move and not one that will happen quickly, but the process will have to begin, if it hasn't already, soon. There will be a lot of moving parts here and a lot of creativity needed. We're talking about potentially moving one player just to get a first round pick, plus taking on an unwanted player (Smith, for instance). We're talking about involving a third team, perhaps the Sacramento Kings, whose owners, the Maloof family, are reaching some troubled financial times not just with the franchise, but with their private business. Do you find a way to involve, say, Jason Thompson from the Kings with some cash relief and send him to Denver as one of the handful of young players they're seeking?
Do you include Kelenna Azubuike, who hasn't progressed as he and the medical staff had hoped at this point and whom Mike D'Antoni said is not close to being ready to play? If Azubuike doesn't play before Game 42 (Jan. 21 in San Antonio), 80 percent of his $3.3M salary is paid by the NBA's disability insurance policy. It still hits the cap, but it will be important for a team like the Nuggets, who, as we've been telling you, will be looking to save immediate cash if they move Melo. Also factor in the Knicks' willingness to throw the given $3M in cash considerations into any deal. That, coupled with, say 80 percent of Azubuike's salary paid by insurance could mean a nice chunk of change back in the Kroenke wallet.
As Berger's report said, Denver will do something before the Feb. 24 trade deadline if they can't get Carmelo to sign the extension. So Carmelo can speed up the process now if he simply goes to management and makes it official: I don't plan on signing that extension.
Then, if he wants, he can add a second message: I don't plan on signing that extension with anyone other than the Knicks.
And if Melo does decide to go elsewhere, do the Knicks then turn their attention to Andre Iguodala? He has a lot of money left on his contract -- enough to eliminate you from free agency in the coming two years -- but Iggy could fit very well as yet another slasher and, more importantly, defender, for this team. He doesn't have a perimeter game to help stretch the floor, but as a third piece, he could be an athletically dynamic addition to the Felton-Stoudemire duo.
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* - Speaking of Fields, he hauled in 10 rebounds against the Raptors for his third straight 10-rebound game. He's averaging 7.6 boards per game, which leads all NBA guards and is better by an entire rebound per game than second-place Andre Iguodala and Dwyane Wade. Fields also told me they're already shooting segments for a mini-show -- Jay Leno "Man on the Street"-type stuff -- he and fellow rookie Andy Rautins are working on with a title they stole from the Fix: "The Andy & Landry Show." I need to learn to copyright this stuff.
* - Another win, more historical references: The 11 wins in 12 games represents the most successful stretch of Knicks play in 16 years. Pat Riley's team won 14 of 15 from Dec. 27, 1994 to Jan. 26, 1995. If the Knicks beat Washington, they would have their longest winning streak in 10 years. The 2000-01 Knicks won seven straight from Dec. 22, 2000 to Jan. 7, 2001. A win would also give the Knicks a 15-9 record, which would match their best start since they were 15-9 in 1999-2000.
* - Amar'e Stoudemire is closing in on Willie Naulls' nearly 50 year old franchise record of seven straight games with at least 30 points. It took 18 points in the fourth quarter to achieve his 34 points against the Raptors and the Knicks needed every single one to get the win. Amar'e heard the chants of "M.V.P.!" from the Garden faithful: "It's great, it feels like you're on top of your game. But it's a team chant to be honest with you because it wouldn't happen if we didn't have team success."
Raymond Felton endorsed the MVP talk about his co-captain.
"He's the league MVP so far," Felton said. "He's stepping up his game, hitting big shots. That is what your All-Star is supposed to do and that's what he is doing. He's doing a great job. I'm proud of him."
Felton's doing a pretty damn good job himself and also stepping up. Stoudemire's big fourth quarter was important, but it could have been all for naught if Felton doesn't get the bounce on that three-pointer with 2.7 seconds left to break the tie at 110.
* - Stoudemire entered the game averaging 7.2 points per game in the fourth quarter, which was second in the NBA tied with Stephen Curry and just 0.1 behind Eric Gordon.
* - Mike D'Antoni went with just an eight-man rotation, as Timofey Mozgov recorded his second DNP-CD of the season (Nov. 19 at Golden State). D'Antoni really mostly played six, with Toney Douglas (22:18) getting the bulk of the minutes off the bench. Ronny Turiaf (8:23) and Shawne Williams (11:17) played spot minutes. After averaging 13.3 points per game over the previous three games, Williams went scoreless and took just one shot.
* - Back to Felton, who had 20 of his 28 points in the first half, when Stoudemire was limited because of early foul trouble. He really got it going in the second quarter, when he scored 11 of the Knicks' 14 points during a stretch that sparked a 23-8 run that ended the half. The Knicks were down by 13 points when the run started and they went into the half leading 59-57.
Felton suddenly started to attack the rim and drew two and-ones, scored on a blow-by and also drilled a step-back three-pointer. All but the three-pointer came against Jerryd Bayless, who was really barking at Felton, which seemed to only fire up the Knicks guard.
"I love when guys start talking," Felton said. "It's fun for me, so it's nothing personal."
When I asked him if Bayless woke him up with the trash talk -- the two were really going at it during Sunday's game in Toronto -- Felton said, "I wouldn't say that. I just took it as a challenge."