The best time to trade for Carmelo Anthony might be to do it right now and it has nothing to do with yet another alarming flatline loss, such as Wednesday night to the Clippers.
If you consider that Mike D'Antoni is going to need a lot of practice time to work Carmelo into the offense with Amar'e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton, the schedule is affording them that rare luxury between now and the all-star break. After this weekend's back-to-back with the Lakers and Nets, the Knicks have just one game (Wednesday vs ATL) before the all-star break and then don't play again until Feb. 23 (vs MIL). That leaves about five practice days, taking into consideration the four days off for all-star weekend (Feb. 17-20) included.
But if this goes right up to the Feb. 24 trade deadline, the Knicks play nine games in 14 days, starting Feb. 25 at CLE. The month of March includes 18 games, with six back-to-backs. It's a demanding schedule that leaves just no time for meaningful practices.
And, yes, right now is a good time because the team desperately needs a shot of adrenaline. The loss to the Clips is 10 out of the last 14. Officially a tailspin. There's no longer a fear of breaking up a good thing, which was the concern in December. This is now a move to save a season before it crashes and burns.
If you don't think they're feeling that way within the organization, consider that D'Antoni almost never rips his team, but Wednesday night he shredded them. In the wake of another one of those ugly performances that, if they pile up enough, could wind up costing a playoff berth, D'Antoni called out his team's effort level and then levied this charge:
"I just didn't think we had the energy necessary to be a playoff team."
D'Antoni addressed the team before the game about the importance of every win from this point forward, with 32 games left in the season. And Stoudemire said he told his teammates, "We've got to have supreme focus."
An annoyed Stoudemire then added, "I guess they figured I was talking to the wall, because we didn't come with focus."
This is alarming. Why? Because two of the main principles just basically suggested this roster, this young roster, may not have what it takes to be a playoff team.
And that's a week after Donnie Walsh said this:
"You've got to man-up now, because now teams are really going to bear in and you either are trying to get ahead of somebody or you're trying to keep somebody from getting ahead of you. So the games get real serious."
Then he added, "As a team, I don't know that we've been through that, so I have my hesitations. Can we meet this challenge? Those are questions I ask."
How much longer can you ask them? As the Garden emptied out following the 116-108 loss to the Clips, many in the Knicks organization wondered if it was finally time to pull the trigger and get this Carmelo Anthony trade done.
No, the Knicks don't want to overpay and if they are correct in believing they are the only real horse in the race, then they shouldn't. But when Carmelo starts talking about taking "a real hard look" at signing that extension with Denver if he's not traded by the deadline, there's reason to get back to the negotiating table and get serious with the Nuggets.
Carmelo may be bluffing, but he's clearly getting frustrated that the Knicks haven't gotten this done yet, which one person with knowledge of the situation said.
The Knicks, with the contract extension, are still his priority. The fact that he said he would consider signing an extension to stay in Denver is something he's publicly said all along. But he also added this caveat on Wednesday when he spoke with reporters in Denver:
"I'd have to really know and understand what the future holds [in Denver]. I'm hearing things about what direction they want to go in; they want to get younger and things like that. Thought I'm 26, this is my eighth season. I'm not getting younger as far as the years go. Before you know it, I'll be in my 10th, 11th season already. That's something that I really got to take a look at."
No, Donnie Walsh shouldn't feel threatened by attempts to leak the presence of the Lakers as a potential suitor or suggestions that Anthony may just stay in Denver. But he should feel threatened by how quickly his team is plummeting and how it may leave little to no margin for error after the trade deadline when one or more new faces will need a crash course on chemistry.
The schedule is allowing for it now. The time to act is now.
Of course Denver, as has been the case since the summer, has to be ready, too.
* * *
* - Timofey Mozgov had a redemption of sorts in the first quarter, as he matched DeAndre Jordan (three) and Blake Griffin (two) with five dunks of his own and 12 big points. Mozgov was very active and aggressive in yet another impressive effort, but, despite 18 points and six rebounds in 26:22, he didn't see the court in the fourth quarter.
D'Antoni once again fell in love with small ball and his lack of faith in big men could one day lead to his eventually downfall here in New York. D'Antoni's reasoning was completely logical: "We needed, I thought, more speed on the floor and to spread them out so we could get Amar'e to the basket. At that point, we had to come back from 20 [points down] and thing were going really well with the speed lineup and they were having a hard time with it."
That small lineup did get the Knicks back into it behind Stoudemire and Toney Douglas, who had 10 points each in the fourth quarter. But to not get Mozgov back in there late just for his size and rebounding, not to mention his ability to get open when Stoudemire draws the double-team, which we saw so often in the first quarter, was curious.
Yes, having Wilson Chandler or Shawne Williams at the four does spread the offense and open the paint up for Stoudemire, but having Mozgov out there creates problems for opposing defenses, too, because with Stoudemire possessing a deadly mid-range game, it opens up the paint for Mozgov. It also provides one big man to go for rebounds when Stoudemire is away from the basket. When he is playing center and he takes a 15-footer, a miss almost never results in an offensive rebound because everyone else is on the perimeter.
D'Antoni afterward second-guessed his decision to leave Mozgov on the bench.
"Obviously we fell short so, yeah, if I could do it over, he'd play," D'Antoni said.
* - Raymond Felton's numbers looked good (17 points, 12 assists, 3 turnovers in 38:19), but he really didn't have a good game at all from an impact standpoint. He took a team-high 15 field goal attempts, which isn't generally a good thing, and the offense just didn't have the same crispness it had on Sunday. Again, you can't argue with a double-double, but Felton wasn't the floor general he has been for most of this season.
* - Williams was 0-for-3 from downtown in this game, which makes him 44-for-90 on the season (48.8 percent) and drops him out of the NBA lead for three-point percentage. He was not invited to the Three-Point Shoot-out, which had some fans wondering why the league wouldn't invite to the competition a player who was leading the league for most of the last two months with over 50 percent from beyond the arc. From what we understand, Williams did not have enough three-point attempts. The standard the league used required Williams have reached 70 three-point attempts by Jan. 22. He had 66.