NEW ORLEANS -- Chris Paul was at dinner with Carmelo Anthony Thursday night and could tell there was something bothering the Knicks' All-Star forward.
It was about 24 hours after the Knicks lost to the Kings, and Anthony still felt the sting of it. He usually doesn't let things linger long, but more than ever, this season it has. The Knicks have underachieved, and Anthony has some difficult decisions to make.
He said he would take less money in free agency to stay with the Knicks this summer, provided they have a plan to make the team a serious contender and execute the plan. If not, he said he would take less money to play for another team.
"It's tough,'' Paul said about his good friend. "Melo is a guy I work out with in the summer. We're all very, very competitive. When you see one of your brothers and your friends struggling, you always check on them to make sure he's OK.
"I could see on his face he was still upset about the game that they lost Wednesday night. I was in a good mood because we won Wednesday night. It's the ups and downs of a season. Melo's a big boy. He'll be all right. The thing about Melo is he's going to keep competing.''
Clippers All-Star point guard Paul, who has always wanted to play with Anthony, believes his friend isn't looking ahead and that's he's just "concerned about right now.'' That's why Anthony was so down, when he should be enjoying being a part of All-Star Weekend.
"It was one of them moments I just wanted to eat, just chill, relax,'' Anthony said. "He came up to me and asked me is everything OK, is anything wrong? He was like, 'You're mad that you lost.' I was like, 'Hell yeah, I'm mad that we lost.' When you know guys like that, you sense that, you feel it, you can see it. I guess he saw that.''
The loss will be behind Anthony by the time the Knicks resume their schedule Tuesday in Memphis. They are 20-32 and 21/2 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. The Knicks have to return with a different focus and commitment if they're going to make the postseason.
There could be changes coming. There's ongoing speculation about Mike Woodson's job, and the trade deadline is Thursday. Just about every Knick other than Anthony or Tim Hardaway Jr. could be had if Knicks officials find a deal they like.
"I don't really know exactly what's going on right now as far as trades,'' Anthony said. "There's not that many people out there that I think can come right now in February and change our whole season.''
Whatever the Knicks do likely will be to help a playoff run this season and put them in position to make future moves -- with Anthony in mind.
If the Knicks can't unload the big salaries of Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani -- all signed through next season -- it won't matter that Anthony would be willing to take less until 2015. That's when Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge can become free agents.
It's unclear whether Anthony is willing to wait until then. It's probably risky for the Knicks because they could take a chance on losing the best player the organization has had since Patrick Ewing.
Anthony said he will talk to management after the season about what kind of players -- and perhaps what players in particular -- he would like the Knicks to get. What they're able to do could determine whether he stays.
Like Ewing, Anthony has shouldered much of the load. He's praised when the Knicks win and more often than not takes backlash when they don't. But Anthony reiterated Friday that he wants to retire a Knick and hopes they can recreate what they had last season, when they won 54 games. He wants to go further than the second round, though.
"For the most part, I've had a fantastic time up until now,'' Anthony said. "This has been a roller coaster first half of the season for me. But for the most part, I've had a lot of fun, especially coming off of the season we had last year.
"That really showed me how New York can really be, especially when you have that team and everybody feeling good about themselves. There's no better place to be than New York when it's going like that.''
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