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Carmelo wants to wear No. 15, Monroe says he should

New York Knicks newest basketball player Carmelo Anthony,

New York Knicks newest basketball player Carmelo Anthony, right, holds up his new jersey with team owner James Dolan, left, during a news conference before an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks. (Feb. 23, 2011) Credit: AP

At first glance, he looked like Al Harrington, didn't he?

So that's why the most important question of the day and it had to be asked of Carmelo Anthony before he left the Garden following his 27-point, 10-rebound debut in the Knicks' win over the Bucks on Wednesday night:

What's with the No. 7?

"Fifteen is retired," he said.

Yeah, twice. Dick McGuire and Earl "The Pearl" Monroe.

"I wish I can take it back down," Carmelo continued. "Talking to Earl now, I don't know what I gotta go through to get it."

Didn't you do enough in taking Kelenna Azubuike's number? Azubuike said he heard through Donnie Walsh that Anthony had requested No. 7 -- we'll explain why later -- and Azubuike was asked to give it up. So he did, took No. 17 and added that he and Anthony will work out some form of compensation in the future.

But to get clearance to wear a retired number? 

"I'll wear it in his honor," Melo insisted. "I want to honor him and wear that number."

Monroe seemed fine with it. In fact, he thought Carmelo should be allowed wear it.

"I have no problem with him wearing that number," Monroe said. "It's not the number, it what you do in it."

Monroe won a championship in that number in 1973. It was retired in his honor on March 1, 1986. The Knicks then retired it a second time, in honor of the late McGuire, who actually wore the number long before Monroe, on March 14, 1992.

There's no rule in the NBA that says he can't wear No. 15, but it's highly unlikely that the Knicks will allow Anthony to wear a retired number. Perhaps if he asked Denver to include that stipulation in the deal -- why not, they asked for everything else -- we'd still be writing about a trade that hadn't happened yet with less than 12 hours to go before the deadline.

Plus, all along we expected he'd take No. 30 in honor of another Knicks legend, and his own idol, Bernard King. Plus, two 15s equal 30, so . . .

"I thought about it, I thought about it," Carmelo replied. "But that number's too big for me."

He cracked a smile and added, "It was cool for Bernard back then."

So why No. 7? Carmelo had a few explanations:

- His son, Kiyan, was born on March 7.

- 22 (his high school number, which is also retired) minus 15 equals 7.

- 7 is one more than LeBron James' 6.

OK I made that last one up, but I like that explanation better. The mystery behind Kobe Bryant's choice to switch from No. 8 to No. 24 has always been linked to the fact that it's one more than Jordan's No. 23. Kobe and Carmelo are friends, so perhaps he suggested Melo do the same with LeBron, who switched from 23 to 6 when he moved to Miami. 

Fiction is so much more fun than fact.

* * *

* - Despite the fact that the team hasn't yet held a practice and he didn't know more than four of five plays, Chauncey Billups already stood out to me as an improvement at the point guard position on offense. Not to take anything away from Raymond Felton, but Billups showed a knack for making that quick pass on the pick-and-roll to hit the cutter in that split-second he is open. Felton often missed that opening and was reluctant to make the pass. It will be interesting to see if Billups and Amar'e Stoudemire can develop quick chemistry in the pick-and-roll because of this.

* - The Knicks desperately need size. When Ronny Turiaf got into early foul trouble, Mike D'Antoni had no choice but to go to his tallest player left on the bench, 6-9 Shawne Williams, and move the 6-10 Stoudemire to center. It's a look we saw plenty this season, especially when Timofey Mozgov was out of the rotation, but that doesn't make it a good thing. And when Stoudemire had foul trouble, D'Antoni a few times threw out an even smaller lineup, with Williams and 6-8 Carmelo and 6-7 Landry Fields as the frontcourt. Marcus Camby was one player the Knicks looked into to acquire before the trade deadline, but it sounds like the Trail Blazers are looking to get a quality young player on a rookie contract or a first round pick as part of the returning package. 

* - We'll have a live chat at 11 a.m. on Thursday to discuss all the rumors, speculation and actual deals that have already gone down and may also happen before the 3 p.m. trade deadline. And I'm sure someone is going to ask me to project the starting lineup in 2012-13. For the record, in the last chat I think I nailed four of five starters for the Cleveland game, which was after the trade deadline: Billups, Fields, Anthony, Stoudemire. I had Mozgov, I believe. So close.


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