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Knicks can't afford a protracted lockout

Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks

Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks stands with Carmelo Anthony #15 of the Denver Nuggets. (Feb. 20, 2011) Credit: Getty Images

Perhaps by Thursday, if the NBA Board of Governors emerge from their meeting and David Stern cancels more regular season games, the Knicks might be better off losing the entire season.

Of course we're overstating it. But there's no denying that this is hardly a group that can afford a rushed training camp and be thrust into a truncated season, with a sprint to the playoffs that would desperately need a good start.

No, if there is a team in the NBA that will suffer the most for this lockout on the court, it will be your New York Knicks, a group of players who hardly got to know each other down the stretch of last season after the 13-player blockbuster that brought Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to Amar'e Stoudemire's locker room.

Sure, with Stoudemire and Billups (and, as we found out a few weeks ago, Melo, too) banged up offer the summer, a late start to training camp wasn't such a bad thing for this team. But now is it getting a little too late?

"We're trying to win a championship and we're trying to do whatever it takes to get to that level," Amar'e replied, "and by not having a training camp and not having this preseason, it's definitely going to hinder us a little bit."

Fans point to the last lockout, when the Knicks stumbled through the 50-game regular season in 1999 and then suddenly hit their stride just in time for a run to the NBA Finals. And though that team also had some chemistry to develop with the arrivals of Latrell Sprewell and Marcus Camby, the core of that team had been intact for several years.

This is not the case in 2011. These Knicks need time. And can't afford to lose any more of it.

This is why Amar'e pointed to the importance of "keeping ourselves in shape," while Carmelo said his goal this offseason was "trying to get in the best shape I can . . . get my body right." Both said they were more than ready to get back on the court now, if only the NBA and the union could reach an agreement.

"I'm ready for a season," Melo said.

Even if it's shorter than 82 games?

"Any games we can get," he said. "I'll take it."

Stern said warned on Thursday that the Christmas Day games, which includes a Knicks-Celtics rematch at noon, could be lost. Melo was told that it was heartbreaking for fans to hear this.

"Trust me, it was heartbreaking for me, too," Melo replied. "New York-Boston on Christmas? How can you want to miss that?"

Well, you don't. But that's the maddening thing about this lockout: both sides say they don't want to miss games, but then strike defiant poses as the games melt off the calendar.

"Right now," Amar'e said, "we're not budging."

As a result, they're not basketball players right now, they're pitchmen. They're live mannequins, walking billboards. But they're not playing basketball at the highest level in the world and this, just as much as poor eating habits and extra time on the couch, is unhealthy for them. They're not getting their critical dose of fierce competition and it's a matter of time before the symptoms start to show. Perhaps they already are.

Carmelo recalled that on Oct. 3, he woke up ready to head to the MSG Training Center for the first day of camp. Then reality set in. He had no gym to go to, no team to meet, no coaches to see. Melo last season coined an amusing phrase after nailing a last-second game-winner against the Memphis Grizzlies: "I do this!"

Right now, though, he's doing nothing.

Today he was supposed to be at practice, preparing for the third preseason game of the season, a meeting with the Boston Celtics at the Times Union Center in Albany. Instead, while Amar'e was in downtown Manhattan, within shouting distance of the Occupy Wall Street protest, hawking one of the many products on his endorsement resume (a great idea called Sheets Energy Strips), Melo was in Times Square, also promoting a new product called Power Grip, a "liquid chalk" for your hands, which he personally tested last spring, you know, in those halcyon days when the NBA had games.

Yes, all drama aside, they will eventually be back in uniform, eventually come together as teammates. Though both appear very comfortable in New York, they are still very new to each other. Let's be honest, the Knicks' dynamic duo would never be mistaken for characters in a buddy film. They've regularly kept in touch wirelessly, but rarely face-to-face. Aside from the South Beach All-Star Classic at FIU last weekend, they haven't even been in the same zip code that often during this excruciatingly long offseason, which made this week a rare ocassion.

But that doesn't mean a thing, Amar'e said.

"Whatever he needs, I'm there," he told me. "I'm pretty sure it's vice versa, whatever I need, he's there. Just a phone call away, man. I'm right there for him."

That includes being part of Carmelo's planned all-star charity game for New York, which he has pegged for mid-November. Where will he have it? "Jersey," he replied and explained how, since the lockout won't allow him to use the Garden, there's no other venue available that could house a large crowd. Izod Center, the Nets' former home at the Meadowlands, appears to be the likely choice.

I tried in vain to promote Nassau Coliseum. "At least it's in New York," I said (momentarily forgetting two obvious reasons why not: a. the place is a crumbling, obsolete dump and b. Antonio McDyess).

"But that's not the city," he replied. "It would be the same thing as Jersey."

You cut me deep, Melo. Cut me deep.

The next time we see Amar'e and Carmelo together on the court may not be until then, or, perhaps, when Amar'e finally decides to begin that minicamp for Knicks players at the IMG Facility in Bradenton, Fla. he's talked about since August. But Amar'e doesn't want to get that going until it appears the NBA and the players union are close to settling their differences in collective bargaining. That, at least, will give the Knicks some time together to get reacquainted and, perhaps, get on their mission.

"When the lockout is lifted," Carmelo said, "the New York Knicks will be ready."

* * *

* - If Melo has his way, this new "Power Grip" product -- a liquid version of the chalk that players use to keep their hands dry during games -- which he promoted on Friday will mean the end of his buddy LeBron James' trademark talcum cloud pregame ritual.

"I'm going to be sure to send him tons of Power Grip," Carmelo said with a laugh, "because I'm getting tired of that talcum."

Actually, as's Brian Windhorst pointed out, LeBron cut the talcum cloud act during the playoffs last season.

* - Amar'e has an idea if the NBA decides to cancel the entire season: A Players League. Though it is logistically an improbable dream, at least Amar'e seems to have his heart in the right place. "I just want the fans to understand that as players, we're trying to make something happen for them," he said. "We're trying to play, we're trying to keep the fans involved in basketball. It's always been a great slogan, the NBA is fan-tastic. We want to keep that going.

"There's so many employees that are affected by this lockout, there are popcorn vendors, concession stand guys, all these people are affected by the lockout," he added. "It's not cool. So we're trying to figure out ways to generate income for everybody. So we'll see what we can do."

For the record, Carmelo doesn't think it's a real option, especially because, as he correctly pointed out, you would first need significant corporate investors to back the league.

* - Melo spoke the D word again and this time put some ownership behind it. When asked about the Knicks' poor defensive reputation, he said there was no chance the team could have become a good defensive team in such a short time, but vowed that they would be.

"I can sit here and answer all the questions about defense," he said. "We got to do it."

He later added, "We hav a team that can be a great defensive team. I'll lead that charge, I'll take that stance . . . At the end of the day, we will be a great defensive team."
Save this quote. We may be recalling it one day.

For goodness sakes, let's hope we have a reason to recall it soon.


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