The Knicks’ players can’t help but hear the trade rumors, but they’re trying to block them out. They don’t want to consider life without Carmelo Anthony.
Despite their struggles during the last six weeks, the Knicks still believe they can make something out of this season and become a tough out in the playoffs. Their chances of reaching the postseason are better with Anthony than if he’s with the Cavaliers, Clippers or Celtics.
“The reason why we signed here is to try to make the playoffs, and we still have a great chance of doing that,” said Courtney Lee, whose Knicks remained 1 1⁄2 games out of the Eastern Conference’s eighth playoff spot even after their 111-104 loss to the Cavaliers Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. “That’s the key now — getting in the playoffs. It doesn’t matter what the record is. As long as we get in there, it’s a new slate. So if we get there, I like our chances.”
The Knicks remain in the hunt despite losing 17 of their last 23 games. “We’re trying to turn this thing around right now,” Lee said.
The Knicks were without Derrick Rose for the fourth straight game because of a sprained left ankle, but the Cavs also were missing their starting point guard as Kyrie Irving sat out with right quadriceps soreness.
While the players are focused on now, Knicks management is looking to the future, and making Kristaps Porzingis the face of the franchise and focal point of the offense. That eventually will happen, but his readiness certainly is not a given.
Anthony has taken pressure off Porzingis, allowing the second-year big man to grow and develop while not having to carry the weight of the franchise on his shoulders. That’s where Anthony’s worth is underrated.
His presence allows Porzingis to get open shots — and avoid having shots taken at him when the team is underperforming.
Yet team president Phil Jackson hopes to find a trade that’s appealing to him and will prompt Anthony to waive his no-trade clause by the Feb. 23 trade deadline. Anthony also has a 15-percent trade kicker that will make it difficult to move him.
Any trade with the Cavaliers and Clippers likely would involve a third team and no marquee players from Cleveland or Los Angeles coming to the Knicks.
They reportedly want Kevin Love, who returned to action Saturday night with a 23-point, 16-rebound outing, but the All-Star forward said he expects to be in Cleveland “for a long time.” That doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen, though.
Anthony has the power in this situation because he can veto any trade. He said his family will factor into his decision but that he would have to “consider” leaving if the Knicks tell him they’re looking to rebuild.
His teammates are staying out of it and hoping they can make a run together.
“You hear it,” Derrick Rose said. “You have no other choice but to hear it. But to give it legs or even talk about it, I can’t even talk about it.
“All I can do is be there for him and just talk to him whenever I can and just keep him level-headed. It seems like he’s cool. He’s taking it pretty good, handling it pretty good. He’s a vet. It’s just a distraction.”
Rose said when he dealt with the rumors last season in Chicago, he was “numb” to it, but he also said it “motivated” him. Rose, who ultimately was traded to the Knicks last summer, praised Anthony for the way he’s handled the situation.
Although Anthony struggled Saturday night, he generally has played well despite the daily trade rumors. The players recognize that and are trying to remain focused on their performance.
“Can’t worry about things that I can’t control,” Lee said. “That’s what everybody on this team is trying to do: Just focus on getting better, trying to turn this thing around one game at a time. We’re just trying to make the playoffs and go from there.”