Cleaning out his locker in the middle of April the last three years had Carmelo Anthony in a foul mood.
“I suffered three years in a row without going to the postseason,” Anthony told Newsday. “It eats me up to sit back and watch my peers in the postseason. It’s hard to watch.”
Imagine what Tuesday night’s season-opening game in Cleveland will be like for Anthony when he sees his good friend LeBron James and former Knicks teammates J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert receive their NBA championship rings. Anthony probably wonders when his time will come, or if it ever will.
Many speculated that Anthony would request a trade in the offseason. He said he had a heart-to-heart talk with team president Phil Jackson and general manager Steve Mills.
“I never came in here to Phil and said, ‘I want to be out of here,’ ” Anthony said. “I did say, ‘The time is now. I’m pretty sure you want to win too.’
“It’s a conversation we’ve been talking about for the past year and a half about how we want to move forward, what we want to do, whether they want to win now or rebuild.”
Anthony, 32, got his answer in June when the Knicks acquired former MVP Derrick Rose in a trade with Chicago. Their subsequent three moves — signing one-time Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings — all were done to try to win now.
The Knicks’ plan is to try to make the postseason for the first time under Jackson while keeping the pressure off Kristaps Porzingis and giving him a little more time to grow and develop into a franchise player.
Anthony is on board and believes he will be in the playoffs this season instead of watching them.
“It was a collective effort on who we want, how we want to do it,” he said. “I believe in this group of guys, I believe in this team. I think we’ll have a special year.”
The Knicks could be one of the most improved teams in the Eastern Conference — or it could be another season of high expectations that they’re unable to meet.
Porzingis is a star in the making. Anthony remains an elite scorer. Rose and Noah played on the 62-win Bulls who reached the Eastern Conference finals in 2010-11 and are hoping to rekindle that success. Lee is an underrated shooter and defender. Jennings is a starting-caliber point guard who will lead the second unit.
But the Knicks have a thin bench and players with a long list of injuries.
Rose, Noah, Jennings, Anthony, Porzingis and Lance Thomas all missed at least 10 games last season. Noah was sidelined for 53 and had hamstring and ankle injuries in the preseason.
The Knicks also have 10 new players and are learning a new system under new coach Jeff Hornacek, so they need time to jell.
Rose, their starting point guard, was in Los Angeles for 16 days for his sexual assault civil trial. The starters didn’t play together once during the preseason.
Rose participated in the last three practices before Tuesday night’s opener, but Noah said it wasn’t enough time to get back whatever chemistry the team developed early in camp.
“I don’t think so,” Noah said. “But we don’t have a choice. We have to just keep our minds on getting better. There’s a lot of talent on this team. So it’s about jelling when the games count.”
That hasn’t decreased the optimism of holdovers Anthony and Porzingis, who were a part of last season’s 32-50 team.
“I feel like we have more talent than we had last year. We have opportunities to do bigger things,” Porzingis said.
“I’m more excited about this season than I’ve been in a long time just because I know the opportunities that we have with these players,” Anthony said. “When you have players of the caliber that we have, it gives you a relief. You understand that you have smart players. You have guys that have been in tough situations who know how to win basketball games.”
It will be up to Hornacek — Jackson’s third coaching hire in three years as president — to make it all work and get all the pieces to fit.
Hornacek wants the Knicks to play fast in an attempt to get easy baskets and will run aspects of the triangle in the halfcourt. But he’ll also employ more pick-and-rolls.
“We’d all like to get off to a great start, but we’re not going to panic if it doesn’t go well,” Hornacek said. “We know we’re going to get better as the year goes on. That’s the goal. The goal is to get in the playoffs. We feel if we can improve throughout the season that we can get there. And when we do, we have veteran guys that have played in big games before, and we’ll take our chances then.”