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Searching for the alpha dog

Knicks guard Chauncey Billups drives against Boston's Glen

Knicks guard Chauncey Billups drives against Boston's Glen Davis. (Mar. 21, 2011) Credit: Jason DeCrow

Eventually someone will figure out that nice guys finish last. Or at the very least may not make the playoffs.

As we overanalyze the trade from every possible aspect, what often gets overlooked with all of the amateur psychobabble is the expected result of three guys who are trying too hard to appeal to everyone, especially each other. They carefully keep every word as positive as possible and continue to promote optimism. Hey, it's only been a few weeks. Hey, it's only been a month.

Hey, we haven't had enough practice time. Hey, we're tired and need a day off.

When what they really need is someone to say: Hey, enough's enough. I didn't come here to lose and make friends along the way.

Even Carmelo has to keep insisting he's still having fun.

That, to me, was the last straw.

Perhaps the most telling interview of all that the Knicks Big 2.5 have done since the trade was a sit-down with John Thompson for NBAtv's "True NBA." Leave it to Coach Thompson to get down to business in a hurry.

"Whose team is this?"

The three all-stars grinned politely and remained silent for a second, until Amar'e Stoudemire tried to be diplomatic with a worn-out cliche.

"I'm sure in your coaching days, you said it best: 'There's no I in team' and you can't win with one individual player," he said.

Thompson wasn't having it.

"No, I said it another way," he immediately said.

"What was that?" Amar'e replied.

"It's MY damn team," the coach growled.

Perhaps, aside from basketball, the real issue with this trade is that you joined two stars in Carmelo and Amar'e Stoudemire who on their previous teams weren't known as locker room leaders. Both players are known as guys who tend to keep to themselves. Most superstars, like Kobe Bryant, are that way, but that's what makes guys like Derek Fisher so important to the Lakers. If Kobe sets the standard, Fisher maintains it.

Here's where Chauncey Billups comes in. He was the captain of Detroit's dominant era in the mid-2000s and made an immediate impact in the locker room in Denver once he was traded. But as we wrote here earlier this week, how much of an emotional investment is Billups ready to make here in New York without any certainty for his future? How much can he step up if he's still not 100 percent after the thigh injury?

Let's face it, the Knicks were a much better team -- and Billups was playing a much bigger role -- before Dwight Howard's knee hammered into Billups' thigh. Coincidence?

Every great team has one leader. Sometimes it's the coach, but in this situation that certainly won't be the case. Mike D'Antoni doesn't have the domineering personality that Phil Jackson or Pat Riley (or, for example, George Karl, without any stars) would command.

Even the Celtics, for all the praise heaped on them for their Big Three coming together so fast to win a title in 2008, identified a leader at the start. Though Paul Pierce was there first, Kevin Garnett was -- and is -- that team's leader. He set the tough, defensive tone.

Who sets any tone for these Knicks, aside from leading the most quotable post-game apology speeches?

It's not about being selfish. It's not your team if you put up 28 shots a game. It is your team if the offense runs through you, however, and everyone understands the style this team has to play. If the stars don't know what they're doing, how are the role players supposed to figure out how they can fit into the mix?

Fatigue is certainly a factor right now. Both Stoudemire and Anthony look tired in fourth quarters, which is alarming. Is Amar'e, a fitness fanatic, wearing down after a heavy load of minutes this season? Is Anthony showing the effects of poor conditioning?

Or is it simply that both players are wearing themselves out by tip-toeing around each other's egos?

This is a team that clearly has a lot of pent-up frustration. That kind of stress can be exhausting, too.

We see glimpses and therein lies the promise in this team. Of course it can work. When you see the offense go through Anthony and he and Stoudemire run pick-and-roll, you see great potential. It's how D'Antoni would have done it had LeBron come to New York so why not do it with Carmelo, who is revealing he has much better court vision than he allowed anyone to know in Denver (or maybe now the willingness is there).

For two years, D'Antoni ran exclusive pick-and-rolls with Chris Duhon and David Lee. The entire league knew it was coming and still the play was executed with regular success. Sure, opposing defenses have far more respect (make that fear) when it comes to defending this roster, especially knowing how Stoudemire can devastate you in the pick-and-roll, so you're getting a much better effort from opponents. But when you have such little time, it might be best to keep it as simple as possible.

D'Antoni has said it himself, that when executed properly, the pick-and-roll is unstoppable. Put shooters on the floor (Billups being one) and you force the defense to spread out, which leaves the middle for your two best players to work.

Here's the catch, of course: Carmelo has to want to play this way. We all know Stoudemire is game. As we have seen, Carmelo can play this way when the two are on the court together. Amar'e seemed to be making public pleas for this recently when he talked about how players need to "buy in" to D'Antoni's system.

He doesn't need to tell us. He needs to tell Carmelo, privately. He needs to hold Carmelo accountable and Carmelo needs to hold Amar'e accountable, too. Billups, the same.

All of them need to stop pussyfooting around the locker room and get to the point.

Recall the scene from the movie Jerry Maguire, when Jerry and Rod Tidwell get into an argument and as Jerry storms off, Rod yells, "You think we're fighting and I think we're finally TALKING!"

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