And here come the outcries to keep Wilson Chandler, the desperate mathematics to figure out how the Knicks can sign Carmelo Anthony as a free agent this summer and yet still have room to re-sign Chandler, who will be a restricted free agent. The hopelessly optimistic permutations that do not include Chandler and may still satisfy the Nuggets in a trade for Carmelo.
And this is all good for Chandler. I remember a few weeks ago when I asked him if he was insulted by the notion that the Nuggets didn't want to make a trade with the Knicks because they felt there wasn't any valuable talent on the roster. Wilson looked up, shrugged and said, "No, I don't want to go to Denver."
The Knicks don't want to send him there, either. All along the best-case scenario has been to deal with the Carmelo situation once he's a free agent and those close to the Nuggets star know that would be the best situation for him from a basketball perspective, because he'd be joining a team without the roster losing any significant pieces from the rotation. Imagine a front-court of Carmelo, Wilson and Amar'e Stoudemire. Yes, that does mean the continuation of small-ball, but the Knicks seem to be doing well playing this way (and when you need to run a grind-it-out halfcourt set, Melo is as good a post-up forward as there is in the game).
But Carmelo also has to consider the other side of the biz: finances. With so much uncertainty in regards to the next CBA, he could risk losing money if he doesn't sign an extension under the current agreement. Then again, there is talk that a new agreement would involve a rollback of all contracts, which means he potentially could lose money either way.
And Denver may want to move him by Feb. 24 just to have the ability to get some value for him before he opts out. They could always trade him to a team without an extension. Or they could consider finishing the year with him and moving him on draft night (I believe he would be trade-eligible, because he technically is under contract for 2011-12).
But while we ruminate over such details, we're not overlooking something else that Chandler brings to the current roster that goes beyond his vastly-improved shooting, his confidence with the ball and, of course, the fact that he's finally at full health (for the most part) in quite some time.
How about the fact that he made himself the player he is right now by being coachable? By working through his mistakes, by staying humble and by playing without that maddening sense of entitlement that can sandbag so many young players who come into the league thinking they already have it all figured out.
Wilson is always quick to point out what is obvious to him, but sometimes gets lost on us as we watch games: Amar'e Stoudemire's presence commands double-teams. Wilson is merely feasting off his defender helping off him to stop Stoudemire.
And he knows this because this is what the coaching staff told him: That corner three will be there all day long. So Wilson, as he told me in today's story, spent (and continues to spend) countless hours developing that corner shot to the point where it is now automatic. He has spent time watching video and learning not just where he's supposed to be, but why he's there and how it all works. So when he gets the ball, not only does he already know what he's supposed to do, he also knows what options are available to him, including where his teammates are.
One of the things Chandler struggled with for a while was decision-making with the ball. It seemed like he was quick to put up a shot because if he waited too long, he'd have to make a pass and he often looked confused. Now, Wilson plays with confidence because if he does need to pass, he usually knows where the ball belongs.
Are you reading this, Anthony Randolph? Because this is exactly what the coaching staff hopes you eventually figure out. It's not about playing YOUR game, it's about playing your game within the system. One thing I've always been impressed with when it comes to Mike D'Antoni and his system is that he puts you in position that generally emphasizes your strengths. Then he leaves it up to you to do the rest.
And that's why, despite the search for a backup point guard, the Knicks aren't quite ready to pull the plug on Toney Douglas. There are a lot of similarities between Douglas and Chandler, mainly because both players aren't afraid of hard work and both players have a willingness to learn. Douglas is a little more outgoing and has a bigger ego -- he really believes he can get every steal, but in doing so, he often gets beat and it leads to a defensive breakdown -- but both guys are coachable.
I recently talked to D'Antoni about Douglas' struggle with the pick-and-roll and how he has been in the system for two years and still hasn't figured it out yet, while Raymond Felton picked it up rather quickly. My suggestion was that some guards are just born floor generals and others just can't grasp the concept, but D'Antoni disagreed. He feels anyone can run this system, but said that you have to be aware of where each player is starting from when it comes to development. Felton was already ahead of the game because he understood the NBA game, the defenses and because he ran a lot of the same things at North Carolina. So Douglas started a little further behind and is still trying to catch up.
That's sort of how it was with Chandler, who came into the NBA extremely raw but with terrific athleticism and a nice shooting touch. All he did was make himself stronger and turn that nice touch into a very effective, consistent weapon.
And he didn't do it by frowning at criticism or bristling about playing time. He did it by simply working on his game and by doing exactly what the coaching staff said would make him the most valuable to the team. David Lee did the same thing.
And, like David last summer, come July, he'll reap the rewards for it.