Carmelo Anthony returned to Madison Square Garden on Saturday night with the Knicks in a better place than when he left.
Some will read that to mean the Knicks won the trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Less than 30 games into a season isn’t enough time to definitively declare a winner or a loser of Anthony for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and the Bulls’ second-round pick. But it has worked out better for the Knicks than the Thunder — at this point.
Kristaps Porzingis and the Knicks have exceeded expectations. The Thunder has underachieved. That makes Anthony the convenient target on both sides.
It didn’t work out with the Knicks and it’s not working out with a loaded Thunder team that features league MVP Russell Westbrook and perennial All-Star Paul George, so it must be Melo. The Knicks are better: addition by subtraction.
Each team still has more than 50 games remaining. Let the season play out. But it was time for Anthony and the Knicks to go their separate ways. Some would say it was long overdue.
The Knicks missed the playoffs the past four years with teams built around Anthony. There were extenuating circumstances — injuries, endless days of drama and distractions and a revolving door of teammates, coaches and executives. But it was time for the Knicks to go in a different direction.
If Anthony still were a Knick, Porzingis might not have had the opportunity to emerge the way he has. Anthony probably wouldn’t have been willing to accept a lesser role. The Knicks were his team and he wasn’t ready to relinquish ownership.
But Anthony wasn’t holding Porzingis back. Three coaches — Derek Fisher, Kurt Rambis and Jeff Hornacek — ran the offense through Anthony during the two seasons in which he played with Porzingis. The organizational plan was to let Porzingis grow and not put too much pressure on him too quickly.
Few could have envisioned Porzingis growing and maturing into a marquee player the way he has this season. “He’s ascending to that top perch, if you will,” Knicks general manager Scott Perry said.
So much is different with the Knicks now. Everything changed when Phil Jackson was let go and he took the triangle with him. Hornacek is running what he wants and the team is playing freer.
Anthony’s departure added to that because the players on the court aren’t standing around watching him the way they did for so many nights and so many years. There is more movement, more players getting involved, better flow. Knicks fans are loving how they’re playing.
The irony is that when the deal was first done, many considered it a bad trade for the Knicks, who were handcuffed because Anthony had a no-trade clause and got to pick his destination.
But the common refrain at the time was that the Knicks already had enough bigs, that they were stressing defense and got two guys who don’t play any, and that they didn’t even get a first-round pick for their best player.
How quickly that narrative has changed. Kanter has played very well. He provides toughness, complements Porzingis well and has become a Garden favorite. McDermott is hitting big shots and playing with energy and enthusiasm.
“Both of those guys have been about enhancing the type of culture that we want to have here,” Perry said. “So definitely been pleased with both of them.”
Amar’e Stoudemire, whose pairing with Carmelo Anthony didn’t work out the way anyone with the Knicks hoped, was back at the Garden this past week to light the ceremonial menorah on the first night of Hanukkah. Stoudemire, who signed a $100-million contract in 2010 to be the face of the Knicks, had some words of advice for Kristaps Porzingis, their current franchise player: Listen to your coaches and don’t listen to anyone else.
“They’re the ones going to give you true information on what it takes to be great,” Stoudemire said. “If that’s your goal, to be great, your coaches are the ones who are going to get you there. Everyone on the outside, your family, friends, media, whatever on the outside, you have to put that to the side, stay focused on your craft.”
Stoudemire never played with Porzingis but sees “an incredible amount of potential” in him that the young big man is just tapping into “a bit” at this point.
As for his life after basketball, the former Knick said he doesn’t miss playing. Injuries took their toll on Stoudemire, who retired last season after winning the Israeli League championship with Hoepel Jerusalem. He was a dominant player when he was healthy.
GASOL WON’T SEEK TRADE
The Grizzlies have completely fallen apart. After starting 7-4, they had gone 2-16 entering Saturday night’s game against the Celtics, David Fizdale was fired and Marc Gasol is being blamed for his departure. There have been questions about Gasol’s future with the Grizzlies, but the three-time All-Star center said in an interview with the Memphis Commercial Appeal that he won’t ask for a trade. Gasol doesn’t have a no-trade clause, so whatever happens is “up to them,” he said. “My commitment hasn’t changed. I’m on board with doing my job every day until that’s not my job anymore.”
n Heading into Saturday night, Chris Paul was a perfect 13-0. The Rockets, winners of 12 straight, haven’t lost a game in which Paul has played. He missed 15 games earlier this season with a knee injury.
n The Lakers will retire Kobe Bryant’s No. 8 and 24 Monday. Both deserve to hang at the Staples Center. In his 10 years as No. 8, he averaged 23.8 points, made eight All-Star teams and won a scoring title and three NBA championships. In his 10 years as No. 24, he averaged 26.3 points, made 10 All-Star teams and won a scoring title and two NBA championships.
n Thunder coach and Rockville Centre product Billy Donovan on whether Carmelo Anthony asked him for tickets for Saturday’s game: “I don’t have any. I’m from New York, so I need some.”