Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell, left, is defended by New...

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell, left, is defended by New York Knicks guards Quentin Grimes (6) and Miles McBride (2) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in New York.  Credit: AP/John Munson

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Knicks had nearly as many members of the front office as players at the Spectrum Center on Friday, a hint that the time for the floodgates to open for possible trades has arrived. But what they saw might give them pause.

The Knicks won their third straight game and did it the way they did two seasons ago, with Julius Randle dominating for much of the game and RJ Barrett serving as a reasonable second option. Mostly they did it with the sort of stifling defensive effort that is hardly in vogue as teams seek the next big thing.

Certainly, the Knicks are guilty of chasing that next big thing. The mandate since Leon Rose was installed as team president has been to parlay contacts with the stars of the league to lure one or more to Madison Square Garden. But despite decades of success as an agent, Rose has struggled to pry one loose.

Floating Cam Reddish, Evan Fournier and Derrick Rose as bait isn’t exactly going to be the price for a star, so the Knicks continue to work around the edges of the roster to find what works. And what is working right now is following Tom Thibodeau’s plan for throwback ball. Sure, run when you get the ball, but not until you have done everything you can on the defensive end.

Installing Quentin Grimes in the starting lineup and adding Miles McBride to the shortened rotation has given the team a jolt, clamping down on the perimeter while Mitchell Robinson protects the rim. The result has been surprising. In a run-and-gun league in which pace is everything, the Knicks have gone the other way, turning each possession into a street fight for opposing guards.

“We always take pride in our defense, just coming from where we come from,” McBride said of himself and Grimes. “It's in our DNA to stop the opposing guard and then get out on offense and make plays for each other and get each other in rhythm.”

While they waited their turn on the bench last season, the two would play full-court one-on-one games, with assistant coach Darren Erman prodding them to defend the length of the court. It continued through the summer, and now each has emerged as a key part of the rotation.

“You see it,” Barrett said. “Playing aggressive the whole entire game, they’ve had a lot to do with it.”

“I think we're just playing hard and that's really it,” Grimes said. “Just playing hard, covering for people's mistakes, not worrying if someone gets scored on. We'll get a stop the next time. Right now we're just playing extremely hard, not worrying about the result, because we know if we play hard, everything will take care of itself.”

Patience pays for McBride

Grimes was always expected to earn a starting job.  The front office balked at including him in a potential deal for Donovan Mitchell in the summer and Thibodeau touted him as the best perimeter defender on the roster from the start of camp. But McBride has gone from DNP-CD to defensive specialist for one play to the first guard off the bench.

“I understood coming out it would be tough,” McBride said. “Playing behind, last year it was Kemba [Walker], D-Rose, Alec Burks. This year it's still D-Rose, and now Jalen [Brunson]. So I just knew it was time to work on my game and my opportunity would come.

“I would say when I got injured my junior year [of high school] in football, we had a really good team. We had Jaxson Hayes with the Pelicans and a lot of other [Division I] guys. I had to miss that whole season of basketball. I understand to be patient and things will happen for a reason and just to keep working on my mental and physical.”

Cam market?

The most likely to go in a trade is Reddish, but for now, the market isn’t hot. While Reddish started eight games this season and displayed the athleticism that has teased teams, the potential remains higher than the finished product, and the defense isn’t up to what the Knicks and Thibodeau demand.

According to a source familiar with the talks, the Knicks are working with Reddish’s representatives to find a suitable team for him — but like last season, when the Hawks accommodated him, it’s not exactly a seller’s market. The Knicks surrendered a first-round pick for Reddish, but the current price appears to be  a second-round pick or a player on a rookie contract with a different skill set.

Too Melo?

With Obi Toppin sidelined, it seems like a time for a simple solution. The Knicks' two-way players are wings, so that doesn’t help fill the void at power forward. But there is a player sitting home waiting for a call who could handle those 17 minutes and shoot threes, giving size and a veteran presence, and the Knicks know him well — Carmelo Anthony.

It seemed destined to be a reunion. Unlike the Phil Jackson era, when the front office tried to run Anthony out of town, his long-time agent, Rose, is running the show. His son, Kyan, is playing ball locally at Christ the King High School. So could he make one last farewell run through Madison Square Garden? 

Probably not.

Anthony has been without a job this season, the second time this has happened to him in recent years. The first time, he resurrected his career in Portland and then helped out the Lakers. But based on one Knicks source, the indications are that Anthony would not fit the style the Knicks are trying to play — namely defense.

Anthony has had his moments on that end when he exceeded expectations, playing hard on both ends for Mike Woodson in the 2012-13 season, when he earned MVP consideration. But with the game changing and the emphasis on pushing the pace on offense while clamping down on defense, it sounds as if the Knicks don’t think he’d fit.

The bigger picture is the same one that prevented Rose from opting for the reunion earlier. Toppin could be back as soon as three weeks, and if Anthony is taking minutes from Toppin at this point, that’s a negative the Knicks can’t endure.


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