Posted Feb 14 2012 7:24AM - Updated Feb 14 2012 1:24PM
Judge: "Mr. Anthony, you've being charged with first-degree murder of the chemistry of the Knicks, which they haven't had since Willis Reed limped on the floor. How do you plead?
Carmelo Anthony (nervous mumble): "Um, Linsanity, your Honor?"
Admit it. You're part of the growing public perception that this will not work, that Melo will poop on the party, that he's hopelessly unable to change. You suspect he will demand the ball and the new savior will give it up far too often. You're almost sure the Knicks' season, suddenly inflated with hope, will go pop once Melo returns and Jeremy Lin, an underdog all his life, bends over backward to appease the A-list scorer.
And your hunch, whether it turns out right or wrong, does have a degree of merit.
Melo works best when he's with the ball, isolating on his man, pumping jumpers while everyone else tends to stand and watch. This is how it was in Denver and through 23 games this season with the Knicks. This has earned him millions of dollars, a run of All-Star Games, a spot on the Olympic team ... and zero championships.
Now, the entire dynamic of the Knicks just changed in a flash, all because of the improbable rise of Lin, a D-Leaguer who grabbed the basketball world by the throat the last few days. Lin needs the ball to set up his drive to the hoop and his teammates for shots. The Knicks are undefeated ever since the basketball gods dropped a smart point guard in the middle of Manhattan, as Melo watched from the bench in street clothes, hoping to return this week from injury.
Therefore, Melo has to change, right?
Well, yes, he does. But so does Lin.
This isn't about Amar'e Stoudemire, who'll return to the Knicks on Tuesday after mourning the death of his brother. Stoudemire surrendered his role as the Knicks' designated scorer once Melo arrived. Plus, there's a difference between Amar'e and Melo, the high-priced hired guns who were supposed to be the main factors in the franchise turnaround.
Stoudemire worked well with a pick-and-roll point guard in the past. Steve Nash set him up repeatedly in Phoenix, and so Stoudemire will be thrilled to return to a comfort zone for him. He's a non-issue.
Melo? Major issue.
Here's what Kobe Bryant said, moments after Lin dropped 38 on the Lakers and out-dueled Kobe:
"Melo's a hell of a scorer, and he has to do what he does best. I hope he has the stubbornness to stay with it and not let you guys talk him into changing anything about his game, because I damn sure wouldn't."
With all due respect to Kobe, he was speaking about himself, and when you have his championships, you don't need to change for anybody. Let us be very up-front about this, however: Melo must tweak his game a little, if only because the Knicks were 8-15 doing it his way, and are 5-0 without him. If Melo doesn't mesh and the Knicks revert to losing, he'll be run out of New York.
Melo is amused by all the speculation of him torpedoing the momentum.
"When I get back, Jeremy will have the ball in his hands and I'm playing off that," Anthony promised Monday.
That's the right approach. In his defense, Melo controlled the ball, pre-Lin, because he had to. The Knicks had no presence at the point. Before Lin emerged the Knicks were losing and panicking. Melo began holding the ball longer than usual and taking it upon himself to shoot the Knicks into contention. It looked nothing like the Mike D'Antoni offense that became a trademark in Phoenix. It was a mess.
Melo is one of the top five scorers in basketball, and Lin must make Melo feel wanted and useful and important. Because that's what good point guards do. They make their teammates better. They find a way to get them the ball, at the right time, in the right spot.
Lin has taken almost 20 shots a game in this run, in Melo's absence, and while those shots were mainly necessary with the Knicks missing their two leading scorers, Lin lacks the same offensive gifts as Melo.
And besides, Lin has been superb for what, five games? Melo's been around several years. Lin might be legit, but a true measure of his talent will take longer than that.
Finally, there's another person who factors big into this equation: D'Antoni.
It's his job to find a middle ground, to connect with Melo and to keep Lin from trying too hard to feed Melo's ego. D'Antoni finally has the clever point guard he needs for his system, a younger version of Nash who doesn't shoot nearly as well but can only get better.
Maybe Melo is being terribly pre-judged and charged as guilty before he can prove his innocence. He's no fool, is he? Certainly, he heard the roars, saw the dynamic, felt the winds of change. He doesn't want to become an outcast in New York. He wants to win, or at least says as much anyway.
"This is like a dream come true to me," he said. "It takes some pressure off me."
Well, we'll see how much he's willing to win. Kobe is right, at least in this regard: Melo must do what he does best. Whether Melo can do that without restricting what Lin does best, that's the question.
Everyone instantly considers the worst when Melo returns. But what if it all works out? What if the Knicks, by accident, just stumbled into their version of a Big Three?
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