Commentary

Melo makes Celts-Knicks a rivalry again

New York still can't challenge Boston this season, but future just got more interesting

Updated: February 22, 2011, 11:29 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

As the Carmelo Anthony trade drama enveloped All-Star weekend, even Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers seemed resigned to the fact that one of the NBA's elite was bound for the Atlantic Division.

Rivers spent much of Saturday's joint practice teasing Anthony, then a member of the Western Conference All-Stars, and didn't shy away when reporters asked if he had any thoughts on seeing Melo in a Knicks uniform.

"None that I like," quipped Rivers. "It'll make [the Knicks] very good. They'll be terrific."

Maybe it's because the Celtics have a 12-game cushion over the Knicks with a mere 28 games remaining in the regular season, or maybe it's because New York had to pay a big ransom to lure Anthony to the Big Apple, but Monday's blockbuster trade between the Knicks and Nuggets doesn't have Bostonians shaking in their Nikes.

However, the Knicks' addition of Anthony adds a legitimate contender to the Atlantic and should be the match that finally ignites this long-dormant Boston-New York rivalry.

The Knicks will send Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov and a 2014 first-round draft pick to the Nuggets, who would get additional picks and cash. Along with Anthony, New York acquires Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams, Anthony Carter and Renaldo Balkman. New York will also send Anthony Randolph and Eddy Curry to Minnesota as part of the three-team deal in exchange for Corey Brewer.

[+] EnlargeCarmelo Anthony
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesGoing forward, the Atlantic Division might not be the cakewalk it's been in recent seasons for the Celtics with Carmelo Anthony landing with the Knicks.

The Celtics need not lose sleep over the Knicks right now (though certainly Boston's trek to Madison Square Garden in late March just got more interesting). The question is whether the Knicks have positioned themselves better for future success because of these moves and whether, for the first time in the Big Three era, Boston could find itself with in-division competition in future seasons.

The Knicks parted with much of their young talent, a group of players that had potential to make them contenders down the road. But there was no guarantee that collection would have ever pushed them over the hump. And while those players should be credited with helping inject life back into New York -- the Knicks giving Boston all it could handle at MSG in mid-December -- the fact remains that the blue and orange were a mere 1-4 against the Celtics and Heat this season, not exactly inspiring confidence that this team was built for anything more than an early playoff exit.

Helmed by an Anthony-Amare Stoudemire duo, the Knicks become exponentially more dangerous this postseason (and it's not like they don't have some decent parts around them with Billups and Brewer en route to a team that also held on to rookie Landry Fields). The Knicks are positioned as the sixth seed in the East and, depending on how long it takes to click, they're likely to end the season in sixth or seventh. (At 5½ games behind the Hawks, it's hard to imagine them shuffling up with so few games remaining, but it's not impossible.)

A scary thought for Boston, as it jockeys with Miami and Chicago at the top of the Eastern Conference, is that New York has potential to be an early-round opponent, one that might ultimately be better than its record is going to imply.

Regardless of whether Boston and New York cross paths in the 2011 playoffs, the fact remains that the Celtics still have the better overall collection of talent and should take care of business if they meet. (Whether Boston would be forced to expend extra energy in that situation is debatable, making the quest for a top seed even more important in the second half of the year.)

What's going to be interesting is how the Knicks use that Anthony/Stoudemire combination to build for future seasons and whether they can recruit that all-so-necessary third superstar to give the East yet another super team.

So much was made in December about whether Celtics-Knicks was about to (finally) become a rivalry again. As Rivers is fond of noting, all it takes to reach that status is having two teams hellbent on winning the same prize and both having a realistic shot of achieving it. That's why the Celtics and Heat escalated to rivalry status in such a short time.

The same thing is about to happen with the Celtics and Knicks. So make room, Red Sox-Yankees and Patriots-Jets. The addition of Anthony just gave Boston and New York a new reason to hate each other.

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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