Answering the hard questions after Garden brawl

Updated: December 17, 2006, 8:20 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

You've undoubtedly got questions about Saturday night's fight at Madison Square Garden.

We've got the first batch of answers for what happens next to the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets after a brawl that resulted in five ejections for each team and, at least for the moment, diverts some attention away from the Nuggets' front-runner status in the Allen Iverson Sweepstakes.

How long will the league's leading scorer be suspended?

A punch -- whether or not it connects -- gets you an automatic one-game suspension.

The severity of Carmelo Anthony's penalty from there, and for all the main players in this fracas, is a case-by-case call by NBA commissioner David Stern and VP Stu Jackson. Whether punches land, where they land and who's responsible for escalation all factor in, as does leaving the bench to join in.

The footage you've seen puts at least five players in unquestioned trouble.

1. New York's Mardy Collins took J.R. Smith down with the initial hard, two-handed foul that can't be pardoned no matter how frustrated the Knicks were with what they perceived as Denver intentionally running up the score.

2. New York's Nate Robinson was the first to escalate the situation by wildly confronting Smith and other Nuggets.

3. Smith went after Robinson and the ensuing tangle spilled into a fan section, not far from where Knicks chairman James Dolan sits.

4. Anthony became the other chief escalator by throwing a right hook at Collins ... a punch that came just when things appeared to be settling down.

5. New York's Jared Jeffries went so hard chasing after 'Melo in response to the punch that Jeffries fell down and still had to be restrained when he got up.

The best early estimates: A minimum of five games for Anthony and Robinson ... and possibly longer. Suspensions for Collins, Smith and Jeffries would appear to be in the range of 1-to-3 games.

Don't forget, though, that Stern has been exerting his authority more than ever since the infamous Detroit-Indiana brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Nov. 19, 2004. Keeping that in mind, it wouldn't be a shocker to see all of those estimates fall short.

The Nuggets and Anthony, of course, stand to lose the most from a lengthy suspension. Denver, at 13-9, is clinging to seventh in the Western Conference with roughly one-fourth of the season gone. Given Anthony's importance to the Nuggets -- he's averaging a league-best 31.6 points -- they'd likely feel fortunate to win any game he misses.

For 'Melo himself, this episode is bound to take a chunk out of his newfound darling status ... just days after he donated $1.5 million to fund a youth development center in his hometown of Baltimore. After a variety of setbacks in his first three pro seasons, Anthony was widely regarded as the standout performer on a Team USA squad that finished a disappointing third in last summer's World Championships in Japan and has been hailed in recent weeks for the increasing maturity in his game in terms of shot selection and leadership.

How much harsher will the penalties be because the fight crossed into fan territory?

It's a factor for sure.

Comparisons will inevitably be drawn to the Palace brawl, but that's not a correct comparison. This wasn't even close to that.

Fans at Madison Square Garden, for starters, were innocent bystanders Saturday night. At no point did we see intentional interaction between players and fans.

However ...

Fans sitting along the baseline were endangered by the Robinson-Smith scrap, something the league office won't ignore.

For proof, we refer you to the better comparison, which was less than a year ago.

In Seattle, on Jan. 11, 2006, Orlando's Keyon Dooling and Seattle's Ray Allen wound up in the first row of seats along the sideline after fighting.

Dooling was suspended for five games for throwing a punch at Allen (which did not connect) and for what the league described as "attempting to confront [Allen] in the hallway following his ejection." Allen was suspended for three games.

How soon will the NBA announce the suspensions and fines?

Neither team plays Sunday and both have games Monday night. That gives Stern's staff a day-plus to conduct an investigation before the Knicks or Nuggets play again.

The inquiry will begin with NBA security personnel interviewing numerous players from both teams and include an extensive review of raw footage of the game from a variety of angles -- footage that wasn't seen on the game broadcast or initial TV news reports -- in an attempt to determine exactly who did what.

Yet as much as the league would undoubtedly love to release its ruling on Sunday, when much of the nation is preoccupied with the NFL, Monday is more likely given how much has to be examined.

How closely will the two head coaches be looked at?

You can accuse Denver's George Karl of leaving his starters in way too long ... but you can't punish him for it. That's not an NBA crime. Not even if he did so as a way to convey his contempt for Knicks coach Isiah Thomas, as fallout from the offseason firing of Karl's close friend Larry Brown.

Thomas, by contrast, might be facing more than accusations. You can be sure the league will investigate suggestions that Collins' hard foul on Smith came via mandate from the Knicks' bench.

That sort of directive would be difficult to prove, but ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan reported Saturday night that Thomas, according to a member of the Nuggets' organization, warned Anthony not to venture near the paint not long before Collins' foul.

Which could put Thomas under the microscope as well, if similar accounts are conveyed to league personnel during Sunday's interview process.

Can players be traded while serving a suspension?

This is a pertinent question given Denver's well-chronicled pursuit of Allen Iverson.

The answer?

It appears to be, in the words of one Western Conference executive reached Saturday night, "a gray area."

It's believed that there is no language in the NBA's operations manual that specifically deals with teams' ability to trade a suspended player. The teams would likely require special permission from the league office if a player suspended for his actions Saturday night is needed by the Nuggets to complete an Iverson trade in coming days.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

ALSO SEE