- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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The Knicks' listless home loss to the Clippers was barely 15 hours old, and team leader Amare Stoudemire skipped out of the team practice facility Thursday morning without speaking to reporters.
When Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni stood with his back against the wall, literally, to discuss Friday's visit by the Los Angeles Lakers, he had to agree everything swirling around his team now -- from the Knicks' fight to stay above .500 to the franchise's public wait for the third straight season for some superstar to come riding over the ridge -- is starting to feel like Groundhog Day.
"Well, yeah, that's a good analogy -- yeah," D'Antoni said.
This season, it's Carmelo Anthony the Knicks are chasing instead of LeBron James. But once again, the Knicks' chances of success seem to spike and fall almost daily. The wait grinds on. This time around, however, Knicks fans don't want to hear anonymous sources in the Knicks' organization floating the new idea (as they began murmuring this week) that if the Knicks miss out on Melo, they can always go after Chris Paul or Deron Williams or Dwight Howard down the road. Knicks fans showed that Wednesday night when they began to chant, "We want Melo!" as the team sleepwalked through its loss to the Clippers.
Enough of this living in limbo.
"It's not good; there's no doubt about that," D'Antoni said of the chants. "It affects some of the players, without a doubt."
The Lakers supposedly have checked in with Denver, too, to see what it might take for them to pry Anthony away from the Nuggets. They reportedly have dangled Andrew Bynum as possible trade bait. But Tuesday's new rumor that the Lakers now are the one other team Anthony might want to play for besides the Knicks -- then Anthony's subsequent on-the-record remark Wednesday that he might just sign a contract extension with Denver after all -- did nothing to ease the growing discomfort inside the Knicks' locker room. Why should it?
Anthony's latest change of heart also could be read as a shot at Knicks management for not sweetening their offer to Denver already and getting this root canal of a trade done. Anthony had said for months that the Knicks were the only team he wanted to play for. Now he can't be blamed if he's finally lost patience with the Knicks' dithering about breaking up a young team that -- let's not forget -- is only 26-25 right now. It's not as if the Knicks are the beasts of the East.
The actual truth -- is Anthony serious about staying in Denver now or just posturing to prod the Knicks? -- probably won't matter in the short term.
The Nuggets are almost certain to milk this drama right up until the Feb. 24 trade deadline just to tease out the best deal they can get. And D'Antoni finally conceded Thursday that rather than a lack of effort or preparedness -- the complaints he angrily made about the Knicks immediately after Wednesday's loss to the Clippers -- his team has become a bit undone by the latest spike in the Carmelo trade talk.
Neither Wilson Chandler nor Landry Fields nor Danilo Gallinari knows whether he'll still be a Knick by Saturday, let alone beyond the All-Star break next week. D'Antoni wasn't complaining about that uncertainty, understand -- he was just acknowledging under direct questioning that yes, for a third straight season, he's confronted with presiding over players who can't be blamed for feeling they're just seat warmers for Carmelo or whoever else might be coming to New York.
It seems it's always someone else.
"It's a fear, but it's also part of the business," D'Antoni said when asked what he tells his shaken players. "They have to harden it up and harden their skins and know that, 'Hey, I've gotta play well.' That's your job. Then again, a certain part of you, you hate it for the players. ... It's not an easy job. [They're] banged up and hurting and trying to push through certain things psychologically, and it [trade talk] is not the best thing at times.
"We've had a lot of conversations with them. But what are you going to say?"
It's Groundhog Day.
12mMatt Walks, ESPN.com