- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- If you want to obsess over the latest palace intrigue swirling around the Knicks -- namely, just who deserves credit for how they finally landed Carmelo Anthony in a blockbuster deal Monday night -- keep going down your checklist past owner James Dolan, team president Donnie Walsh, Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni and his player-friendly system, or even that supposed shadow government that Isiah Thomas is still operating out of some Florida International storage room, or secret command post hidden somewhere in the Everglades.
Amare Stoudemire is the biggest reason Carmelo Anthony is coming to New York, and Stoudemire was right to say so Tuesday. If there's any justice, Stoudemire -- not Walsh or Dolan -- should vault into neck-and-neck contention with LeBron James for NBA executive of the year.
"When I signed here in New York, that pretty much opened the eyes for the rest of the basketball world, that New York is a place where I will go now," a low-key Stoudemire said Tuesday, still looking sleepy after taking an overnight flight from Los Angeles, where he and Anthony played Sunday on opposite sides in the NBA All-Star Game. "He called me early this morning, and we both were just excited, said we couldn't wait -- just small talk, really. I was on the flight, and I just asked him what time he's coming in."
Did Stoudemire think the deal would ever get done?
"I was uncertain, to be honest with you -- I just didn't know all the deal points," Stoudemire said.
"Deal points"? See? He even talks like an ersatz GM.
The idea that NBA superstars rather than their front offices are now running the asylum doesn't sit well with everyone around the league.
But the Knicks feel justifiably giddy about how they were able to take advantage of this new landscape, where the three biggest player moves in the past few years -- Kevin Garnett's move to Boston with Ray Allen, LeBron's bolt to the Heat with Chris Bosh, and now Stoudemire and Anthony's movement to New York -- were all package deals driven or orchestrated by the players themselves more than the teams they left or joined. (Even Walsh's good spirits weren't dented Tuesday when asked if he cared what influence Isiah might have had on Dolan during the Melo deliberations. Walsh dryly answered, "I have no idea. I assume Isiah is getting ready for the NCAA tournament" -- knowing full well that Thomas has a lousy five-win team that's playing before mostly empty houses at FIU.)
The trend of stars-as-package deals might be loathed by Cavs owner Dan Gilbert or, now, Denver's Stan Kroenke -- who, don't forget, was in the banquet room last summer when Hornets point guard Chris Paul made his infamous toast at Anthony's wedding that Carmelo, Stoudemire and Paul would all like to play together someday.
But when asked what he'd say to critics who complain how stars are now exercising their power, Stoudemire shrugged Tuesday and said, "It's kind of a tough situation because you want to win a championship, and players really can't do it without the help of the GMs and the owners of their respective team But the ultimate goal for us [as players] is to win championships. We feel that heaven for us is an NBA championship, so we're just trying to accomplish it."
Asked if he and Anthony would've hatched this plan to join forces if they hadn't watched James, Wade and Bosh do the same thing last summer, Stoudemire insisted what got his and many other players' attention goes back farther.
"I think what started it was Boston with Garnett and then Ray Allen, and then Lakers followed up that with [Pau] Gasol, and then Miami," Stoudemire said. "I think Boston started it and it was successful -- they won a championship right after that. So that formula was working, and everyone else just kinda tagged along" and copied how Garnett, Allen and Paul Pierce came together.
The Boston trio, all past All-Stars, made a point of shelving its egos or any desire to be The Man for the good of the team, and Stoudemire insisted Tuesday that he and Anthony -- both 20-point scorers who are used to dominating the ball -- can do the same with the Knicks.
"There's no doubt, no doubt," Stoudemire said. "Every team needs a 1, 1A punch."
Laughing now, he added playing together will be this easy: "If you're open, shoot it."
Anthony was expected to arrive in New York late Tuesday night and to hold his first Knicks news conference on Wednesday, sometime before the Knicks' home game against Milwaukee. After all the switchbacks and hairpin turns in this deal, the ovation that will greet Anthony -- especially if he plays Wednesday, as Walsh hopes -- is likely to lift the roof off Madison Square Garden.
D'Antoni at one point Tuesday couldn't resist comparing the pairing of Stoudemire and Anthony to how Red Holzman's Knicks traded once upon a time to put Earl Monroe and Walt Frazier together though skeptics said it wouldn't work. The Knicks aren't a title contender yet. But they're far better. Walsh emphasized Tuesday how much Chauncey Billups, the veteran point guard the Knicks also got in this deal, will help the team now but still leave it with cap room to chase a third star in 2012, if the Knicks desire.
Stoudemire's existing relationship with Anthony is another reason to think this deal can work if the Knicks add some more size, if they ever commit to playing some defense, and answer some other big "ifs." Stoudemire smiled fondly as he explained how he and the 26-year-old Anthony have known each other since they were 16 or 17.
"I was the top [high school] player in the country, and Carmelo was [No.] 2 or 3," Stoudemire said. "I went to the NBA out of high school, Carmelo went to Syracuse. I got rookie of the year, he won a national championship. So we kinda grew up in the same era. We took the league by storm as young players. Now for us to be here in New York, on a bigger stage, it's going to be great, it's going to be fun.
"It's what he wants, it's what I wanted, to come to New York, to play on the big stage -- he has the same type of swag," Stoudemire added.
Given the way Stoudemire has conducted himself so far in New York, there's no reason to doubt Stoudemire's sincerity. True, he signed with the Knicks rather than the Suns because the Knicks offered him the most money. But since getting here, Stoudemire has been admirably serious about being the face of the franchise and embracing all the responsibilities that come with that, like being the team spokesman, its out-front leader, and even a bit of a locker-room scold when he didn't feel the rest of the team was doing all it could. Hopefully none of that changes when Anthony arrives.
Stoudemire has sometimes hinted that he was underappreciated in Phoenix because he played with league MVP Steve Nash, and he touched on that again Tuesday. When a reporter mentioned how nice it will be for him to be playing with another star again, Stoudemire matter-of-factly reminded everyone that he was in Phoenix before Nash arrived and "we went to the Western Conference finals, won 60-some-odd games a few years, and we built a championship-caliber team.
"That might've gotten overlooked -- the fact what I did for that franchise," Stoudemire said.
That fact Stoudemire still craves that kind of recognition should only be good for the Knicks too.
Stoudemire went on Tuesday to talk about the 28-26 Knicks still making the playoffs. He believes the 28 games the Knicks have left are enough for him and the new guys to figure out how to mesh because they're all veterans, they're all smart. He publicly thanked his former teammates -- especially Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Timofey Mozgov -- for helping him "set New York City on fire" and get fans to believe again in the Knicks though it's been 10 years since their last playoff win.
Stoudemire sounded like a GM again, but why interrupt? The guy is on a roll.
Knicks fans should save some ear-ringing applause for Stoudemire Wednesday night after they go nuts welcoming Anthony and Billups. None of it happens for the Knicks without Stoudemire, NBA Executive of the Year.
Who brokered the Carmelo deal? Look no further than Amare Stoudemire.