- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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It was reasonable to give Carmelo Anthony time to adjust after his trade to the Knicks, but he gets no hall pass for the "Wait 'Til Next Year" remarks he uttered after Sunday's galling loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Concession speeches with 13 games left in the regular season, and the playoffs after that, aren't the sort of thing a franchise player like Anthony is supposed to say a mere month after his arrival or before the season's last breath. If Chicago, Boston or Miami ends the Knicks' season sometime next month, fine. But such thoughts shouldn't be rolling out of Anthony's mouth just because of a tough little stretch in late March.
Real superstars find a way.
Anthony's comments make you realize the Knicks were better off when they were Amare Stoudemire's team. Stoudemire was their unquestioned leader and set the tone. They'd be smart to go back to acknowledging that. Now.
The Knicks still can win with Anthony and without the four players they sent away in the blockbuster deal that landed him and Chauncey Billups four weeks ago. But the exemplary way Stoudemire has embraced a leadership role in New York no matter who was playing here makes him the best, most intelligent voice the Knicks have had all season in the locker room. And all the Knicks -- Melo included -- should go back to falling in behind Stoudemire.
After a month of watching Stoudemire recede into the background since the trade and utter hardly a peep unless he was spoken to first -- the better to give Anthony room? -- Stoudemire had finally seen enough after Friday's irritating loss to the lowly Detroit Pistons.
There's no need to dance around about whether what Stoudemire told reporters "seemed" like an honest-to-God upbraid to Anthony -- he was speaking directly to Anthony, all right. And now we'll see whether Anthony finally gets the message, because it's the same point Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni had obliquely made days earlier and a kinder version of a rap that Anthony's ex-Nuggets teammates have laid at Anthony's feet since he left: With him, the ball isn't flowing enough in the Knicks' offense. So Anthony gets his 25 points, all right, but he can often make his own team easier to defend -- and beat.
"We've just got to buy into Mike D'Antoni's system -- it works, I've been a part of it for a long time now, and it's been very successful," Stoudemire said. "We just have to buy into it and get it done. We've proven it works with the team we had before the trade, and it can work with the guys we have now. So it's just a matter of us buying into it. It's new for most of the guys, so it takes time for them to go out and understand how it works. So I think over time it will grow on them."
Remember when Stoudemire hit town after signing his max free-agent contract and promptly announced, "The Knicks are back"? Skeptics snickered at Stoudemire's enthusiasm and dryly said that it was cute but that he'll learn, he's not from around here, you know, so he doesn't know the details of the Knicks' awful recent history.
But as entrances go, Stoudemire's splashdown in New York looks light-years better and more self-assured than Anthony's bolt for the team bus Friday after a 2-for-12 shooting night in Detroit, then his concession speech Sunday after the Knicks' latest loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Anthony has shown a little fraying at the seams in the past week to 10 days. He's questioned the Knicks coaching staff's failure to adjust the team's defense against the Indiana Pacers' Tyler Hansbrough (an idea that D'Antoni disputed). He wondered why he didn't get to take a last shot at the end of another game. Then he went beyond the acknowledged flaws the Knicks' roster has to suggest it's nothing they'll be able to overcome this season while the Nuggets became one of the hottest teams in the NBA without him.
Meanwhile, Stoudemire embraced a leadership role from the start and hasn't let go. He's been thoughtful and measured when he's needed to be, assertive when he's thought that teammates were slacking off, committed to making the entire team better without worrying about blame, and supportive of D'Antoni and/or his system when others have taken shots at the Knicks' coach.
Comparing the records of the Knicks and Nuggets (who are 9-4 during the stretch) in the short term is a fun little diversion for people who enjoy seeing Anthony get some comeuppance for forcing the trade. Rather than the small 15-game sample everyone had to rate the trade, this fact should worry Knicks fans more: The Nuggets keep saying it wasn't so much that Anthony can't play any other way -- it's that he won't.
Is the difference between Can't and Won't affecting how well the Knicks' and D'Antoni's system works now? Those measly nine points they scored in the first quarter against Milwaukee?
This past weekend, it was great to see Stoudemire make a vocal comeback even as Anthony balked and bailed.
The simple truth is, the Knicks are better when they see themselves as Stoudemire's team.