- Ian O'Connor, ESPN Senior Writer
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NEW YORK -- As they sort through their mile-high pile of reasons to do business with Denver, the New York Knicks should consider the sentiments of a franchise player in dire need of a franchise.
Amare Stoudemire has invested everything he has in the Knicks -- mind, body and soul -- and it's time for the Knicks to invest everything they have in him.
This isn't about the $100 million coming Stoudemire's way, a deal that already looks like the smartest one Jim Dolan's ever made. Money alone can buy Stoudemire a lot of things, even 25 percent of the Mets, but in a salary-capped league it cannot buy him a lineup he can be proud of.
A trade for Carmelo Anthony can.
Stoudemire deserves this deal. For putting a godforsaken team on his shoulders, for carrying that team back to respectability with uncommon grace, and for accepting a monumental challenge that sent LeBron James scurrying to the beach, Stoudemire deserves a reason to believe the Knicks will win their long-lost title within the next three or four years, before his legs give out for good.
Anthony would be that reason.
The Knicks are only 28-26 without him. They defeated the Atlanta Hawks, 102-90, Wednesday night, when Stoudemire managed 23 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks, and a dozen displays of raw emotion inspired by Al Horford, who lost the physical battle to the Knicks star after scoring a 48-hour trash-talking draw in their prelim.
"It's just my character," said Stoudemire, who played through his sore big toe. "It motivates me sometimes when I make those types of quotes. So it's a matter of motivation and getting our guys ready to go."
Stoudemire said his toe will be ready to go at the All-Star Game in Los Angeles, where he'll surely spend some quality time with a certain Brooklyn-born Western Conference starter dying to come home, sweet home.
Reject Denver's demands and sign Carmelo Anthony as a free agent in the summer? It's not that simple. The New Jersey Nets are back in pursuit, making a grandstanding liar out of Mikhail Prokhorov, and the Nuggets have always preferred the Nets' assets to the Knicks' assets.
But there's more. Anthony has poured so much time and energy into making himself available to the Knicks, his chosen destination, that one source close to the talks believes Anthony will refuse to accept a summertime discount to play in Madison Square Garden in the event Donnie Walsh fails to deal before next Thursday's deadline.
"Melo has been the driving force behind this thing all along," the source said, "and you've got to give the kid credit. He's put himself way out there, and Denver finally engaged the Knicks and is willing to do a deal, a huge step forward.
"Melo wants to be a Knick, he's let everyone know that, and now the Knicks have to do their part. I still think it's 80-20 that he ends up in New York in a trade. But if Melo doesn't get traded, he's going to be very upset and I don't think he ever plays for the Knicks."
This math isn't fuzzy. No "big two" equals no "big three." Neither Paul nor Williams has any desire to be the last Knick standing when Stoudemire's aching knees and toes finally catch up to him.
And yes, it's going to take a lot of vision and creativity from Walsh (or whoever might replace Walsh) to clear the requisite salary space for one of the megastar point guards, assuming the new labor agreement doesn't take a healthy divot out of the cap.
A trade for Anthony actually helps the big-picture process. Wilson Chandler will be a restricted free agent this summer, and Danilo Gallinari will be a restricted free agent next summer. If the Knicks can move one or both in a two- or three-team trade that brings back Anthony, their 2012 books will be much better for it.
Of course Denver wants a ton in return, and of course the Knicks will have to part with young, developing players they don't necessarily want to part with. But asked Wednesday night if he'd be willing to deal two or three starters in a trade, any trade, Walsh said, "If it's a good trade, I would do it."
Carmelo Anthony represents a good trade, and the Nets appear more eager than the Knicks to embrace this truth. One more time, the Nets are talking to the Nuggets about a package of first-round picks built around rookie Derrick Favors. One source close to the talks between New Jersey and Denver said the Nets are "wading in the shallow end of the pool right now, and worried about going back into the deep end a third time and drowning."
The Nets would come across as fools if they fail to close again, yet the Knicks still have more to lose. The momentum they gained by signing Stoudemire and fielding a competitive team would crash into a brick wall, leaving the master plan in a billion little pieces.
"I think we've made a huge jump since last year," said Stoudemire, measuring the 28 victories at the break against the 29 claimed by last season's Knicks over 82 games.
Reminded that he is the franchise's first All-Star starter since Patrick Ewing, Stoudemire said he was happiest for the long-suffering fans ("They deserve this type of success," he said) and spoke of showing some professionalism in L.A., another sure sign that he really, really gets it.
"It's kind of blown me away how well he's conducted himself within the franchise with the people who work here," Walsh said, "and outside the franchise with the fans he meets and everybody he talks to."
It's Walsh's turn to amaze his best player and most passionate and accountable leader. The Knicks have plenty of reasons to trade for Carmelo Anthony, and doing right by Amare Stoudemire is better than most of them.