Chandler shines amid trade rumors

NEW YORK -- The NBA trade deadline is exactly one month away, and the Miami Heat are coming to town Thursday night to show the Knicks exactly how far they are or aren't from being able to compete with an elite team.

All the Knicks showed Monday night is that they are capable of disposing of the trash.

And it was interesting afterward -- especially after Amare Stoudemire had another 30-point game, Raymond Felton had 17 points and 15 assists and Danilo Gallinari scored 17 -- that coach Mike D'Antoni singled Wilson Chandler out for praise.

Pumping up your biggest trade asset, coach?

"First quarter he was definitely hesitating and I was worried about him, but then he came back and played great," D'Antoni said after Chandler recovered from an 0-for-4 first quarter to finish with four 3-pointers, 25 points and seven rebounds in a 115-106 victory over the Washington Wizards on Monday night. "Maybe he hit bottom and came back up, but he -- like I said before, is really important to our team, and hopefully he stays right where he is."

By staying right where he is, one was left to discern whether D'Antoni meant talent-wise or location-wise. Chandler had missed more than half of his shots in each of the Knicks' six consecutive losses that they entered this game with, lowering his value at a time when the Knicks are secretly hoping that he can be one of the key pieces of the puzzle in their quest to acquire Carmelo Anthony from Denver.

The Nuggets are being "polite" to the Knicks in their discussions regarding an Anthony trade, a league source told ESPN.com, but it seems Denver wants to see how it fares on a critical five-game Eastern road swing in which they will face nothing but bottom-feeders -- the Wizards on Tuesday, followed by the Pistons, Cavaliers, Sixers and Nets.

A 5-0 trip would make the Nuggets 30-18 and strengthen their hold on a playoff spot, which could prompt them to call Anthony's bluff, refuse to trade him, take their chances in the postseason and then see if he really has the guts to turn down the $65 million extension that is sitting on the table, along with the $18 million he is under contract to earn next season, and become an unrestricted free agent going into a summer in which, because of the NBA's unsettled labor situation, no one yet knows what the financial landscape will look like.

"I don't know whether teams get more serious with the deadline, or they think they'll wait for the deadline, or it just gets to the point where they've got to do something in their own minds and they realize it's the right time for that," Knicks president Donnie Walsh said. "The question is: Is there anything out there that can make you a better team? I haven't seen anything that I can trade for that would make us a better team."

That's mostly because the Knicks have not come close to agreeing with the Nuggets on what it would take to get Anthony moved to his dream destination, in large part because the Nuggets spent the better part of the past two months playing trade charades with the Pistons and Nets despite knowing all along that Anthony would ultimately let it be known that he has zero interest in playing for New Jersey/Brooklyn -- a fact that became apparent to everyone involved right around this point a week ago.

Anthony has since said he is finished fielding questions about trades, contract extensions and the like, which should turn down the volume on the MeloDrama even as multiple trade scenarios continue to quietly percolate on the back burner.

It is an open secret in the Knicks locker room that either Chandler or Gallinari would be the most likely player to be moved along with Eddy Curry and whatever else the Knicks try to package in an Anthony deal (Landry Fields and Anthony Randolph are the leading throw-in candidates), and both players have seemed to allow the trade talk to affect their play (both Gallinari an Chandler have said they'd prefer to remain in New York) from time to time.

"If you are going to be in New York, this is not just going on right now, it goes on all year. So players have to be able to take it, not let it affect them," said Walsh, whose only admission on the trade front was that the Knicks are in dire need of an extra big man. "I look at what the eventual team will be -- I'm talking about beyond this year -- and the impact it'll have on the things we do this summer and in the future."

And so began the final month countdown to Feb. 24 -- the date when the Knicks will know whether they can emerge with two max superstars who will be under contract through the 2014-15 season, or whether they'll have to move some pieces this summer (or next fall or winter if a lockout wipes out the summer) to get far enough under the salary cap to sign Anthony.

And that, of course, assumes that Anthony does not blink with that $83 million of guaranteed money sitting on the table.

So in closing, Knicks fans, the team to watch in the next 24 hours is the same team the Knicks knocked off Monday night.

Because if those same Washington Wizards can start the Nuggets' road trip off on the wrong foot, the chances of a sooner-rather-than-later parting of the ways between Anthony and the Nuggets can only increase.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN.com and ESPNNewYork.com.