Chicago Sun-Times

Jack­son play­ing risky game with Knicks star An­thony

- Steve Popper @ StevePoppe­r Popper writes for The ( Ber­gen County, N. J.) Record, part of the USA TO­DAY Net­work.

Imag­ine NEW YORK you are James Dolan.

You are on tour with your band, feel­ing pretty good. A nice set the night be­fore, the cof­fee is place in front of you and you start pick­ing up news­pa­pers search­ing for band re­views, and in each pa­per, af­ter see­ing that the New York Knicks pulled out a gutsy 110107 win against the Charlotte Hor­nets on Fri­day, you spot a dis­turb­ing se­ries of ar­ti­cles about the brew­ing face- off be­tween Knicks Pres­i­dent Phil Jack­son and the star you worked so hard to bring to Madi­son Square Gar­den, Carmelo An­thony.

And you start to re­mem­ber your prom­ises on that day when you in­tro­duced Jack­son as the new sav­ior, how you were no bas­ket­ball ex­pert and this was all in Jack­son’s hands and you hope that at least if the star you gave up half the fran­chise to get and then have paid out the con­tract that Jack­son told you that you had to pay to keep An­thony, would bring back the pieces to re­make the Knicks and keep those high- priced seats filled.

But you see a story from ESPN that the Cleveland Cava­liers turned down Jack­son’s idea of an An­thony- for- Kevin Love deal. And then the New York Daily News re­ports that Jack­son was open to send­ing An­thony to the Los An­ge­les Clip­pers and not bring­ing back any of the team’s three stars.

And you start to think that maybe you’d bet­ter get back to New York. Trust in Jack­son only goes so far. Jack­son has run through three in­car­na­tions of re­builds al­ready, and this lat­est one was a win- now af­fair. And now, just af­ter the sea­son hit its mid­point, he is look­ing to break it down.

Un­der­stand­able, be­cause the ex­per­i­ment hasn’t worked, and the Knicks have not looked any­thing like con­tenders.

The so­lu­tion for Jack­son seems to be to try to prod An­thony to give up the no­trade clause that Jack­son pro­vided when An­thony was on a free agent re­cruit­ing tour. And de­spite his in­sis­tence that he wants to stay in New York, An­thony has at least hinted that he will lis­ten.

But the Knicks know that he’s not going just any­where — if he agrees to go at all, as Jack­son has made it in­creas­ingly un­com­fort­able. An­thony met with Jack­son and gen­eral man­ager Steve Mills on Jan. 17 and told them he wanted to stay. But, as the sit­u­a­tion has es­ca­lated, he sounds more and more open. He said Fri­day that he had not spo­ken again to the front- of­fice staff.

“Be­ing able to go out there and play bas­ket­ball, that’s the fun part for me,” An­thony said. “I don’t have to worry about any­thing at that point. I try not to think about it. It’s a lit­tle dif­fi­cult not to think about it.”

The fans who might have tired of the strug­gles and An­thony’s style seemed to turn back to him Fri­day night. Maybe it was the pres­ence of the last star that the Knicks shipped out, Pa­trick Ewing, who got a huge stand­ing ova­tion at Madi­son Square Gar­den in his role as a Hor­nets as­sis­tant coach, but there was a lot of, “Keep Melo,” and “We love you, Melo,” shouted from the stands. And then they booed when he missed two con­sec­u­tive free throws in the fourth quar­ter.

“As a stu­dent of the game you know what peo­ple go through in their own re­spec­tive situations,” An­thony said. “Know­ing the his­tory of the game and know­ing the his­tory of here and the play­ers, he was one of those guys who kind of can re­late to what I’m going through. Be­ing able to still try to per­form at a high level and block ev­ery­thing out. I mean, that’s some­body I can say un­der­stands what I’m deal­ing with.” And he left? “It wasn’t his fault,” An­thony said, laugh­ing for a mo­ment be­fore re­peat­ing, “It wasn’t his fault.”

Back to Dolan, though. If Jack­son’s plan is to ship out An­thony and at least gain ros­ter flex­i­bil­ity by rid­ding the ros­ter of the no- trade clause, Dolan no doubt knows that An­thony re­mains the star and the face of the fran­chise. He has scored 30 points or more 11 times in 47 games, and his num­bers are not far off from last sea­son — av­er­ag­ing more points but with dips in re­bounds and as­sists.

An­thony, though, is still a star, and the no­tion of giv­ing him up just to get rid of him is con­found­ing. How will that talk go over with Dolan when he is told that from the Clip­pers they can get Austin Rivers as the key piece com­ing back? Or maybe the Bos­ton Celtics will give up Amir John­son?

How does that get the Knicks closer to the Cava­liers at the top of the East? Or does it start the trig­ger for a Der­rick Rose deal, a much eas­ier move with him pro­duc­tive of­fen­sively and hold­ing an ex­pir­ing con­tract?

What it looks like is Jack­son doesn’t quite know where the team is going or have them any closer to even the level they were at when he took over.

 ?? BRAD PENNER, USA TO­DAY SPORTS ?? Knicks for­ward Carmelo An­thony, who has a no- trade clause, has been men­tioned in many ru­mors. I try not to think about it,” he says. “It’s a lit­tle dif­fi­cult not to think about it.”
BRAD PENNER, USA TO­DAY SPORTS Knicks for­ward Carmelo An­thony, who has a no- trade clause, has been men­tioned in many ru­mors. I try not to think about it,” he says. “It’s a lit­tle dif­fi­cult not to think about it.”

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