As they steeled themselves late Monday for a grinding, gripping final 12 minutes in Chicago, the Knicks broke into two factions along the bench. At one end, a swarm of players gathered around the coaching staff. At the other, Carmelo Anthony sat stoically, a towel over his shoulders, alone.
“I do that every game,” Anthony would say later, smiling.
Anthony knew he would be on the bench to start the fourth quarter, as he often is. It was perhaps not that vital for him to join his 14 teammates in the huddle. Yet in the context of the Knicks’ current struggles, the imagery was striking, and telling.
The Knicks are not a unified team. On one side is Anthony. On the other is everyone else.
It is evident in Anthony’s body language, in his teammates’ postgame remarks and in the minor wrinkles of the box score. It is most glaring in the win-loss ledger, which has been inverted since Anthony rejoined the lineup.
The Knicks were 7-1 without Anthony last month (including a victory over Utah in which he played only six minutes). They have lost 8 of 10 games since he returned.
For two weeks, the Knicks played a fluid, joyful game in which everyone thrived and pulled for one another. The joy has faded, pushed aside by tension and resentment and a six-game losing streak.
The causes are varied, and Anthony is not solely to blame. But multiple people with ties to the team cite a growing divide between Anthony and his teammates that is threatening to derail the season.
Anthony is breaking plays and demanding the ball in isolation, then snapping at teammates when they fail to get it to him. It happened late Monday, when Anthony called for the ball in the post, then smacked his hands in anger after Landry Fields went elsewhere. More often, Anthony saves the criticism for more private moments, on the bench or in the locker room.
Anthony wants the Knicks to play through him, as every team has throughout his career. He is, by is own admission, uncomfortable in an offense in which he is not the primary ball-handler. That role is now capably filled byJeremy Lin and Baron Davis.
“He wants 20 shots a game,” a person with ties to another Knicks player said of Anthony. “He has had a scorer’s mentality his whole life.”
Yet the team that Anthony rejoined in late February no longer needs a 20-shot-a-game player. The Knicks have scoring options in Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Steve Novak, Iman Shumpert, Fields and Lin — the group that spearheaded the seven-game winning streak last month. They have since added more scoring in Davis and J. R. Smith. They are at their best when everyone is involved.
That is the philosophy that Coach Mike D’Antoni preaches daily, one that is echoed by Stoudemire after nearly every defeat.
“All of us, every single player, has to buy into it, and give the coach a chance for his strategy to work,” Stoudemire said after Sunday’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. “If we don’t, then see what happens.”
These critiques and speeches about “sacrifice” are always unspecific and carefully worded, but it is understood that they are intended for Anthony, the only Knick talented enough to repeatedly break plays and get away with it.
The fact is, Anthony is not performing at a level that warrants more shots or self-indulgent play. He is shooting a career-low 40 percent from the field. The Knicks are 2-11 this season when he has 20 or more attempts.
For the past 10 games, the Knicks have been demonstrably worse when Anthony plays. With Anthony on the court, the Knicks are scoring at a rate of 97.7 points per 100 possessions. When he is on the bench, that rating soars to 109.8.
The contrast is just as sharp on defense: the Knicks give up 107.1 points per 100 possessions with Anthony on the court, 95.1 with Anthony on the bench. His personal differential, a minus-9.4 rating, is the worst on the team in that 10-game stretch.
Nor is Anthony fulfilling his presumed role as a clutch performer. He misfired repeatedly down the stretch in Chicago, adding to a string of fourth-quarter failures this season. He intentionally fouled Kyle Korver and sent him to the line on a key possession in the final minute, with the Knicks down by 4, after the players had been instructed to simply play defense.
This is not an issue of whether D’Antoni’s coaching or his system suits Anthony, or whether Anthony likes D’Antoni. The question is whether Anthony is willing to subjugate his game for the greater good, as his teammates are demanding.
If not, he risks losing more than just his team’s respect. Fans who swooned over Anthony 13 months ago are booing him during introductions. Columnists are dissecting every comment, every shot attempt and every sideline gesture.
The Knicks are 12-20 with Anthony in the lineup this season, and 25-34 since he put on the uniform.
Carmelo Anthony wanted the Knicks. He demanded the trade that cost them four starters and multiple draft picks, and the $65 million extension that came with it. Anthony wanted the New York spotlight. Now he must accept the glare.
keyboard shortcuts: V vote up article J next comment K previous comment