1. The Night Basketball Returned To The City
NEW YORK -- Maybe it looked this way only to my bleary eyes after a red-eye flight, but the colors along the horizon at daybreak on the final approach to JFK appeared to be the exact orange and blue hues of the New York Knicks, as if Mother Nature had put on her version of one of those special themed lightings of the Empire State Building. It really was the dawn of a new era.
Yet Anthony's long-rumored, finally executed departure from Denver doesn't even go down as the most significant transaction of the week. That honor belongs to the New Jersey Nets, who signaled that you'd better keep an eye on them and owner Mikhail Prokhorov after all by nabbing Deron Williams from the Utah Jazz before most teams even realized he was available.
You've got a better case for Deron Williams as the best point guard in the NBA than you have for Carmelo Anthony as the best small forward in the NBA -- at least as long as LeBron James is at that position. And Williams has won twice as many playoff series as Anthony: 4-2, including their head-to-head meeting in the first round last year.
Carmelo already feels like an old story, mainly because we've had to live with it the entire season. The Williams trade was the first move involving the trio of superstars -- Chris Paul and Dwight Howard are the others -- who have the option of becoming free agents in 2012. I already find myself more intrigued by where Williams, Howard and Paul will end up in 2012 than I am by the 2010 playoffs -- and these playoffs should be really good. Since the 2011-12 season will likely be diminished or canceled because of the lockout, I say after this season David Stern should just unilaterally forward all contracts to 2012 status so we can see how this plays out.
If the Nets can convince Williams to stay with them as they move into their new Brooklyn home -- at this stage that's still a big "if" -- they should also have the salary-cap room to make a run at Howard or another major free agent. They could take their cross-river battle with the Knicks beyond billboards and other bits of gamesmanship and actually turn this into a basketball battle for regional supremacy.
We could add Knicks-Nets to, well, the rest of the NBA against the Miami Heat. On my Twitter response timeline, @Killer_Looks_ referred to Carmelo as "the newest Anti-Heat weapon." Everything's going to be about the Heat. It's one of the side benefits of the South Beach Co-op; they've created an arms race.
I'll take rivalries over parity. If every team is equal it doesn't allow for the showcase games, or the bitter feuds. Being in Madison Square Garden for the first big game in more than a decade that was about the Knicks and not the visitors reminded me of those Knicks-Bulls or Knicks-Pacers battles.
John Starks, who was around for those memorable postseason clashes in the '90s, said, "It's exciting to see the energy back in the city.
"Tonight you're going to get a taste of what this is going to be like the rest of the year."
I told him that no matter what happens, Melo will never dunk on Horace Grant and Michael Jordan the way Starks did in the 1993 playoffs.
"Hopefully he can get LeBron and Wade," Starks said.
It always gets back to the Heat, doesn't it?
But what about the teams and cities left behind by these clusters of talent? The latest is the small-market Jazz, suddenly without their star point guard. Utah general manager Kevin O'Connor insisted the transaction had nothing to do with the recent head-butting between Williams and Jerry Sloan that preceded the retirement of the longest-tenured coach in pro sports.
"Absolutely not," O'Connor said. "You don't have to believe me."
Thing is, I do believe him. Because you'd think letting Sloan walk in what appeared to be an either/or situation would have mandated that the Jazz would keep Williams. You didn't expect the answer to turn out to be "none of the above." Even if the Jazz didn't like Williams, they couldn't be willing to let him go so easily if they hadn't had Sloan's back, either. This just looks bad.
"You try to do not what's best cosmetically, but what's best for the team," O'Connor said.
And in this case the team wanted certainty that Williams couldn't or wouldn't provide.
"Deron never said he was leaving," O'Connor said. "He also never said he was committed to staying."
So they got a package from the Nets -- Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and two first-round draft picks -- that was similar to what the Nets offered the Nuggets for Carmelo Anthony. The Nuggets' due diligence in dragging the Anthony trade talks all the way to the last lap made it easy for the Jazz to see what they could get if they moved Williams.
"It was the going rate, so to speak," O'Connor said.
So the trade was able to get done within a day of the Nets' first contacting the Jazz, without turning into the ongoing reality show that was the Carmelo saga. But the Jazz are officially out of the 2012 derby. The best they can do is hope their draft picks blossom into superstars, the way Williams did as the third pick in the 2005 draft. One of the scary signals they got from Williams was his candid remarks to the media about the difficulty of attracting major free agents to small markets such as Salt Lake City.
Meanwhile, the biggest market has that big-event feel again.
The Garden has some of the best game-operations people in the business, and they were on point with their music and pregame videos that struck a perfect chord. The Knicks altered their intros to have the players run onto the court from the tunnel, rather than the sideline, and Carmelo was the first name called.
"I never experienced anything like that before," he said. "Just running out, the fans going crazy."
The crowd did its part throughout the night, chanting "de-fense" on Milwaukee's first possession, serenading Anthony with "Me-looo" and even adding a Yankee Stadium-style "Chaun-cey Bill-ups" for the other important arrival from Denver.
There were awkward moments, such as when Billups passed to Amare Stoudemire on the wing, then didn't know where to go and wound up running straight at Stoudemire (bringing an extra defender with him). Later, Anthony got the ball at the top of the key and yelled "Get out, STAT" to Stoudemire, who was on the left side of the lane. But Stoudemire had nowhere to go and with the shot clock running down, neither did Carmelo, who had to force up a contested jumper that missed. There were also moments like when Stoudemire hit a cutting Anthony for an easy dunk.
One unexpected development was Toney Douglas going off for 23 points, something he attributed to the Bucks' defense being so consumed with Stoudemire and Anthony.
"We're going to be pretty potent offensively," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We've going to have a lot of solutions to be a lot smoother and a lot better. The key will be defense. If we can continue to guard as a team and rebound in these 27 games, continue to improve defensively, we can be pretty good."
And sometimes instead of worrying about two superstars collaborating, it's nice to have a surplus superstar to serve as a contingency plan. It played out that way when Stoudemire fouled out with a minute left. Need a big shot? No problem. Carmelo worked his way into the lane and lofted a jumper over Andrew Bogut that gave the Knicks a six-point lead and pushed them toward their 114-108 victory. Anthony finished with 27 points on 10-for-25 shooting.
The Knicks soon might have to go a whole game without Stoudemire, who picked up his 15th technical foul of the season Wednesday and will have to serve a suspension if he gets another one.
"I do know we have some other options now if he does have to go out," D'Antoni said. "It's not as bleak as it was."
That's the perspective of the new Knicks.
The Knicks can't make a clean break from their past, however. There was Garden chairman James Dolan at the start of the news conference. His presence alone was a reminder of the long wander through the wilderness under his regime. Then he felt the need to address the latest round of political maneuvering at the Garden, and to go out of his way to deny the stories of Isiah Thomas whispering trade suggestions in his ear that were contrary to the desires of D'Antoni and Donnie Walsh, and could lead to Walsh's departure.
"While Isiah Thomas is a friend of mine -- a very good friend of mine -- he was not at all involved in this process," Dolan said "He wasn't advising me or telling me what to do in any way. And any reports that imply he was doing that are simply untrue and fiction in somebody's mind.
"Donnie has done a great job since he's been here, especially putting us in position to even think about adding players of this caliber. He and I agreed to get through the trade deadline, then we will sit down and discuss his contract, which expires in June. We will comment on that at the appropriate time."
Hmmm, he didn't exactly tell Walsh "Go ahead and start that home remodel project, you're not going anywhere."
So it remains to be seen who will be responsible for making the rest of the roster moves it will take to get the Knicks to the top. Not that there are any high expectations for a sudden championship.
"Whaddya think: this year or next year?" a Knicks fan asked me on my way to my seat.
Inside the team there's a little more realism, as Anthony demonstrated as he finally explained why he wanted to be a Knick so badly.
"I think New York needed a moment like this," he said. "When they got Amare it brought some excitement back to the city. Now New York basketball is back. Will we win a championship this year? Who knows? That takes time.
"I think that they're moving in the right direction. I feel like I wanted to be part of an organization, part of a team that had some upside and where the future was golden. It's a dream come true for me, and I'm ready to rock."
And on the first night, complete with retro '90s uniforms, the Garden truly was rocking.
2. Chuck In Good Company
The Houston Rockets grabbed 22 offensive rebounds Wednesday night, including 13 by Chuck Hayes. It was the most offensive boards in a game for Houston since Nov. 29, 2009 (23 versus the Oklahoma City Thunder) and the most by one player in an NBA game since Joakim Noah had 14 for the Chicago Bulls on Dec. 15, 2009. The only other players to grab at least 13 offensive rebounds in a game for the Rockets were Moses Malone (19 times), Hakeem Olajuwon (twice) and Larry Smith (twice).
3. Daily Dime Live Recap
Zach Harper, TrueHoop Network bloggers and fans gave their in-game opinions on all topics throughout Wednesday's slate of NBA roundball action in Daily Dime Live.
4. Extreme Behavior
Jermaine Taylor, Kings: This Sacto reserve had the best homecoming performance of the night. Getting his first significant run of the season this week with Tyreke Evans out, the Tavares, Fla., native rocked his hometown Magic for 21 points off the bench on 9-for-12 shooting in a 111-105 win.
Magic mountain of woe: Stan Van Gundy was not a happy camper after the home loss to the Kings. With hopes for a permanent seat among the East elite boosted by a midseason deal, the Magic now look more and more like a team destined for a 4-5 playoff spot.
TWEET OF THE NIGHT
After tonight, I don't blame melo and lebron for the moves they made
They played "I'm coming home I'm coming home" melo intro. Unreal!less than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®BRANDON JENNINGS
-- Bucks guard Brandon Jennings, after witnessing Carmelo Anthony's Knicks debut.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"If guys don't want to play, they need to sit down. We can't just have guys or anybody out there not playing hard."
-- Magic center Dwight Howard, after his Orlando Magic fell to the doormat Sacramento Kings.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Remember Me?
7. Grading D-Will Deal
I can't give the Utah Jazz too high a grade when they did the equivalent of punting on fourth-and-1 from midfield. It's not certain that Deron Williams would have left in 2012, and they might have had a franchise tag to protect themselves under an eventual 2011 labor agreement. And if that turned out not to be the case, they simply could have traded him later (albeit for less). Additionally, it's not as though other stars are clamoring to come to Utah; when a team like the Jazz gets one, it needs to hang on for dear life the way the Hornets have done with Chris Paul.
With all those caveats, Utah made a heck of a deal. Derrick Favors may never wow us offensively, but he's going to be a rock-solid defensive player who stabilizes the Jazz's good-hit, no-field frontcourt, and the two first-round picks (along with Utah's own) should help the Jazz recover quickly. Additionally, Devin Harris is a fairly good player in his own right, and his contract is fair, so he'll cushion the blow of losing Williams. In the short term, it leaves the Jazz a mediocre team but by no means an awful one. If they draft well (which they haven't lately), the path to recovery could be short.
But you'd still rather have Williams.
8. Noah Returns With Loss
TORONTO -- The Chicago Bulls should have known that things would be a little off from the start Wednesday night.
After being sidelined for more than two months and 30 games with a thumb surgery, Joakim Noah sat anxiously on the bench waiting for his name to be called during pregame introductions. Only problem was that it was Kurt Thomas' name that was called instead.
Given what unfolded over the next three hours for Noah and his teammates, the announcing miscue seems apropos. It wasn't so much that Noah played poorly -- he had 17 rebounds in less than 25 minutes -- it was that the entire defensive identity the Bulls built, both with and without Noah over the course of their first 54 games, flew out the window against a bad Raptors team.
Tom Thibodeau might have best summed up his team's lack of execution on the defensive end when asked what disappointed him most about the Bulls' defensive effort. "What didn't?" the frustrated coach said. "Every aspect. Start with defensive transition, keeping the ball out of the paint, challenging shots. Every aspect of our defense -- out the window."
For a team that has played so well defensively for most of the season, the performance was hard to swallow.
"I really don't know," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said, when asked what the problem was defensively. "You've got to look at film, miscommunication, it was just our lack of energy on [the defensive] end. And we all know we can't play like that. Thank God that we play tomorrow so that we can come out and play aggressive throughout the whole game and get back in rhythm."
But why weren't the Bulls in rhythm against the Raptors, one of the worst teams in the league? Nobody had a specific answer, but there were lots to choose from. Many will point to power forward Carlos Boozer as a major reason the Bulls were torched for 118 points. Boozer struggled all night defensively and looked like he was still adjusting to having Noah on the floor.
9. Melo's Move