NEW YORK -- The question was posed innocently enough, a reporter asking Kobe Bryant whether he thought the New York Knicks were for real or whether he thought they might be one great player away from being for real.
"The Knicks? Is that your way of asking me about the Melo stuff?" Bryant said before giving the most dead-on statement of the night, maybe of the season.
"I mean, yeah, they have some really good pieces here, and the future is bright for them. But I mean, who are we kidding?" Bryant said. "You know about Carmelo Anthony. Let's not go crazy here. Carmelo Anthony is a bad boy. So you figure it out."
Translation: If the Knicks are fooling themselves and their fans into believing that becoming relevant again is enough of an accomplishment in Year 3 of their famous four-year plan, they are making fools of themselves.
In other words: If the Knicks don't make this trade, they can look forward to slipping back into the same state of irrelevance they occupied for the better part of the past decade. Those were the days when good, star-studded teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers could come into Madison Square Garden and count on having half the crowd on their side -- sort of like what the Lakers had going Friday night in their 113-96 thumping of the now-.500 Knicks.
"The problem is there are so many Lakers fans here," Bryant said. "Maybe they've got to be more selective about who they sell tickets to."
The loudest chant of the night was "Let's Go Lakers!" The loudest roar of the night came after Shannon Brown reached faaaaaaar back behind him to corral an alley-oop pass that he converted into the best dunk unleashed at the Garden all season. Everything in the house Friday night except the Knicks constituted the show, which was the way things were back when Donnie Walsh was finishing his tenure in Indianapolis and Mike D'Antoni was doing the same in Phoenix.
The basketball the Knicks played in losing for the 11th time in 15 games? That right there might qualify for the ugliest sight of the night, unless one takes into account the bright orange, Russian-style hat Spike Lee sported all night until he made an early exit midway through the fourth quarter.
It was a night better spent celebrity watching than basketball watching for those cheering for the Knicks, the team that supposedly has captured the imagination of the city by keeping its head above water this long into the season for only the second time in 10 years.
But to steal a quote from Kobe: Who are we kidding?
Saturday will mark 12 days until the NBA trade deadline arrives, and what will continue to capture the imagination of the basketball-viewing public in New York is not the current Knicks, but the possibility that this team is going to have its second major rebuilding piece in place by the time Feb. 24 comes and goes. If that day passes with the status quo intact, the opportunity of the decade might be lost.
Yes, the Knicks might be able to get Anthony as an unrestricted free agent. Emphasis on the word "might." And it cannot go without saying that if Walsh continues to make unrealistic offers to the Nuggets because he believes he is dealing from a position of strength, he will not be able to make the trade the Knicks need to complete the jump from being relevant to being respected. The Nuggets still can say, "No," and roll the dice from there.
And since an offer of Eddy Curry, Wilson Chandler and Anthony Randolph is not going to be enough to get it done, it becomes a question of how much more the Knicks will need to give up to get the Nuggets to pull the trigger.
"I walk away from every game thinking I've got to do something. I wake up every day thinking that," Walsh said before the game. "If it's not going to make you better, no matter how much you want to do something, you can't do it."
Players of Anthony's caliber become available on the trade market once in a generation, and if the Knicks can't find a way to make this one happen, they are doomed to another decade of distress.
"I'm a walking wound," Amare Stoudemire muttered as he strode through the locker room afterward with ice wraps around both knees and one ankle.
Not only is he a walking wound, he is a great player on an OK team that has nobody else with the combination of natural ability and killer instinct that Anthony possesses. As things stand, Stoudemire is doomed to getting his clock cleaned by whatever opponent the Knicks run up against in the first round, and he'll be lucky if he doesn't suffer the same fate that befell Stephon Marbury when he led the Knicks into the playoffs in his first season here, only to get swept out of the postseason by the vastly superior New Jersey Nets.
Another vastly superior opponent showed the Knicks how good it really is Friday night, and Walsh and Jim Dolan both had to be thinking the same thing as they left the Garden in their separate limousines: It is time to get this thing done.
Now we're supposed to believe they won't go the extra mile to actually acquire a player of similar caliber?
It is time, Mr. Dolan and Mr. Walsh, to do whatever it takes. Your team is going nowhere without Anthony, and the time to go get him -- even if you have to go against your vow not to "gut the team" -- is upon us.
Blow this one, and you can look forward to another four years of players like Bryant coming into the building and drawing the most zealous support. Those days are supposed to be over, but Friday night showed they are not.
Again, to steal a quote from Bryant: "Who are we kidding?"