When Carmelo Anthony was asked Tuesday about Amar'e Stoudemire's latest "ball don't move" gripe, a veiled swipe that Stoudemire has regularly leveled since Anthony joined the Knicks in 2011, it sounded as if Anthony took perhaps a nanosecond at best to calculate who was going to win this beauty contest: Me, NBA scoring champion and free-agent-to-be face of the franchise? Or you, Sore-Kneed Contract Albatross? Then he flicked Stoudemire's complaint aside like someone brushing lint off his shoulder.
Anthony said he wasn't going to change. He always says that. He said it in Denver, where he didn't have much postseason success. He says it here in New York, even as another day of Knicks dysfunction unfolded at their practice gym in Los Angeles as they prepared for Wednesday's game against the Clippers. Coach Mike Woodson, fresh off an ESPN New York radio interview in which he insisted he hadn't lost the locker room but promised to address Stoudemire's remarks anyway, later irritably stalked out of the gym after uttering an obscenity to shut down repeated questions about whether he likes Iman Shumpert. "Likes" him. As if this is high school. And the principal is upset because Shumpert took his parking spot.
But here's a thought: What if Anthony did consider changing his game rather than just brushing off the criticism he's been hearing his entire NBA career? How different would the Knicks be if he were more interested in approaching triple-doubles and making everyone else better instead of chasing another scoring title, given this Knicks team is personnel-challenged even when Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton are healthy?
What if Anthony actually tried to be a little more like LeBron when it came to passing, and a little less like a Pop-a-Shot King? Would it help Andrea Bargnani or Chandler or Shumpert be more dangerous offensive players, too? Would it make it harder to defend the Knicks?
Just asking because, if you notice, it isn't just Stoudemire who keeps obliquely griping about Melo Ball. Stoudemire didn't insinuate anything different about how Anthony's game can hurt a team's chances of winning than four NBA executives told ESPN's Chris Broussard in this extraordinarily candid and withering critique last week. The gist: Anthony always has pretty stats, it's true. And homage must always be paid to his great talent. Then the hand grenades start flying in:
"He's a great player, but he's also a selfish player. That's just how he is. I don't think he'll look at himself in the mirror and say, 'What am I not doing? What am I doing that's keeping us from winning?' …
"Ten years into the league, he's probably Robin on a championship team instead of Batman. He has Batman talent, but the intangibles are missing. … He knows where he's coming up short. …
"I actually think that, for whatever reason, Melo's always gotten a pass. At the end of the day, he's been in the league long enough where, if he was really a winner and about winning, he'd have figured it out by now. … Melo doesn't get it done because he doesn't make anybody else better."
That takeaway -- that Melo always leaves you wanting more, no matter how much he scores -- wasn't all that different from something wise old NBA veteran Chauncey Billups, who came to the Knicks in the same trade that brought Anthony, said of Melo on arrival: "He's one of the top three players in the NBA. When he wants to be."
It's still hard to forget how damning that last half of the quote was.
Anthony owes it to himself and his sinking team to engage in a little more rigorous self-examination of his game, even if he is late into his career. He sometimes seems as if he can get 15 rebounds in his sleep. But if he were a more efficient shooter and more generous passer -- something else he's truly gifted at, but again, when he wants to be -- how much would it float up this entire flawed Knicks team?
The Knicks are so bad on defense and offense right now, and at giving a consistent in-game effort, that dwelling solely on ball movement is foolish. Even if Stoudemire has a point.
They lost six straight heading into Wednesday's game against the Clippers and have a realistic chance to be riding an 0-9 streak when they play the Brooklyn Nets in about a week (Dec. 5) to see who will avoid the Atlantic Division cellar. All that back-and-forth about who owns the city seems a long time ago. (Isn't the right answer still the Miami Heat?)
The Nets are nicked up too and playing almost as lousy as the Knicks, which is saying something, given that, just 14 games into the season, the Knicks also already have held one team meeting to air things out, owner James Dolan "guaranteed" an early-season win over Atlanta during a nightclub gig his band was playing, and guard J.R. Smith, whose return has coincided with a 1-7 Knicks slide, has already said -- way last week -- that you're damn right he was already panicking.
And yet, there stood Anthony on Tuesday in L.A., essentially saying "I gotta be me" with the soul weariness of a great man who is unfairly required to swat away gnats that bother him every now and then.
Even when asked whether he had thought of inviting the whole team to his L.A. home for Thanksgiving dinner since the reeling Knicks were spending their off day there, the light bulb didn't blink on. He said nah, "There's nobody there to cook."
Anthony can stay this way, secure in his pretty stats, anointing himself a leader. But if the Knicks keep stinking in this season in which their owner also ridiculously declared they're good enough to win a championship (!?!), that phrase that Stoudemire keeps reviving -- "Ball don't move" -- might soon become embedded in New York sports lore alongside "ship be sinking," the immortal line Michael Ray Richardson once uttered about the Nets.
The truth right now about Anthony's game and Anthony's Knicks can be summed up in another three-word phrase that was true of his stay in Denver:
"This ain't working."
Doesn't matter what ZIP code he plays in.