NEW YORK - Carmelo Anthony has a bad knee, a bad back, and a really bad cast of basketball players around him, and it is clear now that his New York Knicks season will be something far more painful than the first step in your garden-variety NBA rebuild.
This is going to be a soul-crushing exercise in humility from here to April, a never-ending embarrassment of Rich Kotite-ian proportions. The Knicks are 5-22. Five and freakin' twenty-two. They barely try anymore, as evidenced by the white-hot Dallas Mavericks start that forced Derek Fisher to sub out his entire starting five at once midway through the first quarter.
"It kind of woke us up," Anthony said.
Emphasis on kind of. The Knicks ran Phil Jackson's triangle into a brick wall, again, and lost by a 107-87 score that shed new light on Jackson's tweet from earlier in the day, when the team president quoted the sport's founding father, James Naismith, as saying, "Basketball is an easy game to play, but difficult to master."
It's especially difficult to master when you have one guy out of five on the floor who has any idea what he's doing with the ball.
"It don't sit well," Anthony said of his team's record after finishing with 26 points and five assists. "If I sat here and said everything sits well with me then you should question me. But it don't sit well with me. ... I don't like this feeling."
As hard as it might be to feel sorry for a famous man with a starlet wife and a $124 million contract in his hip pocket, go ahead and feel sorry for Carmelo Kyam Anthony. He plays hard and pretty damn effectively every single night, and he sure doesn't deserve this garbage roster and this garbage season unraveling on a novice coach's watch.
As it turned out, Anthony only had to look across the Garden court Tuesday night to throw himself a pity party. Dirk Nowitzki, conqueror of LeBron James in 2011, stood as living, breathing evidence that a championship team can be built around one true star, not two, and about a half-dozen worthy backup singers.
Nowitzki had better versions of Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler to work with than Anthony did two seasons later, and now Chandler is re-establishing himself as the winning, grinding player he always was before rebelling against an overmatched coach he didn't respect, Mike Woodson.
Jackson erroneously decided that Chandler was as much to blame as Woodson, who all but spent last season with a "Fire Me" sign taped to his forehead, and forgot that the 7-foot-1 center would likely be a valuable and motivated asset in the final year of his deal. So Jackson made a trade he shouldn't have made, shipping out the Knicks' second-best player and landing Jose Calderon, who, on cue, was better for Nowitzki than he's been for Anthony.
Meanwhile, Chandler is a core reason why the Mavericks are 18-8. He didn't pound the Knicks for 17 points and 25 rebounds like he did in Dallas, but he did open Tuesday night's game with a rim-rocking dunk and did finish with eight points and 14 boards.
"He's not a good player," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said, "he's a great player. ... Fourteen rebounds in 25 minutes: That's a man's game right there."
Anthony told Knicks fans in advance that they shouldn't boo his former teammate, and he shouldn't have bothered: Chandler was given a warm ovation on introduction. New York basketball fans are smart enough to understand that he was part of the solution to the problems Jackson inherited, and that the team president's bid to improve locker room chemistry amounted to one good swing (Raymond Felton) and one bad miss (Chandler).
"He puts in the work," Carlisle said of Chandler. "We've gotten better than last year because of him He's gotten better. He's better in all areas."
Just Melo's luck.
Time isn't on his side here either. Anthony has been in the league since he was 19, and he turns 31 in May. In other words, his biological clock is tick, tick, ticking.
His contemporaries at the top of the 2003 draft, non-Darko Milicic version, have won a combined seven titles (James 2, Dwyane Wade 3, Chris Bosh 2), and James is scheduled to spend the rest of his prime in Cleveland with complementary stars who can continue to block Anthony's road out of the Eastern Conference.
If his frayed right elbow cooperates, Tanaka will be protected during his time in the Bronx by the Yankees' budget, or lack thereof. Harvey is returning from his own rehab just in time for the Mets' projected return to relevance. Lundqvist is coming off a trip to the Stanley Cup finals, and just as two-time champion Eli Manning starts to show a hint or two of wear and tear, a superstar named Odell Beckham Jr. walks into his life and promises to elevate the quarterback who was so used to doing the elevating himself.
Where's Melo's Odell Beckham Jr.? He's not on this Knicks' roster, that's for sure. And with pending free agents Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge heavily favored to remain in Memphis and Portland next summer, the Class of 2015 won't necessarily offer up a sidekick worthy of the Knicks' cap space.
Kevin Durant in 2016? Around the Garden that sounds an awful lot like LeBron James in 2010, so yeah, good luck waiting on that.
By re-signing with the Knicks, Anthony guaranteed himself tens of millions in additional wages, and he gambled on a team president who is only the greatest winner in league history.
Beyond that, Anthony gave himself a chance to do for New York basketball what Mark Messier did for New York hockey: end a biblical championship drought. He could've left for the Bulls, Lakers, Rockets or Mavericks, but when weighing potential health issues with Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant there were no slam-dunk options on his board.
Though his choice appeared sound at the time, he never thought this transition year would be half this humiliating. Anthony knows he can't begin to consider waiving his no-trade clause and asking for an easier route to a parade until his boss takes his shot at free agency the next two summers. But if Jackson can't close on a Gasol or a Durant the way his old friend Pat Riley closed on James in 2010, then Anthony will be free to cook up an exit strategy.
Until then, Anthony has to suffer on his Manhattan island of misfit toys. In the Dallas locker room Tuesday night, Chandler was asked if he felt sorry for his former teammate.
"I do," he answered. "I do because he's a competitor and I laced them up and went to battle with him for the last three years and I know what kind of competitor he is. ... I know he's going to take a lot of this heat, and it's unfortunate because he's a hell of a player in our league."
It's most unfortunate for Carmelo Anthony. He took the money from Phil Jackson to stick with the Knicks, but he never signed up for this.
So go ahead and feel sorry for the $124 million ballplayer, if only because he doesn't deserve a sorry excuse for a team like this one.