What will Melo do? He should win big

Pete Carril has been watching basketball for 70 years, so when he says Jeremy Lin's New York Knicks can be a serious contender in the East, he is not to be dismissed as some Ivy League scholar giving it the old college try for one of his own.

Sure, Carril from Princeton wouldn't mind seeing Lin from Harvard run circles around the doubters from here to the Hall of Fame. But on the phone the other day, when measuring the Knicks' chances to go deep in the tournament, the 81-year-old Hall of Famer wasn't talking any more about Lin than he was about the Knicks' latest, greatest sensation this time last year.

Carril thinks Carmelo Anthony, who has been out with a groin injury, might put his team right there in the NBA's final four.

"I do, I really do," the former Princeton coach said after watching Lin shred his adopted NBA team, the Sacramento Kings, while Anthony watched in street clothes.

"You've got Miami, Chicago, the Celtics, that's a rough part of the league," Carril continued. "But all this talk that Anthony might impede what they're doing, I don't see that happening. They all love to play with Lin, and if you're open, he'll throw you the ball. Jeremy doesn't wait three seconds to see if he can shoot it; he gets it right to you.

"So I'd be shocked if Carmelo has any problem with that. He does like to hold the ball, and he's so good one-on-one and so hard to guard with one man. But what Carmelo's seeing here is how much the fans and the team enjoy the way they are playing, so he's going to want to play like that, too. It's contagious."

Carril is right, of course. Anthony won't have any problem playing with Lin, not after he thrived with Chauncey Billups in Denver, and not after he won a national title with Gerry McNamara at Syracuse.

Melo understands that a visionary playmaker is a friend, not an enemy. Despite the loss to the New Orleans Hornets on Friday night, a sobering result for the daydreamers hoping Lin could run the table forever, Melo understands that the point guard enhances his odds of winning a ticker-tape parade and assuming Eli Manning's MVP role on the VIP float with Mayor Bloomberg and the rest.

But here's something else Anthony should understand: He's got enough pieces around him to win it all, if not this year, then sometime sooner rather than later.

The Knicks have a keeper at quarterback, a ballplayer Willis Reed is already comparing to Clyde Frazier. The Knicks have a legitimate star at power forward in Amare Stoudemire, even if he isn't the same physical presence he was on arrival in New York.

The Knicks also have in Tyson Chandler a big man who defends and alters shots and who knows how to help a team win the very title his Dallas Mavericks won last year. The Knicks have in Iman Shumpert a young, athletic winner, and they have in J.R. Smith another high-impact shooter coming off the bench to space the floor.

That's heavy firepower before even getting around to the former All-Star who might serve as Lin's backup, Baron Davis, the anointed savior-in-waiting until the moment the world changed on a single Feb. 4 substitution against the New Jersey Nets.

A true superstar should find a way to win a championship in the next year or three with that group, Miami Heat or no Miami Heat. Dirk Nowitzki figured it out, and now it's Anthony's turn to do the same.

Again, Melo won't be some sort of bad, ball-stopping influence on Lin. He's too smart for that, and he proved it by telling Mike D'Antoni to put the kid on the floor in the first place.

This is about Anthony having the game -- or not having the game -- to take full advantage of this remarkable twist of fate. Without a healthy Billups in last year's playoffs, and without Lin leading the Knicks in the first 23 games of this year, Anthony had a built-in excuse.

We don't have a point guard. ... How am I supposed to win this team's first title since 1973 without a point guard?

Yeah, Lin has to work on his turnovers, but given the circumstances that's a pretty good problem to have.

"Jeremy's innocent, he's young, he has no agenda, he throws the ball to the right guy," Carril said. "He's awfully fast, he can shoot, he can dribble and it doesn't look like he cares about playing for stats or money.

"He's a little weak with his left hand and he's got some stumbling ahead of him. The novelty of this will wear off and he'll have some struggles, but Jeremy will continue working to get better. This kid would work and play just as hard if he were playing at the local Y."

Carril has done some coaching and consulting for the Kings, and he was in the Garden the other night to take the temperature of Linsanity for himself. Carril spent a few summers teaching the game in Taiwan, and he coached a group of Taiwanese players against an American team that featured a certain whirling dervish from Harvard.

Jeremy Lin.

"We couldn't stop him," Carril recalled. "When you're as fast as he is and you can shoot, what will prevent you from improving? With Jeremy, once Carmelo gets back, the Knicks should just get better."

One longtime NBA coach who recently watched Lin's Knicks up close agreed with Carril's take.

"I think they can be the second-best team in the East, behind Miami," the coach said. "Chicago is very tough, but with Melo I think the Knicks might have better pieces.

"Their defense is much better under Mike Woodson, Lin has revived Chandler, and even though teams are going to try to make Lin go to his left, and maybe work harder on defense, I think he'll get better and better."

It's all wonderful news for Carmelo Anthony, the scorer hired to take and make the big Game 7 shots. The Knicks gave up a ton to get him, and today they're happy they did.

Now Melo doesn't have any excuses to fall back on. No, he doesn't have to do it in his first full season in New York like he did it in his first (and only) full season in Syracuse.

But in the age of Jeremy Lin, a true superstar would figure out how to win a national title with these Knicks.

Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." "Sunday Morning With Ian O'Connor" can be heard every Sunday from 9 to 11 a.m. ET on ESPN New York 1050.