The once-imagined Big Three of the New York Knicks belongs to the vision of three executives. If you are scoring at home, James Dolan will take credit for Carmelo Anthony while the deposed Glen Grunwald is assigned Tyson Chandler and the deposed Donnie Walsh absorbs the hit that is Amar'e Stoudemire.
Walsh had to give all that money and all those years to Stoudemire so the Knicks wouldn't get completely shut out at the free-agent bazaar of 2010, a result that would've humiliated a franchise that, Lord knows, had humiliated itself enough. Grunwald had to give all that money and all those years to Chandler because the Knicks couldn't be sure they'd ever land Chris Paul, and because Chandler -- even though he was never a true star -- was a significant contributor to a championship team in Dallas.
But those good intentions haven't added up in an Eastern Conference that has turned hard against the Knicks, reducing last year's second seed to a second-tier team. Chandler, out with a fractured leg, has failed to hold up physically in two consecutive postseasons, and Stoudemire has unraveled in spectacular fashion, the two of them leaving Dolan's guy, Melo, all alone on a team now in the hands of yet another executive, Steve Mills.
Another executive who could destroy Melo's chance to ever win a ring in New York on a single swing and miss.
Assuming Anthony decides to re-sign in July, and assuming the Knicks don't believe Iman Shumpert can grow into something special (I, for one, still think he has a chance), Mills is going to make a big move within the next year or two to land a legitimate second star. Dolan hired his new president and GM because he feels Mills has the requisite connections and charisma that Grunwald lacked to acquire that player, the one who provides Melo the complementary firepower to end the franchise's championship drought.
"And people are already selling [Dolan] on the idea that Kevin Durant will be that guy," said one person close to the Knicks. Though he's repped by Jay-Z's Roc Nation Sports and the Knicks' preferred business partners, Creative Artists Agency, or CAA, Durant is under contract with Oklahoma City through 2016, when New York's drought is scheduled to turn 43. Mills isn't about to wait around for that, not with the clock tick-tick-ticking away on Anthony's prime.
Is he capable of making the difference-making deal? Can he prove himself worthy of running basketball operations after the Garden collapsed around him in his first go-around on the business side of the place?
"That's an unknown," the person said, "because Steve has never been a GM running the team. I think he'll rely a lot on his assistants, Mark Warkentien and Allan Houston, and he'll go to Warkentien more because he's the better of the two."
Warkentien and Houston are CAA clients, as is Mike Woodson, who, before earning the Knicks' full devotion, fired an agent he shared with Garden archenemy Larry Brown. Anthony and Andrea Bargnani are CAA guys, and so are J.R. Smith and brother Chris, widely perceived to be a scholarship player with walk-on skills. CAA has done consulting work for the Garden, and Dolan counts among his basketball advisers CAA's William "Worldwide Wes" Wesley, an influential dealmaker also known to have a strong working relationship with Mills.
"Steve's a really bright guy," said a second person with close ties to the Knicks, "but the question is whether Dolan will empower him, and give Steve the leeway he needs, when you basically have CAA running the place….J.R. Smith's brother? I can see keeping Carmelo Anthony's brother if it meant re-signing him. I wouldn't have done that, but I would've considered it."
Either way, Anthony is favored to remain with the Knicks for the $129 million nobody else can give him. But it appears he'll have to endure some more pain and suffering before he signs up for that max-out deal.
The Knicks are a 1-3 team that could very easily be 0-4. Chandler is out for four to six weeks, Stoudemire is falling apart limb by limb, Bargnani doesn't know if he's coming or going, the defense is offensive to watch, and the Knicks might end up needing a lot of luck to end up with the fifth best record in the East. And yet Dolan somehow expected this to be a championship roster in the weeks after firing the GM, Grunwald, who pieced most of it together.
"When expectations don't match up with the reality of your roster," said the second person, "it rarely goes well. You're always frustrated instead of proud of what you're accomplishing. You're really pissed at 1-3 instead of thinking, 'Hey, in a bad Eastern Conference, let's try to win a round in the playoffs and engineer something to get another really good player,' which is what the Knicks should be thinking."
A Daily News report had Dolan already venting his frustrations on Mills, who had as much to do with assembling the core Knicks as the guys selling pretzels and beer. That's OK. Mills knew exactly what he signed up for. He's a Princeton man who fully understands the terms of MSG engagement.
Grunwald was a 54-game winner last season who presided over the Knicks' first playoff series victory since 2000, and Dolan sacked him in favor of Mills, who gets a second chance in a place that won't offer him a third.
So when Mills does make his big move in the next year or two, it has to work out better than Grunwald's play for Chandler and Walsh's play for Stoudemire. In fact, it has to work out just like Dolan's Melo deal with Denver, minus the surrendered No. 1 pick in next June's loaded draft.
And if it doesn't, Carmelo Anthony will make a hell of a lot more money than Patrick Ewing ever did in New York, and end up with the same amount of rings.