NEW YORK — Carmelo Anthony is the unofficial host of this year’s NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden that tips off Sunday night, but it seems to be a reluctant title for many reasons.
First, Anthony’s Knicks are deplorable as they vie for the top overall pick in the NBA Draft and instill a triangle offense that has many of its players still totally confused. Second, Anthony is nursing a sore left knee that likely needs to be surgically repaired and he is literally limping to the All-Star break to play Sunday before likely sitting out the remainder of the season.
The Knicks probably wouldn’t totally mind missing Anthony because they want a chance at Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, the consensus top overall pick in June’s draft, and losing as many games as possible will increase their chances.
Of course Anthony would love it if the Knicks were the top seed in the Eastern Conference and vying for their first NBA title in 42 years, but it’s the polar opposite. The Knicks have been a ghastly team to watch this season with a mix of not-ready-for-prime-time younger players and aging veterans on the final year of their contracts. They are coached by 40-year-old Derek Fisher, who hasn’t exactly made that Jason Kidd-type adjustment from the hardwood to coaching box.
Anthony is the team’s central figure, a superstar in his prime and really the only reason to watch the Knicks. His experience in New York has brought only one serious playoff run, a second-round elimination by Indiana in 2013, and more criticism and deflating defeats than he could have imagined.
“The question of the weekend, huh?” he joked when asked about his health. “I’m on track for [Sunday]. I’ll talk to [East] coach [Mike Budenholzer] and try to figure it out. Like I said, I just want to go give a couple of minutes and if I feel better then the minutes can get extended, but I’m not going to tell them I want to play this or that, I’ll just play it by ear.”
It’s rather appropriate that the only Knick, Celtic, or Laker involved in the All-Star Game probably shouldn’t be playing and is far less than 100 percent. It’s a testament to the state of each franchise that they have little influence on the biggest extravaganza of the NBA season.
All three are in different stages of rebuilding. The Knicks are at the bottom. The Lakers are perhaps a stage ahead because they have rookie Julius Randle returning from injury along with Kobe Bryant next season, while the Celtics are advancing quickly and are expected to make a free agent splash this summer and also have two first-round picks.
The league is better when the Knicks, Lakers, and Celtics are competitive and relevant. A glaring example of how far these teams have fallen was Super Bowl Sunday, when ESPN bumped the Lakers-Knicks game for Chris Paul’s celebrity bowling tournament.
The struggles of three of the league’s more storied franchises is not lost on Anthony.
“The league misses that, the league needs that,” he said. “The league needs New York to be that powerhouse again. The league needs the Lakers and Celtics to be those powerhouses again but the time is there. In the history of this league it’s a roller coaster. You have up years, you have down years. You have runs. I’m still waiting on my run here in New York. So I think it’s New York’s time to try to make a run.”
When Phil Jackson accepted owner Jim Dolan’s offer to become team president, he immediately installed the triangle offense, that same system that helped his Bulls and Lakers win 11 NBA titles. But it has been an abject failure so far, reflecting negatively on Anthony and the Knicks for their lack of basketball education.
“I’m still trying to get better at it,” Anthony said. “I don’t think I know it 100 percent. I think there’s always room for improvement. As far as what I think about the triangle? That’s our system. We have to put the time in and try to get to know that system. It’s not going to happen in three, four months. It might not even happen this season. It’s going to take some time. Some games it seems like we have it down pat and some games it seems like we don’t. I’m not against it. I like my role in the triangle.”
Anthony said he is not pitching New York as a free agent destination to any of his All-Star teammates despite the fact the Knicks have money to sign a player to a maximum contract. He is using his role as the unofficial mayor of the All-Star Game to enjoy the experience and nothing more.
The season hasn’t been an enjoyable one for the Knicks.
“I’m not recruiting, I don’t think that’s the time or place right now for that,” he said. “My role is to continue to be the leader of this team. Hopefully we build a team around that and we create something in New York that everybody’s been looking forward to for many, many years. I’m excited about that. Right now it’s hard to look at that picture when you’re [struggling].”
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com.