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Gary Washburn | On basketball

Why these have been trying times for Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony, now 31, has a no-trade clause in his contract and a lot of speculation about what next season will hold for him.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Nearly two months ago, the Celtics walked into famed Madison Square Garden in what was billed as the biggest game in two years for the Knicks.

With brilliant rookie Kristaps Porzingis, standout scorer Carmelo Anthony, and a bunch of complementary players, the Knicks were approaching a .500 record as midseason approached, meaning playoff contention into the spring months was actually a possibility.

Behind a flawless first quarter from Porzingis, some shabby Boston defense, and Arron Afflalo’s closing, the Knicks beat the Celtics, 120-114 . It was Jan. 12 and the Knicks (20-20) and Celtics (19-19) were even in the standings.

On Friday, the Celtics entered their final matchup with New York a whopping 12 games ahead of the Knicks. Even the draft doesn’t offer hope because the Nuggets will swap first-round picks with the Knicks because of the Anthony trade five years ago, while the Knicks then have to give the Denver pick to Toronto for the Andrea Bargnani deal from June 2013.

Under interim coach Kurt Rambis, who inherited the job from over-his-head Derek Fisher, the Knicks are simply trying to finish the season in respectable fashion. Meanwhile, Anthony, his star fading, critics increasing, and patience shortening, is trying to figure out how he can actually win in New York.

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Anthony has played just 21 postseason games since joining the Knicks in the controversial midseason trade in 2011, and this will be the third consecutive season the Knicks will miss the playoffs, leaving Anthony as the scapegoat with the near-maximum contract.

The Knicks are 159-162 (after Friday’s 105-104 loss to the Celtics) in games Anthony has played since he arrived in New York. Both sides expected better, especially this season when the Knicks signed Afflalo, Robin Lopez, Derrick Williams, and drafted the skilled Porzingis for the express purpose of making a playoff run.

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New York has been in tailspin, losing 11 of 13 and 18 of 23. Fisher was fired Feb. 8 following a home loss to Denver, his tenure an abject failure.

“It’s been trying,” Anthony said about this disappointing season. “For me to just remain sane and remain positive throughout this whole situation is definitely challenging from that standpoint. It was a test to me to see if I could get through this and stay strong throughout this situation and this whole process.

“It has been challenging.”

Anthony, 31, sacrificed some of his scoring opportunities to help develop Porzingis, who after a blazing start, has struggled in the past few weeks.

Without a top point guard, the Knicks have struggled to score and the triangle offense, the vision of president Phil Jackson, has not materialized with this group, especially the ball-dominant Anthony.

“It’s hard to kind of say, ‘Oh, I’m going to accept [the losing],’” Anthony said. “Especially when you still have games to play, when you’re still in it, and still trying to figure out ways to win basketball games. So it’s hard to accept that.

“It’s harder [than last year’s 17-win season] from the standpoint that we were playing good basketball early on in the season. Even up until last month, we were playing good basketball and it just switched all of a sudden. So we’ve got to find a way to get that back for the last month and a half.”

Even if the Knicks play better, they are seven games behind the eighth and final playoff spot. The team will undergo another overhaul this summer, with new free agents, a new coach, and perhaps a new system.

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Anthony has a no-trade clause in his contract, although there is word that his name was actually bantered about with the Celtics before the trade deadline. Anthony maintains he wants to remain in New York, but for how long? Most of his 2003 draft contemporaries — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh — all have championship rings.

Anthony’s hands are still empty, his last brush with glory leading Syracuse University to the 2003 NCAA title. That was ages ago.

His recent past has been filled with criticism, accusations of being a me-first player, not blending with new teammates. He is face of the Knicks failures.

“I don’t think ‘envy’ is kind of the right word,” he said about watching his counterparts thrive in the postseason. “I do look at my peers and say, ‘Damn, what am I doing wrong? I should be there.’ There was one point in time they were looking at me like that. You made it 10, 11 years straight. Right now it’s kind of a rough patch for me, so I’m just trying to figure out a way to get out of that.”

There is no easy way out. To get out of New York, Anthony would have to approve a trade and there would have to be a team — like the Celtics — willing to take on his mammoth salary and compensate the Knicks something substantial to move forward.

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It’s complicated and far-fetched, but until Anthony wins somewhere, anywhere, he’ll face denigration, and he understands that.

When asked if he’s faced too much scrutiny in his career, Anthony said, “Probably. I just accept that. I came to grips with that a long time ago. That’s going to be the way it is.”


Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.