Apart from the couple dozen games played between late February and late April, Carmelo Anthony had never played alongside a teammate like Amar’e Stoudemire, and vice versa. Previously, they’ve both played with All-Stars, MVPs, and future first ballot Hall of Fame inductees, but never have they played with a teammate capable of scoring a consistent, easy 30 points each and every night. Now that they’re stuck alongside one another, sacrifices and unwanted deference will have to be made or the two of them will continue to take turns stopping the ball, ignoring teammates, and forcing contested shots. On the defensive end, both have the physical ability to make a difference (Stoudemire is as good at blocking shots from the weak side as they come) but neither has shown an extended interest or proven to be a quality player. Legendary Sports Illustrated basketball writer Jack McCallum recently wrote a piece on the state of the Knicks after their swift first round exit. Among the several things he touched upon was Amar’e and Carmelo’s ability to sustain a harmonious on court relationship.
Finally and most perplexingly, there is the question of the compatibility of the marquee stars. I asked Walsh before Sunday’s game to suggest past players who remind him of the Stoudemire-Anthony combo. Walsh thought for a moment and — in the time-honored manner of team execs who stare into a bowl of cracked eggs and see a fluffy soufflé — said: “Well, maybe Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen?” Hmm, rather than the best player of all time and maybe the 40th best player of all time, I was thinking more about two guys who both need the ball, who are volume shooters and ball-stoppers and who are sometimes indifferent and clueless defenders. In truth, the compatibility of Stoudemire and Anthony is really not a question. They are not compatible. They are versions of the same guy, however exquisite that guy can sometimes be. But they are talented and they aren’t going anywhere and they have the wattage to fill up the Garden on most nights, which is not insignificant since Dolan has significantly jacked up ticket prices for next season.
This doesn’t sound hopeful. Amar’e and Carmelo aren’t a Big 3, but in comparing them to the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat, the Knicks situation seems harder to configure. In Boston, with Garnett, Allen, and Pierce naturally complementing each other, the roles were found almost immediately and the sacrifices were happily accepted. In Miami, Bosh, Wade, and James are still trying to figure out their roles while still getting everyone else involved, but you can’t argue with a No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference; for the most part they’ve made it work. The Knicks don’t necessarily need Deron Williams, Chris Paul, or Dwight Howard to come along and complete the fashionable trifecta. What they need is for Amar’e and Carmelo to find their roles, grow comfortable in them, and understand playing alongside a great player requires personal forfeiture before success. They shouldn’t have been expected to understand any of that this season, but next year New York’s basketball team depends on the two of them figuring out how to coexist. Say what you want about their need for a point guard able to run a seamless pick and roll in transition, or their blatant lack of competence at the center position, in order for the New York Knicks to eventually raise a banner in Madison Square Garden, the first item on their agenda is smoothing out the rough edges on the two cornerstone talents.