DETROIT -- Despite the recent evidence, the decision to trade for Carmelo Anthony wasn't a mistake. It was the decision to change the team to conform to him, thus fulfilling the sense of entitlement he's had since he dominated the ball at Oak Hill Prep, that is the most troubling error of the blockbuster deal.
This isn't Denver and this isn't Carmelo's team. He wasn't supposed to come here with that same set of rules. This was him joining Amar'e Stoudemire, him -- in his own words -- getting away from being the player who had to score 30 every night. This was him looking to play on a bigger stage and play for a bigger purpose.
So before this goes any further, before Melo starts in with the stubbornness that the Nuggets dealt with all too often, the stuff that once made George Karl irate and now makes him chuckle, Amar'e Stoudemire -- let's say he's the Jeter to Melo's A-Rod -- spoke up after what the Knicks have to hope was the lowest point of the post-trade era, the inexcusable 99-95 loss here to the Pistons.
Stoudemire restaked his claim as the team leader and the voice of the franchise when he called on Mike D'Antoni to go back to the system the Knicks employed before the trade rather than continue on with this plodding, predictable halfcourt game that D'Antoni surrendered to when Anthony arrived.
"Absolutely, absolutely, that's the way we're going to win," Stoudemire said of the need to get back to the uptempo, pick-and-roll style. "That's the way we've proven that works with the team we had before the trade and it can work with the guys we have now. It's just a matter of us buying into it and really trying to understand that our ultimate goal is to make the playoffs and see what we can do."
Buy in? D'Antoni's nine-man rotation has just three new faces: Chauncey Billups, who, despite his struggles since coming back from injury has been amenable to anything (though he is still having trouble feeding Amar'e in the pick-and-roll similarly to how Ray Felton struggled early on this season), Jared Jeffries, who has played in that system before (and just needs to get his timing back after sitting for most of the season in Houston), and Anthony, who lately has curiously resorted to pinning his man on the post and demanding the ball in isolations. And complaining -- a lot -- when he doesn't get the ball.
Forget his flat jumper and the lack of lift he had in his legs, Anthony's body language was terrible in this game. He was barking at Toney Douglas several times when Douglas opted not to dump the ball down to him. One moment that really stood out was during the 17-0 run in the third quarter -- which was the result of the Knicks speeding up the tempo and moving the ball well for open looks -- when Billups stripped Tayshaun Prince and Douglas raced it up the court. Anthony sprinted down the floor with Douglas and Shawne Williams made it a three-on-one. Douglas dished it to Williams for the dunk that gave the Knicks a 72-65 lead. The Pistons called timeout.
As the Knicks bench exploded, Anthony turned with a smirk and just shook his head, clearly annoyed that Douglas didn't give the ball to him for the easy two. Considering how much the Knicks struggled to get untracked in the first half, this should have been a moment that launched them to a blowout win. Instead, in the midst of a very positive stretch, one of the team's main players was sulking. He played the entire quarter and had just one shot attempt. But his team outscored the opponent, 25-15.
Let's recall the night before, when Douglas was putting on a three-point shooting exhibition and Anthony was getting his 28 points, Stoudemire was bottled up and held to only 16 points. But he was happy to get the win and happy to see Douglas thrive. That's the beauty of being on a team with another star, you don't have to carry the load every night. But that doesn't mean you can completely disconnect when the ball isn't coming your way.
"There's nights like that where you don't quite have it," Stoudemire said of Anthony, "and it's up to us to bring forth the effort, all of us."
And at the end, Anthony still had the ball in his hands with the game on the line. But while he blew by Prince, Chris Wilcox came over and, as you can clearly see on the replay, slapped his wrist to cause Anthony to miss the layup attempt that would have tied it at 97 with 37.9 seconds left. No call was made. But, fine, play on.
At the other end, the Knicks were still alive as Will Bynum missed a jumper with 15.9 seconds left, but Anthony couldn't come up with the rebound, which Prince ripped away as if it were his team that needed the win to move closer to a playoff spot. The Knicks were then forced to foul and Bynum hit two free throws to ice the game in a loss Stoudemire called "definitely not a proud moment for us."
Don't expect D'Antoni to call out Anthony, who was also seen sulking on the bench during a timeout. As we've told you here before, it's just not his way to do that. Billups knows him better than anyone on the team and he also seemed to tread lightly around the situation.
"He'll be fine," Billups said. "He's a great player. I've seen him get frustrated offensively at times in Denver, playing with him for so long. It happens. You're not going to play awesome every single night. Nobody is. You expect him to because he's a great player, but it just doesn't happen like that. He's going to be fine. No, I'm not worried about Melo at all."
Perhaps the Knicks should be. Perhaps someone needs to gather the team around him and make the message clear: we can lose in the first round without you.
This was supposed to be a new beginning for Carmelo. Generally such things come with change and Carmelo has to be the one to embrace it. He has to understand that on some nights the ball isn't going to come his way because of how the opponent is defending him. Understand that if the ball is in constant motion, the team is harder to guard and teams get tired from chasing around, which eventually wears them down on offense, too.
Understand that the head coach, who is already in over his head trying to figure out the best defensive strategy for this team, knows what he's talking about on the offensive end. And understand that if this is really going to work, it ain't going to happen playing it with four guys hiding on the weak side, watching one player pound the ball in an isolation set.
Understand that after a decade of losing and so many frustrating failures, no one in New York, the city that made you, is going to put up with the kind of attitude you displayed in Detroit.
"We've just got to buy into Mike D'Antoni's system," Stoudemire said, clearly making a plea to Anthony through the media. "It works. I've been part of it for a long time now and it's been very successful. We just have to buy into it and get it done."
And Anthony has to join them, not the other way around.