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James Dolan Goes All in With 'Melo Deal

Feb 22, 2011 – 1:21 AM
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Kevin Blackistone

Kevin Blackistone %BloggerTitle%

Carmelo AnthonyIt was inconceivable when this NBA season tipped off that there could be another team with more pressure upon it to win than Dwyane Wade's LeBron James-infused Miami
Heat, also featuring Chris Bosh.

But when an owner decides to gut his team's productive and promising starting lineup, mortgages part of his team's future and appears to emasculate the two men he entrusted the running of his team to in order to bring in -- for all intent and purpose -- one player, that team moves to the top of the must-win list.

As a result, that was where owner James Dolan's New York Knicks moved late Monday night when word began to spread that the season-long soap opera about where Denver star Carmelo Anthony would be traded. Anthony's saga was coming to a crescendo off Broadway in Dolan's Madison Square Garden, where Amar'e Stoudemire moved in the offseason and is having a fabulous year.

After all, what the Heat did in the offseason was add the best player in the league not named Kobe Bryant, along with Bosh.

What Dolan did Monday night to his Knicks was jettison point guard Raymond Felton, who at just 26 was having his best season, averaging 17 points and 9.0 assists. He dealt his two talented young forwards, including 6-10 Danilo Gallinari -- a poor man's Dirk Nowitzki in just his third NBA campaign who was scoring almost 16 points -- and fourth-year 6-8 shooter Wilson Chandler and his 16 points-per-game average. He tossed in 7-foot rookie center Timofey Mozgov, who scored 18 and grabbed six rebounds two weeks ago against everyone's runaway rookie of the year Blake Griffin.

Then Dolan threw in his club's 2014 first-round pick, two second-round picks it owned next year and in 2013 from the Warriors, $3 million in cash and, maybe tragically, his veteran NBA talent aggregator, general manager Donnie Walsh, who by most reports was against giving up so much.

Walsh was in the last year of his contract. No reason was left for him to return.

Dolan gave up all of that for Anthony, a fantastically talented offensive player who got his team out of the first round of the playoffs just once two seasons ago when they made it to the Western Conference finals. Anthony's Nuggets lost that series to Bryant's Lakers, who went on to win it all.

In that lies the cold truth:

Anthony isn't Bryant.

Anthony isn't James, who dragged the now moribund Cavaliers to the NBA Finals several seasons ago.

Anthony isn't Wade, who won an NBA championship with Shaquille O'Neal at his back.

Anthony is, no doubt, a perennial All-Star, who has never been seriously considered an MVP, an award James won the past two seasons and Bryant won once -- but has been deserving of more -- for the 2008 season.

But Dolan got little more in return for all the chips he shoved across the table to Denver. He got veteran Chauncey Billups, whose best days as an NBA Finals-winning point guard are behind him, and role players Shelden Williams, Anthony Carter and Renaldo Balkman, a one-time draft pick trivia answer in New York.

He got to keep Anthony from landing in the New York borough of Brooklyn, where Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov tried desperately to snag Anthony, too, for his soon-to-relocate New Jersey team. The recruitment of Anthony was as much a border war as an ego play.

But what Dolan wound up getting most was that second superstar any team needs to seriously compete for a title. Dolan just gave up more than anyone in the league -- the Celtics, the Lakers, the Heat -- to get that extra superstar. So Dolan better win. Quickly. He doesn't have to win this season, but next season his team better be a contender or be prepared to be considered a bust.

It won't be easy. It never is for Dolan. Instead, it just looks that way to him. He's got a tin touch in the business of sports franchise ownership and management. The resident hockey team at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers, has done little to nothing since Dolan started running it in the late '90s. The Rangers didn't make the playoffs for a seven-year stretch until 2005. It was the longest playoff drought in the club's history and came despite Dolan spending more money on talent than any owner in the NHL.

The winning campaign the Knicks embarked on this season was the talk of the league because it was their first in roughly a decade. Instead, they were a laughingstock for most of this new millennium. They even became a league embarrassment a few years ago when Dolan was named as a defendant in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a then longtime Knicks executive named Anucha Browne Sanders.

She charged that Dolan fired her because she complained about being subjected to sexual harassment from Isiah Thomas, who Dolan hired as head of Knicks' basketball operations before making him coach after firing Larry Brown.

Thomas eventually stepped away in a bizarre odyssey that landed him in Florida as coach of Florida International University. From Florida, however, Thomas was rumored to be advising Dolan. The rumor was so strong that Dolan issued a statement in recent days -- his preferred manner of communication -- denying it. Few bought it.

Dolan apparently didn't hear anything from Thomas with which he disagreed, like don't trade the locker room for a singular entity.

So now Dolan's Knicks have two superstars, an aged one in Chauncey Billups, the surprisingly good rookie Landry Fields and a cheerleader disguised as a center in Ronny Turiaf.

Dolan's Knicks will need more to turn Monday's gambit trade into a win. He'll have to add a third superstar in a year and will certainly have his sights set on free-agent-to-be point guards Chris Paul and Deron Williams. He'd better get one or the other. Otherwise, the best the Knicks will be considered is Heat lite, and that won't justify this extraordinary expenditure.

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