Carmelo Anthony has his legacy in his hands in New York

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Carmelo Anthony gets mentioned as one of the game’s elite scorers. As he should. Few players can average 25 points a season consistently. Few players in the league can fill it up — from anywhere on the court, creating their own shot — like Anthony. He doesn’t do it terribly efficiently (his shooting percentage is about the league average), but he puts up the numbers. He is an elite scorer.

But elite leader? Guy who makes his team better? Guy who can lead his team to a title?

No. Not yet anyway. Carmelo Anthony is not considered in the same strata with Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade and even LeBron James (who has taken a team with questionable talent around him to the finals).

If Anthony wants to be in that group, he’ll have to prove it in New York. By winning. And not just 60 regular season games, but by winning when it matters in the playoffs. By leading a team that in a couple years can beat the Heat and Bulls. By leading a true title contender.

What happens with the Knicks in the next three years will be how we remember Anthony after his career. Will it be as an elite scorer, or as a winner?

Anthony has always put up a fight in New York — remember the Dec.16, 2006 fight where he (and the other 9 players on the floor at the time) but tossed for a brawl? Even the crowd was fighting that night. He’s going to need that kind of fight now, much of it to push and pull his teammates up to contender status.

Some things are beyond Anthony’s control. The roster around him and Amar’e Stoudemire is not ready to contend — the Knicks just shipped out their best role players to get Anthony. They are going to need a center who can defend the paint. They need depth everywhere. They need a point guard who can run Mike D’Antoni’s system (Chauncey Billups at age 34 is a more efficient point guard than Raymond Felton was, but how a guy who thrives walking the ball up into halfcourt sets does with the Knicks system remains to be seen).

A lot of what will be around him — and the ability to bring in Chris Paul or Deron Williams to really run the show — will be decided in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. Nobody knows what that is going to look like. It could be so restrictive as to make it hard to put much of a team together. While that will be true of the Knicks it will be true of other teams as well. The Knicks problem is that the Heat and Bulls (and Celtics for this season and next) got a jump on it and have more complete rosters already. The Knicks will be playing catch up under different rules.

This season, the Knicks may (if they get lucky) climb all the way up to the fifth seed (they are 5.5 games behind the Hawks, but Atlanta has one of the toughest schedules in the league the rest of the way).

But next season, and for a couple seasons after that, the expectations for the Knicks will be ridiculous. Fans will expect a contender, whether or not it is warranted.

It’s going to fall to Carmelo Anthony (and Amar’e Stoudemire) to lead them there. To push them and, if necessary, drag them there. That is what elite players do — they make teams better than just the sum of their parts. They lead, by example and in the locker room. They make their teams contenders by play and by force of will.

If Anthony wants that to be his legacy, he will have to prove it in New York. On the league’s biggest stage.

Whatever happens, that will be his legacy.

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.

Isaiah Thomas makes it clear he wants to stay in Boston

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It’s been a long time since there was so much discussion about whether a team needs to trade or just let go of an All-NBA and All-Star player at his peak who is clear and away a fan favorite.

Yet that’s where the Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas find themselves. After landing the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft — where they will almost certainly take point guard Markelle Fultz — and with the Celtics looking a full couple steps behind the Cavaliers in the playoffs, the question about whether Thomas is part of the future in Boston has come up. He is a free agent in 2018 and are the Celtics willing to pay the big money it will take to keep him?

Know this, Thomas wants to remain a Celtic and win a Celtic. You can listen to his full comments above, but Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the money quote:

Outside of chasing Gordon Hayward, this summer the Celtics are going to focus on getter some frontcourt help, someone to help with rebounding and rim protection. They will look to get better, but Danny Ainge isn’t going to push all his chips into the middle of the table to make a gambit on immediate massive improvement. He will remain patient, building this team so that in three years and five years they will be a force in the East.

And the Thomas discussion likely gets put on hold for a year (unless there is a change of course and contract extension talks come up, but that’s only if Boston misses on Hayward and any other big targets).

Stephen Curry says talk of lack of competitive balance “disrespectful” to Warriors, Cavaliers

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This year’s NBA playoffs have been horribly lopsided and they lacked drama because we all knew where it was headed: Golden State vs. Cleveland. They were so dominant that between them they lost one playoff game so far. This has brought up discussions of competitive balance — we have seen the same Finals three years in a row, and we will almost certainly head into next season expecting a fourth. Then maybe a fifth.

Not surprisingly, Stephen Curry isn’t a fan of the lack of competition argument, saying it disrespects the Warriors and the Cavaliers.

“That almost is kind of disrespectful, because it’s not like it’s easy for us to get here. It wasn’t that at all. Us and Cleveland worked our butts off all year to put ourselves in a position to be playing for a championship. The league is as strong talent-wise across the board as it’s ever been. Every night we get challenged. Obviously, we had that one stat I guess, point differential, all year. We had a pretty solid showing in that respect. But, every night was hard. Every night was challenging. You can’t just sleepwalk through a season and sleep walk through the playoffs and expect to be here. You got to do something. You got to come out every night and prove yourself. Granted, anybody who was betting on who was gonna be in the Finals probably picked those two. It’s easy for them to say that and just wake up in June and see it happen. We had to put that work in all year long to make it happen.”

Curry is right in that nobody should question the work the Warriors and Cavaliers put in to get to this point, and that the other teams did not just roll over for them. Also, both teams did get a little lucky with injuries.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that right now there is a dominant team in each conference, and that sucks the drama out of the postseason. (Maybe a healthy San Antonio team could have pushed the Warriors, we didn’t get to find out.) Golden State has four of the top 15-20 players in the NBA, and that makes them a juggernaut — again, regardless of the work put in. Other teams don’t have much of a chance if the Warriors are healthy and focused, not in a seven game series. The fact that it was flukey circumstances that put a dominant team in each conference — there isn’t another LeBron James returning home, and out West it took a one-time salary cap spike to add Kevin Durant to a 73-win team — doesn’t change the fact this season has felt like a foregone conclusion from the start.

Right now we’ve got what we wanted and expected, the trilogy between the Warriors and Cavaliers. But if we head into next season expecting (and maybe getting) round four of this matchup in the Finals, is that good for the league? Why watch the movie if you know how it ends before it starts?