Winderman: ‘Melo trade means Knicks now target Chris Paul, Dwight Howard

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Don’t even think about exhaling.

The trade of Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets to the New York Knicks does not, finally, put the focus back on the court.

Not in today’s NBA, or, more specifically, in tomorrow’s NBA.

Think these past months were lessons in abject cruelty in Denver?

Then consider what now follows in Orlando and New Orleans.

While pundits no doubt will offer their instant analysis on this mega-Melo monstrosity (we’ll offer our kudos here to Denver for maximizing the possibilities), this deal, at least from a Knicks outlook, deserves an incomplete, nothing more.

The make-or-break portion of this trade from a New York perspective comes down the road, with the potential 2012 free agency of both Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. Through this latest machination, and through a Chauncey Billups contract that has one remaining year, the Knicks should be positioned to make runs at Paul and Howard just over a year from now.

Where the Anthony trade now most resonates is in New Orleans and Orlando. The Knicks are coming for their stars next.

And when Paul and Howard reflect on what currently is alongside, and then look at the possibilities with Stoudemire and Anthony, how can their wanderlust clocks not start ticking a bit faster?

Perhaps the Knicks capitulated to such a severe degree with their trade package because they feared the introduction of a “franchise” tag in a new NBA collective-bargaining agreement, one that could have kept Carmelo out of their free agency clutches.

But such a franchise tag ultimately could cost the opportunity for a follow-up move for Paul and Howard.

No, for the Knicks — after absolutely ravaging a playoff roster — to make sense of this move, it means starting to put the moves on Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. (And who is to say the two weren’t having dinner at Isiah Thomas’ South Beach place on Monday night?)

For Denver, the nightmare is over.

For Orlando and New Orleans, it seemingly only is beginning.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.