Lupica: He’s not LeBron, but Melo is still King of New York

They’ll be giving Carmelo Anthony a hand at Garden for a while longer now that high-scoring forward has scored big deal from Knicks that makes him centerpiece of Phil Jackson’s championship plans.Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images They’ll be giving Carmelo Anthony a hand at Garden for a while longer now that high-scoring forward has scored big deal from Knicks that makes him centerpiece of Phil Jackson’s championship plans.

Carmelo Anthony returns to the Knicks now, which was the play for him all along, no matter how much he was romanced in his tour across America, teams in New York and Chicago and Los Angeles all wanting him to come play for them. The rest of it from here is just bookkeeping and face-saving, maybe Anthony taking a little less than the Knicks’ max offer of $129 million so Phil Jackson can look like a champ again.

This isn’t as emotional or dramatic as LeBron James returning to Cleveland, even if Anthony was born in Brooklyn, and is technically a child of the city. Anthony coming back to the Knicks isn’t LeBron going back to the Cavaliers. Oh, Carmelo Anthony is a huge star of his sport and one of the best basketball players in the world, don’t worry about that.

But James is something different, a star apart from all the others, in his sport in this country and everybody else’s. There was Michael Jordan once, then there was Tiger Woods, now there is Le-Bron. You can talk about all the other Mount Rushmores. That is the only one worth talking about.

My friend Paul Westphal, now returning to the NBA as Lionel Hollins’ assistant with the Brooklyn Nets, used to say, “Only one guy gets to be Elvis.” Now only one guy gets to be LeBron.

The Knicks still get their guy now, the guy they had to have and the guy they had to pay, even as Jackson was challenging him to take less money for the good of the franchise, and the good of all decent people everywhere.

At least Jackson stopped trying to be cute at the end of the negotiation and threw all the money he could at Anthony, one of those five offers he was talking about the other day in Vegas.

For the last time: If Phil wanted to try it in New York without a star like Anthony, it would have been the first time for him. He had Michael in Chicago, and Scottie Pippen as his sideman. He had Kobe and Shaq and even Pau Gasol in Los Angeles. You can talk about how the Knicks had Anthony playing at such a high level this year and still didn’t make the playoffs, but you need to remember it was the first time in Anthony’s professional life that he didn’t make the playoffs. The Knicks had no chance to start building anything without him.

Say it for the last time today: From the start, Jackson and the Knicks needed Anthony a whole lot more than Anthony needed him.

“This is where I want to be,” Anthony told a friend the other day in Los Angeles.

In so many ways, it was where he had to be. He doesn’t have Eli Manning’s two Super Bowls, he certainly doesn’t have Derek Jeter’s World Series resume. He doesn’t even have the run that Henrik Lundqvist just made to the Stanley Cup Final with the Rangers. But in so many ways, everything enhanced by the crazy interest in NBA free agency over the past couple of weeks — it was covered on radio and TV especially as if a meteor were headed directly for Times Square — Anthony is the biggest star in town right now. That is not such a bad job to have, especially at these prices.

And please remember about Anthony: He is one of the handful of players in modern NBA history to average 25 points and six rebounds a game for his entire career. We sure are going to find out if Phil Jackson can build a championship team around him, if the Knicks can win the kind of title that Anthony has won in college and in the Olympics before he runs right through his basketball prime.

“Carmelo Anthony is a great basketball player,” Mike Woodson said after he left the Knicks. “End of story.”

He has not just played to the height of his talent since coming to New York, he has played hard. When the Knicks needed him to rebound more last season, he did. And Knicks fans are allowed to wonder what would have happened a couple of seasons ago if Tyson Chandler had made it a fair fight against Roy Hibbert in the Eastern Conference semis. We can talk all we want to about Hibbert blocking Melo’s shot near the end of Game 6 in Indianapolis. For so much of that series, at least until Iman Shumpert got hot in Game 6, it looked like Melo against the world.

And that was the way it used to look in the old days when it was Patrick Ewing, another great Knick without a championship portfolio, against the world; when Patrick had John Starks as the Knicks’ next best scoring option the way Anthony has had J.R. Smith.

So now Anthony, who wanted the Knicks and wanted to get paid when he was leaving Denver, stays with the Knicks. And gets paid even bigger this time. So now we begin to find out, over the length of his contract and Phil Jackson’s and Derek Fisher’s, if his destiny at the Garden will be different than Ewing’s; if he can get past LeBron the way Patrick never got past Michael Jordan, go from there and win an NBA title.

He has been here for only three-and-half years. His first game was against the Bucks in February of 2011 and he scored 27 points and had 10 rebounds and this is what his coach at the time, Mike D’Antoni, said afterward:

“This was ordinary for him, and that’s the highest compliment of what he does. You drop him in any place, any playground, any place in the world and he’ll put up 27 points and 10 rebounds. That’s what he does for a living.”

Now it is official that he still makes his living here. We will find out the rest of the way if he can do better here when the real money is on the table than Patrick ever did.

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