Is Melo a Top 10 Player?

There was an uproar last fall when ESPN compiled an overall ranking of every NBA player and Carmelo Anthony was listed No. 12. And it led to some heated debate.

The network polled 91 experts to rate players from 0-to-10 on various aspects of the game. The list of forwards ahead of Melo included: Pau Gasol (11), Blake Griffin (10), Kevin Durant (6), Dirk Nowitzki (5) and LeBron James (1).

Melo tweeted at the time that being left out of the top 10 was motivational, but a season later it remains an unsettled debate: Is Carmelo Anthony a top 10 player?

According to the media voting process, no, he is not.

Melo was named All-NBA third team for the 2011-12 season, which is the fifth All-NBA honor of his career and fourth third-team selection (he was a second-team choice in 2009-10). Anthony collected 154 “points” in the voting process, which was the 12th-most among all players. He was 16 points behind Griffin, who edged him out for the last forward spot on the second team.

Anthony, much like the team, had a mercurial season. He averaged 22.7 points per game, which was the lowest since his second NBA season in 2004-05, but exploded in April with 29.8 points per game — with seven 30-point games and two 40-point games — to earn Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors.

What no one questions is Carmelo’s talent, but what continues to be questioned is his interest in being a more complete player, a team-oriented player and one who is focused more on winning than personal achievement. After Mike Woodson took over as head coach, we saw that Carmelo Anthony. And one of Woodson’s main priorities next season is to motivate that Carmelo to find the potential that many see, but remain skeptical will ever be reached this late into his career.

Woodson already talked about conditioning, which has been one of the main criticisms of Anthony’s game throughout his career. Melo will have a busy summer with USA Basketball, starting in July with pre-Olympic training camp and into August for the Games in London. He will get a month off before training camp opens in October and all eyes will be on him when practice begins.

“That’s why we have offseasons, to get better,” he said at the end of the season, “to learn from the season prior to that and come back and try to do it again.”

But really, what can Melo work on individually that will improve him as a player? Perhaps this summer is tailor made for what he really needs: to play with teammates he can trust, to play in a system he can trust and to get comfortable with a role within an offense, rather than as the focal point of it. Those close to him said he came back from the 2008 Games in Beijing a different player from a maturity level, after spending so much time working with fellow all-stars on the Redeem Team.  Maybe this time around, he comes back improved yet again, with a better perspective of team-concept basketball.

But it’s a lot easier to trust swinging the ball over to LeBron James or Kevin Durant than it is to pass up a one-on-one against a player you know you can take to hit a wide-open Landry Fields. It’s up to Fields, and everyone else on the roster, to prove to Melo they can make those open shots.

And none of this can be established alone in a gym or even playing with fellow stars. This can only develop in training camp — preferably also some pre-camp workouts in September — playing with the guys who will be on this roster for 82 games next season.

Bottom line, this is an extremely important offseason for Carmelo Anthony, who turns 28 on May 29. The prime years of his career are here.

KNICKS COLLECT INDIVIDUAL AWARDS

Melo and Tyson Chandler were both named to the All-NBA third team, which was the first time in 41 years that the Knicks have had two All-NBA players in the same season.

Walt Frazier and Willis Reed were both second team All-NBA in 1970-71. It was the fifth straight All-NBA honor of Reed and the second of six straight for Frazier.

Amar’e Stoudemire was an All-NBA second team selection in 2010-11, but after putting up the lowest production since his rookie year, he did not receive a single vote this season.

The All-NBA honors complete a pretty good haul of individual awards for the 2011-12 season for a Knicks team that finished 36-30 and seventh in the East. Chandler was named Defensive Player of the Year and was named All-Defense second team (the former award was voted by media, the latter by coaches) and Iman Shumpert was named to All-Rookie first team.

While personal recognition is good because it suggests the roster has good players, which matters now is to turn these individual honors into team success.

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BABY BULLS STEP UP TO THE CHALLENGE

Yes, Red Bulls fans, it is true. Despite a litany of injuries to key players, your team is sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference table, as they look to win their fifth straight match Saturday in Montreal (7:00 p.m. on MSG).

With veterans such as Thierry Henry and Teemu Tainio sidelined due to injury, it has been the unheralded young Red Bulls such as Ryan Meara, Connor Lade,Tyler Ruthven and Dax McCarty who have all stepped up and impressed during their four-match unbeaten run.

Since his MLS debut on Opening Day against FC Dallas, Meara has been extremely impressive and arguably the front runner for MLS Rookie of the Year. The Fordham grad has stabilized the Red Bulls’ goalkeeping position — an area of weakness since the MetroStars days — and continues to display a mature poise and confidence in between the sticks. His game-saving stop on Philadelphia’s Lionard Pajoy in last week’s 3-2 win at the death preserved all three points for New York (fast forward to 1:39 to watch it).

Meanwhile, Meara’s defensive chums have begun to find some solidly in the past few weeks. Whether it was by accident or by design, the makeshift backline has been much more reliable than it has in previous weeks.

Pressed into service due to injuries in defense, center back Tyler Ruthven and left back Connor Lade have impressed in their time on the pitch. With Stephen Keel out due to injury, Rafa Marquez’ status in limbo and Wilman Conde injured and facing legal trouble, the young American defenders have stepped in admirably in the past four weeks.

Being newcomers, the precocious pair will struggle and make mistakes — you can make the case that Ruthven was at fault for the Union’s opening goal Saturday — but both of their futures look to be very bright.

It may give Hans Backe a selection headache in the future, especially with the acquisition of Heath Pearce from Chivas USA for Juan Agudelo. But, as the saying goes, it’s a good problem to have.

“We have a real deep squad,” Meara told our Tina Cervasio Thursday at Red Bulls practice. “Some of these guys coming in have got great experience and are more confident. It’s a long season and we’re going to need everyone. I think we can be confident that who[m]ever steps in will get the job done.”

Dax Marks the Spot

The position of defensive midfielder is a rather unglamorous one. You don’t get many opportunities to score goals and you have to do the dirty work in order for the team to succeed. There’s nothing too exciting about playing a simple, accurate pass in your own half or making a tackle in the midfield.

Still, every team in world soccer needs a competent defensive midfielder to break up the opposing team’s play and be the starting point to begin attacks going other way. Gone are the days of the box-to-box midfielder like a Steven Gerrard; the likes of Claude Makelele, Gennaro Gattuso and Sergio Busquets have redefined the position in a way where shielding the back four is a job in itself.

It was thought that Marquez could excel in that role for the Red Bulls, but due to injury, suspension and lack of form, the position has been seized by Dax McCarty who has — pardon the pun — taken the bull by the horns.

McCarty is by no means an intimidating physical force, but what he lacks in physicality he makes up for in excellent positional sense. His ability to get the ball and keep it moving forward is something that shouldn’t be overlooked during the Red Bulls’ recent run. With Tainio out for an extended period time due to a knee injury, McCarty will be called upon to the main man to boss the midfield.

Juan and Done

Juan Agudelo’s time as a New York Red Bull has officially expired.

A promising player, the 19-year-old striker was shipped to Chivas USA for veteran defender and US international Heath Pearce Thursday.

“Heath is a very talented and versatile defender who will bring immediate experience to our defense. We have been long-time fans of his game and think that he will be an important player in our squad. In addition, we obtained a significant amount of financial flexibility moving forward with this trade. It was a deal we could not turn down,” said general manager Erik Soler in a press release.

While Pearce brings experience and reassurance for a youthful backline, the disappointment of seeing a homegrown Red Bull like Agudelo being traded for a fan is understandable. Agudelo displayed mouthwatering moments of magic such as this goal last season against DC United.

But despite the talent, Agudelo just didn’t have a place on a team going forward. Henry is expected to be back in the Red Bulls’ starting lineup and the US’s youngest ever goalscorer would have to settle for a place on the bench. Agudelo didn’t develop enough chemistry with Henry, and, with Kenny Cooper’s emergence, it made Agudelo expendable. Agudelo needs match time and he wasn’t going to get it in New York. According to Soler, it was the US international who requested the trade.

“It is important to say that initiative for this trade was not in our hands,” Soler said to Goal.com’s Alex Labidou Thursday. “I’ve had conversations with Juan for a long time about his future and development. It had become that he felt his development as a player would be better if he played somewhere else.”

This move can only help Agudelo’s career, and, with his ambitions to play in Europe, don’t be surprised if Agudelo’s time out with Chivas ends abruptly with a transfer to a European club. From a US National Team stand point, Agudelo gets to play and that can only be good for the USA heading into World Cup qualifying.

For the Red Bulls, it’s another experienced defender added to a group of promising, but still raw defenders such as Lade and Ruthven. Pearce can play left back and center back, which could allow Soler to make another move in the future. The financial implications mean that New York might be gearing up for another big summer purchase — the Red Bulls still have a designated player slot open — which has been speculated to be anyone from AC Milan’s Alessandro Nesta to Tottenham’s Emmanuel Adebayour.

 

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A “LINSANITY CLAUSE” COULD BENEFIT THE KNICKS

The ability to keep this deep Knicks roster intact is riding on a decision that will be made by an independent arbitrator in June. Though this is technically an NBA Players Association vs. NBA argument, the result will have a direct and dramatic impact on the Knicks more than any other team.

On Tuesday, Howard Beck wrote an extensive piece in the New York Times outlining how the players union is seeking arbitration to challenge a ruling on Bird Rights for players claimed on waivers.

This is a rare case, one that has people I spoke to on both sides of the argument, plus several NBA executives and agents, equally fascinated and curious. Generally, players claimed on waivers are of little significance to the teams that claim them mainly because they are usually fringe players who are either not re-signed or re-signed at an affordable price.

But leave it to Linsanity to create yet another unprecedented situation in the NBA.

It was during Jeremy Lin’s remarkable emergence from 15th man to stardom in February when the debate began about Lin’s contract status. He was in the second year of a two-year deal he signed with the Golden State Warriors, but had been twice waived and, subsequently, twice claimed.

Collective bargaining agreement experts, such as Larry Coon, proclaimed that Lin would still be a restricted free agent, but one without “Early Bird Rights,” which are given to a player who is two years into the same contract. Therefore, Lin could only be re-signed by the capped-out Knicks by using their Mid-Level Exception.

That would severely limit the team’s ability to sign other players and improve a roster that has six players headed to free agency. If another team signed Lin to an offer sheet for the full MLE ($5 million per season for a maximum of four years), the Knicks would be faced with signing Lin and having only the Bi-Annual Exception ($1.9 million) and veteran’s minimums left to fill out the roster, or losing the 23-year-old wunderkind for nothing.

“Bird Rights” were established to protect teams, especially those over the salary cap, from losing their own star players to teams that can offer more money. A three-year waiting period was created in 1995, which spawned the call for “Early Bird Rights” which were created to allow capped-out teams to re-sign their own free agents after just two years under contract. However, with Early Birds, the team is limited to offering the player a maximum of the league average.

According to the CBA, a player’s “Bird Rights” go with him when he is traded from team-to-team. But there is nothing in the document that indicates whether rights also transfer when a player is claimed on waivers.

The NBPA contends that the rights should transfer, because the contract remains intact, therefore the player’s “clock” does not re-set. If, for instance, Lin cleared waivers and became a free agent — such as when Jared Jeffries was waived by the Rockets in March 2011 and signed with the Knicks — then the Bird Rights clock resets to zero.

But since Lin was claimed off waivers and the Knicks inherited his contract from the Rockets, the union believes his Bird Rights went with the contract just like it does in a trade. Essentially, to claim a player off waivers is like acquiring his contract for nothing.

The NBA’s argument is that the Bird Rights rules are specifically defined in the CBA and cannot be debated.

That, however, will be up to an independent arbiter to decide. The union has asked that the process be expedited so a decision can be announced before free agency begins on July 1. It behooves the NBA to want to accelerate the process as well, because it could cause unnecessary problems during the free agency period.

This does not only impact Lin, but another important Knicks free agent, Steve Novak, who was in the second year of his contract after the team claimed him off waivers from the San Antonio Spurs.

If the union wins this argument, two other NBA players, and their respective teams, may benefit, including J.J. Hickson (Portland Trail Blazers) and Chauncey Billups (Los Angeles Clippers). But no one wins bigger than Lin, Novak and the Knicks, who could re-sign both players to a maximum of the league average (about $5.7 million, though it is doubtful Novak would command that much) and still have the MLE and BAE to spend to attract a free agents to upgrade the roster.

Now, before all of you CBA experts get into a lather, there are still other restrictions (aprons, cap holds, etc.) that will make things challenging for GM Glen Grunwald and his staff, but there’s no question that it makes things astronomically better for the Knicks if the arbitration results in favor of the players.

So while the season may be over, there is still one more win the Knicks need before the summer.

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TO LINSANITY AND BEYOND… A BUSY OFFSEASON AWAITS

Glen Grunwald wore a smile when he officially got the job as Knicks general manager earlier this season. It was not a reward for a job well done as the interim, but a vote of confidence in his ability to continue to get the job done.

He spent a majority of the season as an inconspicuous presence, which is just how he likes it, yet as the Knicks went into the offseason following Wednesday’s Game 5 loss in Miami, Grunwald takes his first step into the spotlight now facing a summer that will be loaded with critical decisions. Another move like what we saw in December, when the team aggressively maneuvered to land free agent prize Tyson Chandler, and the Knicks could be a championship contender next season.

But one or two false moves could limit the potential of this team, which next season will mark its 40th year since its last NBA title.

“I didn’t come here to lose in the first round,” Chandler said. “I don’t plan on doing this in the future.”

A lot of that depends on the team’s three stars, Chandler, Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, raising their respective levels as they each hit the peak years of their careers. But it also depends on assembling the right supporting cast around them.

It starts, of course, with a player who could be considered a star in his own right, though mainly in popularity after what was essentially storybook month of February that will forever be known as “Linsanity.” What Jeremy Lin now faces is an offseason in which he absolutely must return for training camp in October a better, smarter and stronger player than he was this season. That much is on him.

But the team has to decide just how much value to put into 35 games — yes, 35 mostly impressive, sometimes inexplicable games — when they discuss his contract situation. What happens with Lin on this front will directly impact everything else they can and will do in the offseason to improve the team.

Lin is a restricted free agent, which means the Knicks can match any offers made by other teams. With the Gilbert Arenas provision, teams can not offer Lin more than the league’s average salary, about $5 million. But because the Knicks don’t yet own Lin’s “Bird Rights” (which allows teams to go over the cap to sign their own players), the team would have to use some, or possibly all, of their Mid-Level Exception ($5 million per season for a maximum of four years).

Here is where the Knicks are in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. Let us explain:

Lin’s market value can’t be judged like most players because of his incredible popularity and the resulting impact he potentially has on ticket sales, television and advertising revenue and more for a small-market team, especially one with a large Asian population (i.e.: Toronto), looking to make money, or get a return on its investment. So as several NBA executives have indicated to me recently, it’s not outrageous to believe at least one team may make a full mid-level offer to Lin in the hopes the Knicks will pass.

The Knicks, who are over the salary cap, have so many other areas of need to address (point guard, backup center, bench scoring) and to tie up their entire MLE on one player, which would leave them with little else to use to fill the roster than the Bi-Annual Exception ($1.9 million) and veteran’s minimum contracts.

With an obvious need for an experienced playmaking point guard and the ideal fit in Steve Nash available, the Knicks might prefer to make a play for Nash with their mid-level and, in an idealistic world, have him around to mentor a protégé like the 23-year-old Lin. (This is, of course, assuming Nash would come for merely $5 million, which, according to people I have spoken with, is way below his perceieved value even at 38 years old).

How could they possibly do this? By getting Lin to make a sacrifice for one season.

This is an extremely unlikely scenario, but hear me out.

Lin could conceivably accept his qualifying offer of $1,029,389 for one season, which will keep him on the roster for one more season. That allows the Knicks to get his “Early Bird” rights next year, which, again allow them to re-sign him in 2013 for a multi-year deal up to the league average regardless of their cap situation.

Now, while this scenario works best for the Knicks, who could then make a determined play for Nash, who, in my opinion, would be like the trade for Dave DeBusschere in 1968 as the final piece to a championship-caliber puzzle in New York, it is hardly an ideal move for Lin.

Sure, everyone wants to do what’s best for the team, but if you were his agent, would you think this is a good idea? That kind of move would be a major risk for Lin, who could see his market value plummet as a reserve behind Nash. What Lin and his representation what to promote is the idea that Linsanity wasn’t a novelty this season and that Lin is this team’s answer at the point guard position.

Still, with just 35 games to go on, it makes it a very precarious decision with many what-ifs to haunt Grunwald and his staff into July: 1. What if Lin signs elsewhere and emerges into an all-star? 2. What if Lin struggles as defenses exploit his weaknesses?

Now the Knicks don’t have to use their entire MLE on Lin. They can use some of it — say $3 million — and use the remaining $2 million to take care of other business, such as a backup center or a veteran point guard not named Nash (would Jason Kidd come at Chandler’s request?).

Still, there’s no denying Lin is the first domino of the offseason for the Knicks once we get to July 1.

RESTRUCTURE CONJECTURE

So many of you have asked about the possibility of the team’s highest-paid players, Melo ($20.4 million in 2012-13) and Amar’e ($19.9 million) restructuring their respective contracts to open up some salary cap space so the Knicks can go after another free agent.

The fact is the new collective bargaining agreement does include a restructuring provision. But the rule is written in such a way that neither the players, nor the team, are eligible to do it.

It’s really an inane provision in the agreement when you consider the restrictions. For starters, a team has to already be under the salary cap for restructuring to be permitted. And after that, the player has to be three years into his current contract.

You can thank both the NBA and the players union for this. The union did not want a rule that would create public pressure for a player to restructure to help a team that has made poor contract decisions and needed help. The NBA did not want to see players get monster contracts only to immediately restructure to create room for more monster contracts.

So forget restructuring as a means to alleviate cap issues for the Knicks or open up room to make a play for another free agent. The Miami Heat’s Big Three had it right when they each agreed to take less than the maximum in order to fit each other and still field a decent team around them. Even then, that roster is extremely shallow, so it puts even more emphasis on good drafting and waiver pick ups.

Hey, isn’t that where Jeremy Lin comes in?

THE REST OF THE ROSTER

So with no first round pick (the Rockets get the Knicks’ pick at No. 16), no money left to buy a pick (cash considerations were used in the Chandler trade) and a long wait to No. 48 in the second round, how else can the Knicks improve the roster?

By trades, of course.

• Consider Toney Douglas ($2 million) as an expiring contract, but a young player in need of a second chance somewhere. Package that with Jerome Jordan’s non-guaranteed salary ($760,000) for next season and you can attempt to acquire a $3 million player from a team looking to save some money.

• Landry Fields is a restricted free agent ($1.03 million qualifying offer) who could garner some interest if you want to sweeten the pot for a higher-end player, but while Shumpert seems to have moved ahead of him on the shooting guard depth chart, the sense is the organization still believes in Fields. But that also depends on how much Mike Woodson, should he return as head coach, believes in Fields. Also, if you can find a veteran scorer who can fill that shooting guard role, it may make more sense to upgrade the offense.

• J.R. Smith is expected to opt-out and become an unrestricted free agent this summer, which comes as no surprise. The second year was added only as insurance at Smith’s request. The Knicks have very few tools to re-sign Smith and, considering Lin’s situation with the MLE, I don’t expect him to be a priority.

• Steve Novak is an unrestricted free agent and the Knicks do not have his Bird Rights. Novak’s value on the open market will decide whether or not he can return, but the Knicks could either use some leftover from the MLE or the BAE ($1.9 million) to keep Novak if he really wants to stay.

• Mike Bibby and Jared Jeffries are both wild cards here. Woodson has a great deal of confidence in Bibby, who performed well as a starter in Game 5 against Miami but throughout the season seemed to break down a lot. As a third string point guard and veteran in the locker room, he’s fine to keep for the veteran’s minimum.

• Jeffries, who will undergo surgery to repair a balky knee that severely limited him late in the season and in the playoffs, may not be so easy to re-sign with a veteran’s minimum. The defensive specialist opened some eyes this season with his play off the bench and may attract better offers elsewhere. You can be certain if Mike D’Antoni returns to the NBA next season (Clippers?), Jeffries will likely wind up wherever D’Antoni lands.

KEEP AN EYE ON…

• Expect to see Josh Harrellson in Las Vegas for the Knicks at the NBA Summer League along with Jordan. One of the understated disappointments of Shumpert’s knee injury is he will once again miss the chance to play in the summer league, which is a great opportunity for young players to work on their game, work with team coaches and prepare for the coming season. Shumpert missed out on the summer league last year because of the lockout.

• Chandler and Anthony will be in camp in July with USA Basketball and it is possible both players will be starters for Coach K’s team when the Olympic Games open in London. While that’s great for them — and for the U.S. — it sets up some concerns about either coming to training camp in October with an injury or needing rest. But perhaps it’s the best thing for Melo, who has been maligned for his conditioning in the past. Two months of workouts with the best players in the world may be exactly what he needs going into what could be a pivotal season in his Knicks career.

• As the predraft process begins, a name to monitor (as many of you, I know, already are) is Scott Machado, who was coach Tim Cluess’ outstanding point guard at Iona College and is a New York City product (though he played his high school ball at Newark’s St. Benedict’s Prep). Machado isn’t big, but plays with great speed and has impressive floor vision, which are two needs the Knicks have in their backcourt. Most draft boards right now project him to be a mid-second rounder, but that could change with strong predraft workouts.

Another busy offseason awaits with some critical decisions to be made.

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Linsanity 2.0?

The hero emerges from the bench in Game 5 to lead the Knicks to a win. The series returns to Madison Square Garden, where a raucous crowd inspires the team to yet another victory to force a Game 7. Then, history is made — and also repeated — with an epic clincher down in Miami.

This is, certainly, how the Jeremy Lin movie would end if the season were scripted.

But while that show was a Broadway smash in February, it isn’t likely to be revived in May. At least not by Wednesday’s Game 5 in Miami, which was made necessary by a determined 89-87 win in Game 4 on Sunday at the Garden.

“I’m not counting on Jeremy Lin to play,” interim coach Mike Woodson said during a conference call on Monday.

Lin, who had arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee on April 2, has been playing full-court three-on-three scrimmages for a week under close supervision of medical staffers and assistant coach Kenny Atkinson. Woodson has also monitored the workouts, which included head-to-head battles with Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby and also working with Amar’e Stoudemire in pick-and-roll situations.

The scrimmages also involved Lin fighting over screens set by big men Dan Gadzuric and Jerome Jordan.

The issue for Lin involves two factors: 1. He is experiencing a normal level of soreness after full-court workouts, which is to be expected just five weeks into a six-week recovery; 2. He is not exploding or moving freely, which is an indication that the knee is still on his mind when he plays. That is something he said he would want to be eliminated before he returns.

But with Baron Davis now out and the backcourt further depleted, there is now a greater focus on Lin making a return to the lineup sooner than expected. Some of this is on Lin, who created a stir after Game 1 when he suggested it was possible he could return as early as Game 4. Originally, the belief was that Lin would not be back on the court this season unless the Knicks made it into the second round.

[An update on Baron: His MRI revealed a ruptured ACL and MCL and a partial tear of the patella tendon. He will have surgery later this week, and recovery time is approximately 12 months. I’ll say this about Baron, if he comes back from ruptured ACL/MCL at the age of 34 to play in the NBA, it would be amazing. Godspeed, Boom.]

Lin squelched that a few days later when he revealed soreness in his knee the day after an extensive workout and said Game 4 was unlikely. Carmelo Anthony downplayed any anticipation of a heroic return by Lin when, after Game 4, he said, “I look forward to having him back next year.”

Earlier in the series said Lin shouldn’t rush back. “I’ve seen situations like that before,” he said. “I don’t want him to rush it.”

These kinds of remarks could get twisted. Melo has enjoyed being the focal point of the offense under Woodson and some might suggest that he’d prefer not to share the ball — and the spotlight — with Linsanity. But that would be sensationalistic. And, if you are privy to the truth, inaccurate.

Melo, like Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, sees a very important piece of the future of this team, which will not have a lot of options in the offseason to improve the roster. This team will already start next season without half of its starting backcourt, Iman Shumpert. What no one wants to see is Lin suffering any kind of setback that will cause him to be anything less than 100 percent when training camp opens in October.

A small meniscus tear is considered minor, but it can lead to bigger problems if the knee isn’t stable before it is pressed back into service. If the knee continues to deteriorate because of wear-and-tear without proper healing, it could, over time, lead to a chronic issue. What has to be determined here is that Lin would not be susceptible to weakening the joint by making a return earlier than prescribed.

This is why Woodson is right to not want to rush Lin back into the lineup until he is 100 percent ready to play. Despite the team’s desperation in the backcourt, where veteran Mike Bibby will get the start and seldom-used Toney Douglas may see backup minutes — there should be no internal pressure on the 23-year-old to play in Game 5 if he isn’t ready.

“I would never put a player in that position and tell him that I think he should play,” Woodson said, “especially after you’ve had an injury, because it’s just not my place to do that.

“When a player comes to me and says, ‘Hey coach, I’m ready to come back out on the floor in uniform and play,’ then I’m going to play him. I expect you to play at a high level, even though you haven’t played. If you tell me you’re ready to play, then I expect you to play. It’s not my decision to make. It’s going to be up to Jeremy and medical to make that decision.”

While elimination is at stake here for the Knicks, you can’t ignore what’s at stake for Lin financially. He will be a restricted free agent this summer and to try to come back before he’s ready, and fail or, Heaven forbid, re-injure himself, would be detrimental to his market value come July. The Knicks will see what his value is if and when another team signs him to an offer sheet. (We have plenty of information on this front, but we’ll save that for after the season is over).

But even with the blessing of the medical staff, even with Lin’s announcement that he’s ready and wants to help the Knicks attempt to get this series back to New York for a Game 6, Woodson, who has closely monitored Lin’s workouts, sounded skeptical that Lin could hit the floor in Miami and make an impact in a playoff game, against one of the league’s toughest defensive teams, after sitting out for five weeks.

“I’ve watched him shoot and run up and down, he’s not in great shape and you know as well as I know, playoff basketball, you’ve got to be at an all-time high,” Woodson said. “He hasn’t played in a while. I don’t know if that’s going to be a determining factor with the doctors and the fact that he hasn’t played. I could say yes he looks good, but again, does he feel good? Do the doctors think that it’s enough time? I can’t make that decision.”

One thing is for sure: only if Lin is available to play will we see him in uniform.

TONEY TIME?

Woodson revealed that he mulled a plan to not just play Douglas in Game 4, but to start the third-year guard, who began the season as the starting point guard. The backcourt has been a major deficiency for the Knicks in this series and the loss of Davis makes matters even worse.

Woodson said Douglas “hasn’t been forgotten” but the reason why he didn’t play had to do with matchups. For instance, he might have gone to Douglas if rookie Norris Cole got into the game, but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra left him on the bench in Game 4. The speedy, though erratic, Cole played just 3:42 in Game 3.

“The problem that we’ve had the last few games is they haven’t played Cole,” Woodson said. “When they go with the big lineup of Battier, Miller, LeBron and Bosh and another big, now, I come in with Bibby and Mike now has to guard Miller or he has to guard Battier.

“And that’s going to be the same situation with Toney. He’s a little bit smaller than Bibby and Baron he would have to guard those guys and to me, that’s a bad matchup. That’s why I might go big, just like they do. They’re playing big, so I might go with JR and Melo at the one and see if we can get by a few minutes like that. It all depends on who they play if they come in with Cole, then that would be a better matchup for us with Toney on the ball with Cole bringing the ball up. Speed against speed.”

It will be interesting to see how a big backcourt of JR Smith and Carmelo Anthony would look. Smith can handle the ball and is decent in pick-and-roll, but he is a gunner. Melo also has a score-first mentality, but he sees the floor better than his assists total suggests. This type of lineup would require Steve Novak at the small forward spot to spread the floor with Amar’e Stoudemire andTyson Chandler as pick-and-roll options.

Interesting look, for sure.

What’s clear is that with Lin’s effectiveness — let alone availability — still up for debate over the next 48 hours, the ball is now in the hands of 33-year-old Mike Bibby, who went to the NBA Finals with Miami last season. While that may be unsettling to most observers, Woodson seemed quite comfortable with it.

“I’m very comfortable with him,” Woodson said. “Bibby’s had a hell of a career in our league. He’s run a lot of basketball teams and he’s been pretty good at it. He’s not as fast or crafty as he used to be, but he’s still capable in short minutes of running a basketball team.

“Sometimes it doesn’t look pretty based on how he moves up and down the floor but defensive schemes he knows, and offensive sets he knows in terms of getting the ball where its got to go and he’s still capable of hitting a big shot. So, yes, I do feel comfortable starting Bibby in a big game like that.”

COACHING FOR A WIN, NOT A CONTRACT

The Game 4 win not only ended an 11-year, 13-game drought for the Knicks, it also snapped a seven-game playoff losing streak for Woodson. He was asked if he felt the win helped his cause toward becoming the full-time coach after this season.

“Right now it’s not about my contract and where I go from here,” Woodson said. “I was given an opportunity to coach this team. I’m still coaching this team, the job is not done and when that time comes I’m sure everybody will sit down and talk about my future but right now that’s not my concern. My concern is Game 5 right now, trying to get these guys ready to play.”

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Where’s Brooklyn At?

Bernard King was considering the challenge that comes with playing in New York and agreed that not many star players could handle it. Carmelo Anthony, he said, is the type who can.

That ability has been tested regularly over the past year, since Melo arrived in that blockbuster trade Feb. 23, 2011. That day he wore a beaming smile which a friend of mine, who is a longtime baseball writer, said reminded him of another star athlete and native New Yorker, Bobby Bonilla and his infamous challenge to the New York media when he signed with the Mets in 1992.

“I know you’re all gonna try,” Bonilla said, “but you’re not gonna be able to wipe the smile off my face.”

A year later he was goading a reporter into a fight and yelling, “I’ll show you the Bronx right here!”

No, not everyone can handle playing in New York. Not even people who are from here.

Carmelo Anthony is no Bobby Bonilla, but he is emotional. Don’t mistake that smirk on his face as being aloof. There is a fire burning inside him, one that he tries very hard to contain. Maybe too hard. It’s a fire that got the best of him as he jawed with an old rival, Shawn Marion, and got so caught up in it he mindlessly inbounded the ball to no one for a turnover.

It’s a fire that after a game such as the one he had in Dallas on Tuesday, needed time alone to burn out.

He avoided talking to the media after the game and went off to smolder on the team bus before he eventually agreed to chat with some reporters, off camera, about his maddening six-point game on 2 of 12 shooting.

Carmelo admitted to reporters something he’s tried to keep to himself, but is painfully obvious: that there is “quite an adjustment” for him to make in going from a primary scorer to merely an option. It’s not about a willingness to sacrifice — that’s been clearly stated — but it’s more figuring out how to play with a different mindset while still maintaining the killer instinct of a go-to scorer.

And doing it during the worst shooting season of his career. As if the challenge wasn’t difficult enough.

“He’s trying to find where he fits in . . . it’s up to the coaches and the players,” Mike D’Antoni said. “We’ve got to find everything and get everyone comfortable.”

Melo looked comfortable in the fourth quarter on Sunday in Boston, when he was force-fed the ball in a one-on-one battle with Paul Pierce. He was 4-for-9 in the quarter and hit some big shots until he missed that potential game-winner at the buzzer.

This should be the ideal formula for D’Antoni: share the ball through three quarters, then go to Melo as the closer in the fourth. The problem is that Carmelo just hasn’t been in a good rhythm this season to simply turn it on in the fourth quarter on a given night. And his shot, especially his once deadly midrange game, has abandoned him for most of the past two months. He is also getting his shot blocked at an alarmingly high rate in recent games, with five in the last two games alone.

“He looks good in practice, he’s lights out in practice,” Amar’e Stoudemire said. “He works out every day, he’s in the weight room, so he looks good to me.”

You’re being kind, Amar’e. Melo has not looked good to me. Not since that game in Memphis on Jan. 12, when he injured his wrist and then twisted his ankle. Before then, he was one of the NBA’s leading scorers and most efficient players. Since then, he’s looked nothing like it. For such a gifted scorer, this season he has to work way too hard for his points.

“It’s our job to get him better looks and stuff,” D’Antoni said.

It’s Melo’s job to let the coach know if he’s not 100 percent healthy, too. Playing through pain is courageous, but if it negatively impacts your team, it’s counterproductive. If Carmelo can’t be Carmelo because he can’t power to the rim for a finish and can’t get the lift he needs for his quick, killer pull-ups, then he can’t expect to get the ball.

But if he can, he needs to let that fire burn hotter. He needs to show us Brooklyn.

IS THE ‘OLD STAT’ BACK?

One positive result of the loss in Dallas was signs of Stoudemire’s power game making a long-awaited return.

“Just going back to the old STAT, that’s all that is,” Stoudemire said.

He really meant the young STAT.

We saw some of this in early February, just before Stoudemire left the team to mourn the passing of his brother. Stoudemire acknowledged the need to get leaner after he bulked up this offseason and perhaps he’s starting to see the results after starting a new regimen during the all-star break?

“I came back in great shape,” he said. “Got my rhythm back out there on the court. And playing up-tempo basketball. That’s something teams are afraid of and we’ve got to get back to it.”

D’Antoni called it “a great step forward.”

What you have to like more than just the return of his power dunks is that he got himself going on the defensive end. He took on the challenge of defending Dirk Nowitzki, whom D’Antoni initially planned to assign to Tyson Chandler. But Stoudemire made a personal request to take on Dirk and was engaged throughout the game at the defensive end, which is an area of struggle for him.

After a slow first half, Nowitzki wound up winning the game for the Mavericks with a huge third quarter and some big baskets late.

“It’s never a shut-down whenever you play a great player,” Stoudemire said. He also added that Nowitzki “traveled on that last shot by the way. I saw the replay.”

Oh yes, the officiating… no, no, let’s not go there again.

BATTL-LIN SOME PHYSICAL PLAY

Jeremy Lin spent most of February lifting the Knicks off the tarp. In March, his teammates seem to be picking him up off the hardwood on a nightly basis. Despite denials by opposing coaches, who claim they’re just playing their usual defense — right — Lin is getting blitzed a lot up high with traps and he’s getting hit hard in the paint.

It’s the usual test of fortitude that comes with your arrival as a pro.

“That’s fine, physical,” Lin said after another beat-down against the Mavericks. “I got to shoot some free throws. I’m fine with taking a beating as long as I go to the line.”

Lin took a shot across the back of the head by Jason Kidd on a drive in the third quarter, which was compounded by crashing into Ian Mahinmi as he hit the deck. D’Antoni drew his second technical foul of the season when he blasted the officiating crew for not calling a flagrant foul.

“Anytime you get clobbered in the face… to ignore it is kind of tough,” D’Antoni said. “I deserved the technical, but it was probably one of those things where they didn’t see it. I was just trying to protect our guys.”

It shouldn’t just be up to D’Antoni to protect Lin in that situation. If you recall in the previous game against the Mavs, Jason Terry shoved Lin from behind and was called for a foul. Jared Jeffries then got in Terry’s face to let him know that won’t be tolerated.

Kidd, who raved about Lin after the first meeting, made sure to pat Lin on the back following the play. But it’s impossible to watch Lin continually get hit and punked — especially in Miami — without any response from his teammates.

TYSON’S RING SHINES ON PAINFUL HAND

“The moment,” Tyson Chandler said, “was amazing”

He received his championship ring from the Dallas Mavericks before the game to a rousing ovation. He held it high, but perhaps should have walked to his Knicks teammates and held it out for them to see and say: This is what we play for.

Chandler means as much to the Knicks as he did to the Mavs, who still miss his presence in the paint. But Chandler’s effectiveness right now is being squelched by an injured hand that requires him to wear a heavily padded glove that is causing him to fumble passes. It has made it difficult to catch alley-oops and has affected his ability to finish around the rim.

“It’s frustrating, there’s nothing I can do about it,” he said. “It kind of is what it is at this point.”

Chandler promised to keep his technical fouls in check in the second half of the season, but he picked up his 10th of the season in the fourth quarter when he argued that Nowitzki traveled. He’s now three from an automatic one-game suspension.

“I hope they take a look at this one,” he said of the NBA. “I deserved some technicals this year, this one wasn’t one of them.”

TV CAREERS BEGIN IN SAN ANTONIO

The Knicks look to complete a daunting back-to-back tonight in San Antonio, where not only are the Spurs 14-3 this season at home, but the Knicks haven’t won there in nine years. The last time the Knicks beat the Spurs at the AT&T Center was March 18, 2003, when Allan Houston (36 points) and Latrell Sprewell (17) led the way in a 105-97 victory.

The Spurs’ venerable Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili played in that game. Just as notable is that four guys who played for the Spurs that night are now working as broadcasters: Steve Kerr (TNT, NBA TV), Steve Smith (NBA TV), Bruce Bowen (ESPN) and Malik Rose (Comcast SportsNet).

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A Mercurial Season Adds Another Bizarre Chapter

The fire that was missing from the court, was missing in the paint, on defense and in boxing out, suddenly came out of Amar’e Stoudemire in a hallway leading to the visitors locker room at American Airlines Arena on Monday night.

Stoudemire swung his left hand at a fire extinguisher case on the wall and stormed into the locker room in full seethe.

Then Josh Harrellson let out a scream.

“STAT!” the rookie yelled. “Your hand!”

The meaty part of Stoudemire’s left hand on the pinkie side was dripping with blood from a gruesome gash caused when Stoudemire’s hand shattered the glass window on the fire extinguisher case. Teammates were frozen in disbelief as trainers rushed to his aide. Moments later, paramedics burst into the room with a gurney.

And just like that this season produced yet another bizarre chapter. And this one possibly is the bitter ending to an exhaustingly mercurial story that had the highs of Linsanity and Mike Woodson‘s 18-6 finish to the lows of a pair of six-game losing streaks, Mike D’Antoni’s departure and Jeremy Lin‘s knee injury.

At this point, the players never know what to expect when they get to the gym each day.

“Absolutely, man,” Carmelo Anthony said in the confusing wake of the latest drama to swallow up this team. “I really don’t know how to put that in words but it’s a tough situation. It seems like there’s always something happening. Snakebit. But at this point it is what it is. We’ve got to move forward.”

They will continue this best-of-seven series with the Miami Heat by playing Game 3 on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden without Stoudemire. The team announced on Tuesday that Stoudemire was seen by a hand specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery and the surgeon repaired a small muscle.

He will miss Game 3 and is listed as doubtful for Game 4 on Sunday. His availability for the rest of the series — depending on if the Knicks can extend it beyond Sunday without him — will be reassessed after Game 4.

The Knicks, down 0-2, now have to try to end an 11-year playoff winless streak — and the indignity of consecutive first round sweeps — without their all-star power forward, who was supposed to be a reason why they could win the series, not just a game.

As if Knicks fans haven’t been through enough in these first two games, as if the 33-point loss in Game 1 wasn’t enough, as if the loss of rookie Iman Shumpert wasn’t devastating enough, as if the guffaws from the national media at the expense of their favorite team weren’t depressing enough, the player who served as the pioneer of this hope-filled new era suffered a self-inflicted wound for the second straight year.

“It’s tough,” Tyson Chandler said. “Your emotions run high and a split-second decision can obviously alter things.”

So many voices of anger right now are rightly furious with Stoudemire. So many who have asked me on Twitter if the Knicks can void the remaining three years and $60-plus million left on Stoudemire’s contract (Inconceivable, though they can — and should — fine him harshly for an act that led to him missing playoff games).

The Knicks paid him a handsome $99.7 million contract in 2010 to play in big games, not to miss them.

[Yes, this was a contract that most teams, including the Phoenix Suns, wouldn’t dare give him. But the suggestion that no other team than the Knicks would have been willing to take him for that number is false. Consider that Stoudemire cut off meetings with other teams, including the Nets, after his visit to New York.

Those who bemoan the insurance factor are also missing the point. The concern was supposed to be in Stoudemire’s knees, which have yet to be an issue. His back was a new injury, caused by an unnecessary attempt at a spectacular dunk in pregame warm-ups before Game 2 last year in Boston. This was not a preexisting condition, so how does insurance even factor in here?]

Stoudemire’s Kevin Brown/Doyle Alexander moment on Monday night was inexcusable and unforgivable, but let’s not churn too much in the sanctimonious rhetoric. Let he who never once regrettably smashed something in anger — and don’t tell me you didn’t during the second quarter of Game 1 — cast the first stone.

“I’m so mad at myself right now,” Stoudemire posted on his Twitter account — apparently he’s a one-hand typer — on Monday night. “I want to apologize to the fans and my team, not proud of my actions, headed home for a new start.”

He added Tuesday morning, “We have all done thing [sic] out of anger that we regret. That makes us human. Bad timing on my part. Sorry guys. This to [sic] shall pass.”

Teammates have just as much reason as fans to be infuriated with Stoudemire, who made it even tougher for this team to even win a game in this series (and end an NBA-record 12-game playoff losing streak).

“You can’t fault anybody,” Chandler said. “I’m obviously a person that has high emotions at times, so, one quick decision, make a mistake and now you’ve got to deal with the repercussions.”

I prefer to remain more upset at his lack of defensive focus and rebounding determination, which won’t heal the way the hand will eventually heal.

The senseless act that followed after the game was over — when it was too late to get mad — wound up only compounding his frustrations and the added emotion of the tragic loss of his brother, which is not something we can just simply dismiss. This was brewing from a toxic blend of a reality that his Knicks haven’t played at the same level as the Heat in the first two games of this series along with an underlying exasperation of being lost in an offense (he had just nine shots in Game 2, seven in Game 1) that the Heat have completely handcuffed. And let’s face it, Chris Bosh, whom Dwyane Wade and LeBron James chose to join them over Stoudemire in Miami, continues to outplay him.

The Knicks now have to win without him, which is something they did after he went out of the lineup with a bulging disc on March 26, when Melo moved to the power forward spot and started lighting up the NBA. But that was when Shumpert had a healthy knee and opposing scorers on lockdown. To believe the Knicks can make it a series against the Heat without Shumpert and Stoudemire — and let’s not forget the absence of a third starter, Lin — is to be illogically intoxicated with optimism.

But this is, of course, why you keep watching.

“Regardless of what happened, we’ve got to protect home floor,” said Chandler, who may soon learn he is the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. “A series really doesn’t start until somebody loses on their home floor… We’ve got to bring the series back here and see what happens from there.”

RIP “FUZZY”

Rest in Peace, Andrew “Fuzzy” Levane, who died Monday at the age of 92.

Most of the younger Knicks fans may have no idea who he is, but Levane might be one of the most important figures in Knicks history. Levane, who was a star guard at St. John’s in the early 1940s, was an original NBA player (when the league was called the Basketball Association of America). It was with the Rochester Royals (today known as the Sacramento Kings) where Levane teamed up with a fellow New York City high school standout, William “Red” Holzman.

Levane went from player to coach with the Milwaukee Hawks in 1952, where he played with and coached Holzman, who later replaced Levane as the head coach from 1954-57. When Levane was hired to coach the Knicks in 1958, he insisted to Garden president Ned Irish that Holzman join him as an assistant coach and team scout. It was a move that had a huge impact on the future of the franchise.

Holzman almost quit pro basketball before Levane convinced him to come to the Knicks. As the team’s head scout, Holzman helped build the championship-era Knicks through the draft — Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Phil Jackson, Cazzie Russell and Dave Stallworth, to name a few — and then took over as head coach in 1967. With a roster of Hall of Fame players built on a defensive-minded foundation and self-less “Find the Open Man” philosophy, Holzman won two NBA championships with the Knicks, won 613 games and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Levane coached the St. Louis Hawks but later, at Holzman’s request, returned to the Knicks organization as a scout and remained with the team for many years. I got to know him — and enjoy his endless stories about basketball and the Knicks — as a young reporter in the 1990s while hanging around minor league circuits such as the Continental Basketball Association and the United States Basketball League. It was there, by the way, that Levane saw enough in John Starks and Anthony Mason to implore the Knicks to offer both training camp invitations.

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Tyson Shows How To Play Like a Star

It has always been the same voice in the locker room this season, the one that gets everyone to listen because what’s being said isn’t clichés or empty rhetoric. It is a stern voice of intensity, one that speaks from experience with the hardware to back it up. One that also practices what it preaches.

And so the voice filled the air at halftime on Wednesday night at The Garden. It bellowed a strong reminder as the players sat in the luxurious new locker room, patting themselves with plush Egyptian cotton towels and changing into a fresh pair of sneakers or thick, dry socks, that theirs was still a life of grit and grime.

Tyson Chandler made his point clear. He has a way with holding teammates accountable without calling people out. What we’re learning about him is he’s not only the best defensive center this team has had since Patrick Ewing, he may be the best leader, as well.

“I don’t know how you describe someone like him,” Mike D’Antoni said, “other than he’s a champion. He’s showing the way.”

Chandler has a lot to say behind closed doors, but he doesn’t grandstand in the media. What he revealed to reporters was merely the Cliffs Notes version — probably G-rated, too — of the challenge he made in the locker room during a game that saw a lifeless effort in the first half against the young, energetic Cleveland Cavaliers only a day after the team was talking about competing for a championship.

“I just let my teammates know if we really want to be true contenders, on nights like this we have to show it,” Chandler said. “Nothing is going to come easy.”

Chandler only had three points in the second half, but we know by now that his impact is rarely quantified in points. He came out in the third quarter and set an immediate tone with his defense and came up with three steals, three blocks and grabbed seven rebounds in 14:14 of play in the second half. His game was about floor burns, sweat beads and snarl. That’s about as New York as you can get.

“I wouldn’t ask anything of my teammates that I wouldn’t do myself,” he said after he totaled 13 points, 15 rebounds, four blocks and three steals.

Steve Novak caught fire, Baron Davis ran a terrific show and Jeremy Lin (19 points, 13 assists) and Carmelo Anthony (22 points) combined to put the game away. But the comeback doesn’t happen without Tyson Chandler. In a season of wild ups and downs, of great frustration and inspiring comebacks, of the emergence of Garden heroes such as Lin, Novak and Shumpert, it is Tyson Chandler who has emerged as the true star of this team. He is for the Knicks what Ryan Callahan is for the Rangers: not the most talented, but the most respected. He is the player who sets the standard and the identity of his team.

“I can sit up here and talk about Tyson the whole time,” D’Antoni said. “His impact is on and off the court. He’s a superstar on the floor and off the floor. What he gives, the intangibles, we can go on and on…

“Whatever you need, it’s all about the team.”

‘SUPER-NOVA’ EXPLODES AGAIN

While in the locker room at halftime, Steve Novak was still in shooting range. The gunslinger then buried the Cavs with three from downtown in that third quarter turnaround for the Knicks. He finished 5 for 8 from three-point range for 17 points off the bench and is now shooting a blistering 47 percent from beyond the arc, which is fourth best in the NBA.

“Novak, he was ridiculous,” D’Antoni said.

Amar’e Stoudemire referred to him as “Super Nova” after the game. Even my colleague, MSG Network analystKelly Tripucka referenced him as “Steve Novak-aine” on the post-game show.

And his teammates have taken to copying Novak’s “championship belt” celebration, which is homage to quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his beloved Green Bay Packers. And, yes, Rodgers is well-aware of it all. After the game, Rodgers tweeted that he is “a big Steve Novak fan.”

Nineteen thousand-plus at The Garden are, too.

“Hearing your name chanted at Madison Square Garden, there’s nothing like it,” Novak said in his walk-off interview with MSG Network’s Tina Cervasio. “The fans here, it’s unbelievable. I can’t imagine playing in a better place. You know, growing up, a basketball player, no matter where you’re from, Wisconsin, Indiana, New York, wherever it is, you come to play in the Mecca of Basketball, here at The Garden, there’s nothing like it.”

Baron Davis, who had a strong game with eight assists in 14:38 off the bench, also earned a loud ovation from the crowd, which he relished.

“That ovation is sweet,” Davis said. “That’s why I came here, because I love the energy and I love the fans. They love basketball, they can appreciate good basketball.”

OBAMA KNEW ABOUT LIN

Apparently the government was keeping a secret from the rest of the basketball world. President Barack Obama told Grantland creator Bill Simmons that he was aware of Jeremy Lin’s talents before anyone else.

Oh here we go. This isn’t another Al Gore “I invented the internet” thing, is it?

“I can’t take credit for [Linsanity],” President Obama told Simmons. “But I’m just saying I was there early.”

Obama, who we know is a huge basketball fan, had a reliable spy report to him. That would be Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education (and, as we saw in the NBA celebrity game at All-Star Weekend, a serious baller), who is a Harvard grad.

“He said, ‘I’m telling you, we’ve got this terrific guard named Jeremy Lin at Harvard,” Obama said. “And then one of my best friends, his son is a freshman at Harvard, and so when he went for a recruiting trip he saw Lin in action. So I’ve been on the Jeremy Lin bandwagon for a while.”

The Prez may appreciate Lin’s game and story, but it stops there. Remember, he’s from Chicago.

By the way, where’s Bill Bradley been throughout all of this?

BENCH NEEDS A NICKNAME

Red Holzman‘s beloved 1970 championship team had a group of reserves affectionately known as “The Minutemen.” The Knicks deep bench, with Novak, Davis, Iman Shumpert, Jared Jeffries and Co. may need one too. Shumpert offered “Bench Mob” on Twitter, but that’s being used by the Bulls.

We’ve received some good ideas so far on Twitter. One that stands out is “B-Sides”, which is a play of a nickname the team gave themselves in training camp, “Knicks Tape” (as in “Mix Tape”). Another really good one that could easily catch on is to call them “Mobb Deep” after the hip-hop group from Queens. Fitting, since depth is something this team clearly has now.

A few weeks back, I started calling them the “2.0 Boys” after the Slaughterhouse song with Eminem and Yelawolf.

Can we do better? Let’s hear some of your suggestions.

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