The Knicks Fix: ‘A New Focus’ Begins with Melo’s Example

Carmelo Anthony’s ‘after’ photos lack the drama of those testimonials you see promoted by Jenny Craig or P90X. This wasn’t like Eddy Curry’s big reveal a few seasons ago after he resorted to a liquid diet and a lot of cardio upon being ordered to get under 300 pounds.

In fact, at Monday’s annual Media Day for the Knicks, the only notable change in Carmelo Anthony is that he’s 30 years old. The last time he was in uniform, he was 29.

Melo was, indeed, leaner, but his wallet certainly swelled thanks to him agreeing on a new five-year deal over the summer to stay in New York, something he consistently said was his priority.

Before making the commitment, he played the field a little, which free agency allowed him to do. In the end, as he promised all along, he couldn’t leave New York. Even if there were other ready-made situations for him, such as with the Chicago Bulls.

Carmelo Anthony discusses his expectations for the upcoming season, the different mindset the team has and his initial thoughts on how he will fit in to the triangle offense.

“I wouldn’t have felt right … getting up and leaving like that,” he said.

Cynics will always point to the near-max money the Knicks offered, which was, by NBA rules, millions more in total than any other team could offer. But if you know Melo, you know there is validity in his claim that loyalty weighed on him during the free agency process in July. And on Monday he revealed it candidly when he admitted he had “unfinished business” to tend to for a franchise that put together an NBA-record 13-player trade to get him in February 2011.

A move that Melo admittedly described as “forced my way here” by refusing to agree to contract extensions with any other team. That included the Nets, who were set to move to the borough of his birth.

So as the franchise made more dramatic moves to keep him — hiring Phil Jackson as president and bringing in Derek Fisher, one of the most respected players of Melo’s era, to coach — the superstar showed no entitlement. Instead, he took ownership.

He took two weeks off after the season to rest his body and then he got to work with his trainer, Idan Ravin, and attacked one of the main criticisms of his game: His weight and conditioning. Over the past two seasons, Melo has never been out of shape, but has he ever been in peak form at the same levels of the game’s other elite players, such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant? No.

So he made an effort, as he hit the milestone age of 30 in May, to dedicate himself to fitness in order to preserve his career.

“My weight loss,” he said, “I was just doing my job.”

Melo, who has routinely dealt with injuries to his ankles and shoulders, said he hasn’t felt this good in a long time.

The challenge for Melo wasn’t getting leaner. The challenge is to maintain it and not start gaining weight during the season, which he has done in the past.

“I don’t view it as he was in such bad shape he needed to change himself,” Fisher said on Friday. “I just view it as guys age and they’re trying to find ways to maximize the great opportunity to play in the NBA for as long as you can. That was part of his decision-making.

“How that impacts him on the court, we’ll see, but whenever you’re healthy and you lighten the load on your body, it can help you.”

That leads, of course, to the question as to whether being lighter might lead to him losing some of the power game he has that has made him one of the NBA’s elite scorers and most difficult matchups. Melo spent the last two seasons playing primarily as a power forward. In the Triangle Offense, there isn’t a designated “power forward” spot, so it will be a different look. Will this be an issue?

“My mentality and my physical makeup is there, none of that has changed.,” Melo said. “The only thing that has changed is maybe stripping some body fat . . . but I don’t think my makeup is going to change.”

Fisher doesn’t seem too concerned.

“Carmelo’s a physical player, so I see him as being able to do whatever he needs to do on the court, similar as he has in the past,” he said. “But only time will tell.”

The same could be said about this coming season for the Knicks. They have the talent to be a playoff team, but there are issues of the past that still remain questions about the returning group. Melo spoke with great optimism about the “new level of focus” among the players and how pretty much the entire group showed up for pre-camp workouts at the MSG gym as much as three week early.

“The pain and what we endured last year, we don’t want to go back down that lane no more,” Melo said, “we don’t want to feel that pain again.”

FIXINS

  •  Amar’e Stoudemire, to no surprise, is in amazing shape. He said the fact that he finished last season healthy, statistically productive and with no issues with his knees was “a positive step” that he hopes will continue this season. Stoudemire did say that he and Fisher will work out a minutes plan to preserve him through the regular season. Remember, like several other players on the team, this is a contract year for Stoudemire, so there is a lot at stake for him on a personal level.
  • Jose Calderon, who will replace Raymond Felton as the starting point guard, called his arrival in New York “a perfect fit” and added that in his 10th season, “I think it’s the right moment” to join the Knicks. A few times he used the phrase “play the right way,” which is a mantra Phil Jackson often employs.
  • Observation: Several players hit the weight room this summer. Andrea Bargnani, for one, has notable definition on his arms (He also said, “The [surgically-repaired] elbow is fine.” for what it’s worth). Others with tickets to the gun show include Tim Hardaway Jr.Jason Smith and rookie Cleanthony Early.
  • Observation 2: Iman Shumpert’s hair is back. The high-top fade from two seasons ago has happily sprouted again from his head, which is a good sign that he is mentally in a good place. Last season Shumpert had a moodiness about him that might have had something to do with incessant trade rumors (along with a season-long struggle to shoot the ball). Shumpert said he spent the summer working out at the IMG Basketball Academy in Florida where he was able to shake out of his doldrums with this epiphany: “I’m 24 and I play in New York. I don’t have anything to be down about and mad about.”Also worth noting is that Shumpert said one of his goals is to “raise my level of professionalism,” which shows he  has matured. It also shows he is aware of what is being said about him around the NBA. Shumpert is playing for his next contract, however, as reports say the Knicks will not offer him an extension off his rookie contract,  which means he will be a restricted free agent next summer.
  •  Observation 3: Rookie Cleanthony Early will wear uniform No. 17, which a few seasons ago was a very popular jersey. Melo called Early “the steal of the draft.”
  • J.R. Smith is always all smiles, which is what makes him J.R. Smith. He’s a long way from where he was last training camp, when he was recovering from offseason knee surgery and faced a four-game suspension to start the season as a result of a failed drug test. Smith isn’t sure what his role will be — as a starter or in the Sixth Man spot — but with his troubles seemingly behind him this camp, he said, “It’ll be a more productive start to the season for me.”
  • The Knicks, with 18 players on the roster, will open training camp Tuesday at West Point. They will practice there this week and return to the MSG Training Center on Sunday. The first preseason game is Oct. 8 against the Celtics at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. You can see that game, and all Knicks preseason games, broadcast live on MSG Network.