Seth Wenig/Associated Press file photo
Seth Wenig/Associated Press file photo
Carmelo Anthony briefly had what now belongs to Jeremy Lin.
Madison Square Garden shook when he was announced. Fans lined up to buy his jerseys, chanted his name, delighted in having the New York native back in the city.
The happy homecoming hasn’t lasted.
The Knicks are a sub.-500 team in the year since Anthony’s celebrated trade from Denver, and the New York Post even wrote Tuesday the Knicks should try to deal him to the Lakers for Pau Gasol.
Still popular, Anthony no longer is beloved. Fans appreciate his talents but question whether they translate to victories, writing on Twitter they feared he’d mess things up once he returned from injury to play with Lin.
Anthony tried to laugh that off, but the truth is he craves the popularity of Lin, an underdog success story whom Anthony compared to Rudy.
“I don’t see why fans (would) not like me. I don’t say I wouldn’t care, I don’t care, because I do care if fans like me or not. But at the end of the day, I’m here to do one thing, and that’s to win basketball games,” he said last week. “If people don’t like it, then they don’t like it. I move on. I go on.”
The problem for Anthony is he isn’t winning enough games.
The Knicks were 14-14 after acquiring him Feb. 22, 2011, after going 28-26 before his arrival. They are 16-17 this season but 6-4 without Anthony.
Meanwhile, Lin is the winner, leading the Knicks to an 8-2 record since earning his first meaningful minutes in a victory over the Nets on Feb. 4. Anthony strained his right groin two nights later and missed seven games while the offense emerged from what had been a season-long funk.
The better they looked without Anthony, the more people speculated that Anthony, despite being the Knicks’ leading scorer, had been the problem all along.
One person tweeted Feb. 12 that he wondered if Anthony “knows or cares how terrified Knicks fans are about his return.”
Yes, Anthony was aware. And yes, turns out they had reason to worry.
The Knicks lost 100-92 to New Jersey on Monday, as a rusty Anthony only shot 4-for-11 from the field for 11 points. He said afterward he was trying to play as the Knicks did during the previous two weeks and reiterated his belief in Lin’s ability to run the team.
“I want Jeremy to have the ball. Hands down. I want him to create for me. I want him to create for Amare (Stoudemire). I want him to create for everybody and still be as aggressive as he’s been over the past two weeks. I want that,” Anthony said.
“There’s going to be times I have the ball during the pick-and-roll situations, being a distributor, trying to be aggressive. But for the most part, I want Jeremy having the ball in his hands.”
Anthony was greeted with a loud cheer Monday, maybe even louder than Lin’s. He was voted by fans to start the All-Star game – though the TNT analysts announcing the picks unanimously said he was undeserving – so he’s still got a huge following. He thanked his fans Tuesday with a message on Twitter.
“Big shout to all my fans and the (Knicks) fans as well,” he wrote. “It’s been 1yr. Wow!!!!!!”
Still, it’s fallen short of the Knicks Nation’s hopes.
He wore a huge grin throughout his Feb. 23 debut against Milwaukee, when the words “I was born in Brooklyn, New York” played across the overhead video board to a raucous ovation before he scored 27 points in a victory. He doesn’t flash it nearly as often now in a frustrating season in which he’s battled an assortment of injuries.
The Knicks paid an enormous price to get Anthony, surrendering starters Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov and top reserve Wilson Chandler, and that’s created expectations that nearly are impossible to meet.
Lin, on the other hand, was a simple waiver pickup who already had been cut twice this season, the type of guy that’s easy to love.
The undrafted Harvard guard has downplayed concerns of his ability to play with Anthony, noting Monday also was the debut of Baron Davis and the second game with J.R. Smith.
“We’re not in panic mode because it doesn’t just work where all of the sudden people show up and you have great chemistry,” Lin said. “So we’re going to have to work through some struggles, so as long as we’re all committed and buying in, we’ll be fine.”
D’Antoni and Stoudemire also have used the “buying in” term, and though nobody ever has said so, the hunch always is that they’re specifically talking about Anthony. D’Antoni’s offense flows best with quick ball movement and unselfish play, while Anthony’s preference has been to isolate and hold the ball before trying to take his man 1-on-1.
Extra practice time around the All-Star break should allow Lin and Anthony to develop cohesion, and eventually New York’s two most popular players might be just as productive.
Maybe then Linsanity will turn into LinsAnthony.