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NBA AM: The Knicks Need Carmelo To Lead The Way

The New York Knicks find themselves at 8-8 on the season. To be elite, they need more from Carmelo Anthony… Orlando Magic move Oladipo to the bench and he may stay there.

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Won’t Happen Without Him: The secret sauce to winning in the NBA is not easy to formulate. No two teams do it the same way and the consistently good teams have something special that their peers do not have.

For the 8-8 New York Knicks, there is no question that they are a better basketball team, but can they really get to the next level of being able to win something with a head coach that has puzzling and confusing lineups, a roster full of good but not great players and a superstar that can absolutely dominate a game, but at times has an almost-in approach?

In talking with Knicks sources recently, there was a sense that the environment was better than last year, where guys did not buy into the process and everyone had their own agenda.

This year, that has not been the problem; guys are willing and that’s a great first step to having success. That’s not as good as total buy-in, but it’s a starting point.

The next hurdle is internal leadership and that’s on Knicks star Carmelo Anthony.

There is no questioning his status as the best player wearing a Knicks jersey. He is the guy and he can absolutely dominate a game.

Last year, Carmelo was among the many that was not invested in what the Knicks were doing. He would often freelance instead of running the system, and he played hard when he wanted to, when he played at all.

This year, there has been a verbal commitment to being all the way in, but there are still moments of detachment that are going to block the Knicks from reaching their true potential.

To give this concept some background, last year the Cleveland Cavaliers really struggled in November. There was a clear systemic revolt and it seemed that everyone believed Cavs coach David Blatt would be replaced because he could not gain the trust of LeBron James. It wasn’t until James wrapped his arms around Blatt and accepted that this was the guy that things started to change and James took ownership of the situation – flaws and all.

Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale was fired last week for many of the same reasons. His stars stopped believing and everything fell apart. Time will tell if changing the coach can right the Rockets season, but so far Houston has gone 1-3 since that decision, so it’s unclear if that was the right move or not.

This brings us back to the Knicks. Head coach Derek Fisher isn’t going anywhere, at least not this year. So for the Knicks players, it’s either embrace what you have – flaws and all – or stay detached and win what you can win individually.

Anthony did the right thing this summer. He got himself in tremendous shape. He has taken to many of the younger players on the roster and he’s starting to play at an All-Star level again, but what’s missing is the ownership of the situation in a way only a superstar can do.

Last night, after dropping a winnable game to the Orlando Magic, Anthony was asked what more he could do after posting 28 points and grabbing 13 rebounds on 9-17 shooting with three assists.

“I’m just trying to do my job,” Anthony said. “That is it.”

It nice to hear players talk about their situation as a job, but isn’t Anthony’s job to lead the team to the promised land?

Anthony has the star power to influence almost every aspect of what the Knicks do. He’s not making the substitutions, but he has the ability to sit with the coaches and articulate what’s working and what needs to change.

His voice carries more weight than almost anyone on the team.

LeBron James knows that and exerts his influence on the Cavaliers on a daily basis. Chris Paul has tremendous influence over what the Clippers do, in much the same way Steph Curry has the voice inside the Warriors locker room.

Standing by and saying, ‘I am doing my job,’ is one part of the puzzle, but the truly great teams have internal leaders and the Knicks seem to waiting for Carmelo to decide if he’s going to lead the way. He certainly can do that on the floor, but being comfortable doing that in the locker room and taking ownership of the situation is a scary proposition. If you take ownership and it doesn’t go right, then there is no one else to blame.

The Knicks are in a reasonable place at 8-8, especially considering the addition of nine new players. They have had a tough schedule that’s going to even out, so there is room for a run that could push the Knicks into the top of the standings.

Anthony is playing some incredible basketball, but for the Knicks to truly turn the corner, they need a completely invested Carmelo – flaws and all. If that happens, that’s when the Knicks could make things interesting.

Shaking Things Up: After 14 games of inconsistently nail biting basketballm Magic head coach Scott Skiles opted to make a lineup change shifting former second overall pick and Magic star Victor Oladipo to the bench in favor of starting Channing Frye at the power forward spot and shifting the lineup around.

The results were good. The Magic moved the ball more, they shot slightly better from the field, the defensive intensity was higher and most importantly they got a win.

Before the game, Skiles said that the analytics showed there were better combinations of players and it was time to try something new. He said he struggled with the decision because Oladipo in many ways was the team’s best defender and most aggressive offensive player, but conceded that while the decision was tough it was necessary.

As surprising as this move might seem from the outside, there has been a growing sense that Skiles was losing patience with the streaky shooting he was getting from his backcourt and the lack of a consistent three-point threat on the floor was making it unnecessarily hard.

Skiles has kept no secret that his only motivation is to win games and that players who gave effort and could help him win are going to see the floor. Devoting game minutes to development is no longer a priority.

Skiles recently benched Magic big man Nikola Vucevic after flat first half effort against the Minnesota Timberwolves and made it clear he was not trying to send messages.

“I’m not trying, really, to send messages,” Skiles said. “I get a fairly sizable check every two weeks to win the games. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Skiles said yesterday he was not ready to permanently move Oladipo to the bench, but joked if the team won 15 straight he might rethink that.

One thing Skiles has been pretty adamant about is that he isn’t going to juggle the lineup on a game to game basis as he felt it was disruptive to the players to constantly tinker, so it seems for the foreseeable future that if everyone is healthy Oladipo will come off the bench as the Magic’s sixth man.

Time will tell how long that change will last or if other changes are in store, but for now expect a more traditional lineup in Orlando.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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