By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 21, 2011; 11:51 PM
IN LOS ANGELES The fate of Carmelo Anthony appears to be settled, with the Denver Nuggets finally ending the most drawn out - and perhaps annoying - saga of the season by dealing the all-star forward to the New York Knicks. Multiple media outlets have reported that, after several flirtations with New Jersey, the Nuggets shipped the Baltimore native to New York, generating excitement for a Knicks fan base that has dealt with embarrassment and futility for most of the past decade.
But after Anthony lands in New York, the so-called second half of the NBA season still has several other important, unresolved matters that need to be played out as the league braces for a possible lockout come July 1.
The two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers face a series of threats to upend their plans of sending out retiring Hall of Fame Coach Phil Jackson with his record 12th NBA title. Old, familiar rivals reside in San Antonio, Boston and Dallas, with young upstarts in Miami, Oklahoma City and Chicago, but the most dangerous challenger to the Lakers' three-peat might very well be the Lakers.
Kobe Bryant is coming off a magical weekend in which he became the first athlete have his hands and feet enshrined outside Grauman's Chinese Theater and let it be known with his All-Star Game most valuable player award that he isn't ready to concede anything to the next generation of stars. But in order for Bryant to match Michael Jordan with a sixth NBA championship, the Lakers will have to overcome the occasional loss of focus that contributes to embarrassing losses, to foes weak and strong.
When asked how much concern he had about the Lakers' ability to get it together in June, Bryant said: "None. Every team goes through that struggle, so it's about figuring out that puzzle when the end of the season comes around. Even when you're rolling, there is still the unknown that this could slip from us at any given moment. That's what brings the excitement, not knowing."
The Lakers have lost their past three games, including a loss to the league's worst team, Cleveland, which has created some panic in Los Angeles. But their opponents view the Lakers' struggles with the same nonchalance as Ron Artest did when he sprayed Lamar Odom's personal fragrance on a reporter after a loss in Charlotte.
"This is the Lakers," Miami Heat all-star guard Dwyane Wade said. "They are the champions. They understand and know the second half of the season, they are going to play even better and when it comes time to win, they are going to be the team to beat."
The Western Conference race became more interesting this season with the reemergence of the Spurs, who have made a surprising run to the league's best record - and best start in franchise history - even as Tim Duncan posts the worst numbers of his career. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are hoping to keep the Spurs' championship window open a little longer, even as it has been considered closed since the team last won in 2007.
"All we've ever worried about are the chances right in front of us. We're not worried about the future, or years past. This year right in front of us, we're playing great," Duncan said. "It's been our last chance for the last three, four, five years. That's what everybody keeps telling us, so I can't say it's our last chance, but it's as good a chance as we've had in years."
The reigning Eastern Conference champion Celtics are confident that, when healthy, they cannot lose a seven-game series. Since winning the title in 2008, they lost Kevin Garnett for their next playoff run and lost center Kendrick Perkins in Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Lakers. Perkins has returned from knee injury, with Shaquille O'Neal added as a backup, to help Rajon Rondo and the trio of Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, make another run on the wrong side of age 33.
The Celtics have the best record in the conference, but aren't satisfied. "I know it sounds crazy," Pierce said, "but I don't think we are near where we want to be."
Boston has won its first three meetings against the triumvirate of Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh in Miami. Despite the considerable talent on the Heat, it lags behind other contenders in another important element, chemistry.
"We are moving at a cheetah's pace," James said. "We are trying to move as fast as possible to get to where we want to get to compete at the highest level. We have to continue to get better because there are teams out there that's better than us right now."
Seeing James, Wade and Bosh join forces nudged Anthony toward moving to the East and he used the threat of his possible departure in free agency to get to his desired destination. The Nuggets will reportedly send Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams, Anthony Carter and Renaldo Balkman to the Knicks in exchange for Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, the Knicks 2014 first-round draft pick, the Warriors' 2012 second-round pick, the Warriors' 2013 second-round pick and $3 million in cash. Minnesota was also a part of the three-team deal sending Corey Brewer to the Knicks and receiving Anthony Randolph and Eddy Curry in return.
Anthony's trade demand affected three teams negatively - the Nuggets, who have underachieved; the Nets, who have alienated several players rumored to be dealt; and the Knicks, who experienced some internal dissension about surrendering so much for a player who could easily come to New York as a free agent.
But now that Anthony has aligned himself with all-star Amare Stoudemire, then the season could get more interesting. Before the deal was agreed upon, Anthony expressed some uneasiness about a situation that has lingered since past summer. "I'm hopeful something can get resolved. Time is ticking, man, and time is money," Anthony said. "I'm cool calm and collected. I'm not getting any sleep but my nerves are good."