On the Knicks.
"We make money because people think he's worth more than he is," explains Voulgaris, who won especially big when New York beat Miami on Dec. 6, a game in which he bet on New York to win straight up, at 7--1 odds. "It's not that we think he's bad; it's that the market thinks he's better than he actually is."
To prove his point, Voulgaris pulls up a spreadsheet on one of his MacBooks. In his system a rating of --3 points per 48 minutes equals a replacement NBA player. A rating of zero is average. The best players, such as LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki, rate +6 to +9.
"We don't really have [Anthony] as valuable at all," Voulgaris says, scrolling down. "We've had him in the past as high as +4 per 48 minutes and as low as --1." This season, Voulgaris says, "we've had him as zero most of the time. Both Chandler and Kidd have been more valuable. [Anthony's] offensive numbers have improved as the year has progressed. He's gone from average to above average pretty quickly, which is a function of how they're using him. What hasn't changed is he's been a very consistently poor defensive player. Basketball is two sides of the game." Voulgaris pauses. "Everyone's going to think I'm a crackpot, but...."
What fascinates Voulgaris is that Anthony, unlike a player such as Thunder guard Kevin Martin—consistently the worst defender in his system—has the ability to defend. "In 2009, when Denver went to the conference finals, he was a lot better by our numbers. He's been a horrific defender in his career, as bad as --4 over 48 minutes. But in 2009 he was a neutral defender. He wasn't hurting you or helping you."
Of course numbers are only what you read into them, and there are plenty when it comes to Carmelo. Synergy Sports, which tracks every play in the league, rates him as good to excellent in almost every facet of offense. Go to basketball-reference.com, and you'll find a different perspective. Scan down to his similarity score, a comparison with historical players based on a stat called Win Shares, and these are some of the names that come up as similar: Sam Perkins, John Drew, Shareef Abdur-Rahim. There is not an MVP among them.
SO WHICH is it? Is Anthony an elite player or merely the highest-paid, most productive role player in the league? Have the Knicks been successful this season because Anthony has made sacrifices or because the team has accommodated him, the way Larry Brown and the 76ers once built an entire roster to complement Allen Iverson's strengths and rode it to the Finals?
Personally, I want to believe in Anthony. We all like to think that we can change, that we can become someone different, someone better—that growth is still possible, no matter where we are in our lives. Anthony insists that he has changed. Voulgaris says he hasn't, and has the money to prove it. Jim Boeheim will always believe in Anthony; Chris Gregory won't.
In the end the truth is this: It is mid-January, and the Knicks still aren't as talented as the Heat, Jason Kidd isn't getting any younger and Ronnie Brewer still can't hit a jump shot.
In the end, we may know the truth by the outcome, for this much is clear: The Knicks can't afford a scorpion. They need a lion.