NEW YORK -- As much as the New York Knicks embarrassed themselves during Monday's game with the Brooklyn Nets, they felt compelled to embarrass themselves after the final horn, too. As the two teams passed each other on the way off the court, some vanquished Knicks did the strangest thing:
They enthusiastically and playfully hugged the coach who had just scripted their 23-point demise. The same coach who Tyson Chandler would say "outschemed" Mike Woodson.
Yes, Jason Kidd was a Knicks teammate last season, and no, there wasn't any need to strike back at him in the Garden the way, say, Michael Crabtree struck back at Richard Sherman in Seattle. But embrace him like a long, lost friend? To say to him, in effect, Thank you sir, may I have another?
Maybe this explained why Chandler said he's had it with all the defensive switching going on under Woodson's watch, and why Carmelo Anthony said the Nets "played to the mismatches, and that's something that Jason does well, even when he was here."
Maybe the Knicks not-so-secretly wish the recently overmatched Kidd, suddenly the winner of seven of eight, was the coach drawing up their X's and O's.
Anthony was among the culprits who embraced Kidd in the immediate wake of Brooklyn's 103-80 victory, but outside of a few missed free throws, it was Melo's only real mistake of the day. He was good for 26 points and 12 boards in a performance that was an extension of his season. In fact, Anthony is rebounding better than he ever has, and he owns a player efficiency rating among the league's top 10.
Only there he was at the end of this fourth consecutive double-digit defeat, sitting on the Garden floor with a towel draped over his head and the most vacant of looks in his eyes. Deep down, in a place he won't likely unlock for public consumption, Anthony has to know the entire program around him is broken.
He has to know it's time for him to cook up yet another exit strategy in pursuit of a championship ring.
"I didn't think we would be in this situation," Anthony said after his team fell to 15-26, and 7-14 at the Garden. "Honestly, I don't really know how to deal with a situation like this. I'm learning. This is a first time for me."
Given all the talk of Anthony's postseason failures in Denver and New York, perhaps this was his way of reminding everyone that's he's never missed the playoffs since entering the league as a teenager, and a teenager who had already proven he could lead a team to a championship -- at Syracuse.
But now Anthony stands a month away from the trading deadline and four months away from his 30th birthday. With free agency a reality in July, Melo has to decide if it's time to run a fast break out of New York the way he ran a fast break out of Denver.
And why shouldn't he leave, really, considering the co-workers assembled around him? People keep telling Anthony he needs to share the ball, and so he shared it Monday on a third-quarter drive with the Knicks down 10.
Melo darted into the lane and made a selfless pass to Raymond Felton, who was unguarded behind the 3-point line. The Knicks had scored all of 38 points in the first half, and had trailed big for most of the game, two truths inspiring the holiday crowd to rise with anticipation for the first time.
Felton shot an air ball. It's almost impossible for an NBA player to shoot an air ball on an uncontested 3, and damn it if Felton didn't pull it off. Kevin Garnett immediately responded with a made jumper, and the home team never again had a shot to cut its deficit to single digits.
The Knicks didn't play any defense, didn't move the ball and didn't seem to care that their neighborhood rivals were making fools of them on national TV.
"That's the only thing that kind of bothers me," Anthony said. "Today we didn't even fight."
So the Garden fans who weren't booing in the end were chanting for Brooklyn. Back in the sanctuary of his locker room, Anthony was asked if it was getting harder to see a championship in New York as a realistic vision.
"It's not getting hard," he said. "Just right now, when you're going through this situation, it kind of blurs everything. It kind of clouds a lot of everything, your thinking, your mentality ..."
Or clears it up. Anthony said he planned to be "patient" with the Knicks, but like Chandler he's clearly frustrated with the constant switching on defense that leaves the Knicks exposed to small-on-big mismatches.
"We just got caught up in the scramble all game," he said.
Woodson, advertised as a defensive specialist, is having a dreadful season, and he's hardly alone. Felton has been a big problem, Iman Shumpert has retreated into another semi-funk and J.R. Smith is one wayward whim away from taking down the whole team with him.
So Anthony has to look at his team from head to toe, and measure the strength of LeBron James' Heat and Paul George's Pacers, and wonder exactly how the Knicks can build a credible title contender in the near term. Does he really believe in the possibility that the Knicks can land Kevin Love in 2015, or that Jay Z will place Kevin Durant in the big city the year after that?
And this isn't an indictment of Jim Dolan's decision to make the Melo trade in the first place. Imagine if the Knicks stayed with Amar'e Stoudemire (broken down), Danilo Gallinari (probably done for the year) and Wilson Chandler (a nice player, nothing more) as their centerpieces. They got Felton back, anyway, and Timofey Mozgov was a useful second-string part needed to complete the deal for a superstar, Melo, who's done plenty more for his franchise than Deron Williams has done for his.
The first-round draft pick this June? That's a killer in a deep draft if the Knicks miss the playoffs, a disastrous prospect in an Eastern Conference that's weaker than Woodson's handling of J.R.
The Knicks are supposed to win their next five home games against sub-.500 opponents, but who would be surprised if they only win one or two? Their best player, Anthony, had declared that it was time "to make something happen," and the Knicks responded Monday by pushing him closer to the Garden door.
"It's a tough situation," Melo said.
He'd be wise to extricate himself from it, too, through a trade or free agency. Anthony wanted to stay in New York for the $129 million max-out deal, and he wanted to believe that victory over Miami in the Garden earlier this month was something more than a fluky reprieve.
But the Knicks are broken and in need of an overhaul. If Melo wants his parade, chances are some other team will have to give it to him.