New York Knicks: Enes Kanter Provides Much-Needed Veteran Leadership
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 13: Enes Kanter #00 of the New York Knicks and LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers fight for position at Madison Square Garden on November 13, 2017 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Enes Kanter is a gritty leader in a league devoid of them. He’s part of the reason why the New York Knicks are where they are.

Carmelo Anthony embraced the bright lights of the Big Apple like nobody else. He was a natural in New York City, smoothly answering questions from the media and plainly asserting his dominance. He was a big market player in the biggest market. It was, for lack of a better term, a match made in heaven.

Or was it?

During Anthony’s well-documented tenure in the Empire State, the Knicks were rarely, if ever, a top team. Only thrice did they reach the postseason, and they never quite advanced to the NBA Finals. While fingers have been pointed at many people — from the owner, James Dolan, to the backup point guards — Anthony has had to shoulder much of the blame.

Some of it is deserved, and some of it is not.

Only one thing is completely obvious: Melo’s tenure in New York is characterized by a lack of grit and of leadership. Not all of it was his fault, of course; many of the players that surrounded him were notoriously soft.

But they say that failure starts at the top. And when Carmelo Anthony was in blue and orange, there was a whole lot of failure.

On Monday night, the Knicks and Cavaliers got into a heated battle, when LeBron James and Enes Kanter went at it during the first quarter. James had said earlier this week that New York’s selection of rookie Frank Ntilikina in the first round of this year’s draft was a mistake. Kanter obviously disagreed. So did Courtney Lee and every other Knicks player on the court.

So what did they do? They didn’t back down. They confronted the “King, Queen, Princess… Whatever you are.” Kanter, who has traded words with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, is not going to let anybody “punk us.”

“This is my rookie,” he said following the game. “This is my team. This is my organization. I cannot let him [James] disrespect him [Ntilikina] like that. It doesn’t matter if it’s LeBron or whoever it is. I cannot let him disrespect him like that.”

This is Kanter’s first season with the Knicks, and he’s about to have his minutes shed when Joakim Noah returns from injury. He’s coming from the Thunder, a team that has been in title contention for the last decade, to the Knicks, a team that is a-ways away.

There’s no reason why he should be giving it his all on every play, especially when today’s NBA players are so soft. But there’s just something about guys like Kanter that can elevate a team from mediocrity into contention. With Melo, New York didn’t have it. With Kanter, they just might.

So when people discuss Anthony’s failure to win in the Big Apple, it’s important to remember one thing: the root of so much of that is a lack of toughness — both physical and mental. It wasn’t all Anthony’s fault, but he wasn’t immune to it, either.

The Knicks are a better team with Enes Kanter than they were with Carmelo Anthony. Kanter’s toughness has much to do with it.

Justin Weiss is a staff editor at Elite Sports New York, where he covers the New York Islanders and Brooklyn Cyclones. In 2016, he received a Quill Award for Freelance Journalism. He has written for the Long Island Herald, FanSided and YardBarker.