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“I think it’s great for the NBA,” James said. “The fact that the Knicks are back, the Celtics have been back for the last few years and all the other teams are trying to compete, I think it’s great.”

Though Walsh and D'Antoni said it hurt to give up so many players they liked, the Knicks felt they had to make the move after failing last summer to land two superstars through free agency.

“Now we’ve got two guys in our stable,” D'Antoni said.

It was Anthony’s refusal to take the extension when the Nuggets offered it to him last summer that forced them to explore trading their leading scorer. The Knicks hoped they could sign him next summer in free agency, but felt they couldn’t wait because Anthony wanted the extension this season, before a new collective bargaining agreement next summer could severely restrict salaries, and that could have forced him to lock in long term with whatever team Denver traded him to.

So the Knicks agreed to trade four of their top six players, realizing there were few chances to add a player of Anthony’s caliber to one like Stoudemire.

The Knicks hope Anthony will be able to play Wednesday when they host Milwaukee. He was expected to arrive in New York late Tuesday.

Nuggets president Josh Kroenke said in a statement the Nuggets enjoyed watching Anthony grow during his seven seasons with the team.

“However, Carmelo made it very clear early in the season that he wasn’t willing to recommit to the organization and wanted to pursue other opportunities in basketball and life,” Kroenke said. “At that point, we decided it was imperative that we do what was in the best interest of the Denver Nuggets and our fans. We wish Carmelo the best in his career and sincerely thank him for what he’s helped us accomplish.”

New York’s once-passionate fan base was turned off by the team’s poor play on the court and embarrassing press off it for most of the decade under Isiah Thomas’ reign. But in the third season under Walsh and D'Antoni, the buzz has come back, and it’s only going to get louder once Anthony takes the court.

“New York City was on fire even before this trade happened with Carmelo, thanks to (the traded players) and I think with the help of Carmelo and Chauncey and the rest of the guys, we have a great shot at it,” Stoudemire said.

Though Anthony was the focus, the Knicks are excited about the acquisition of Billups, a former NBA finals MVP and All-Star who remains one of the league’s top point guards and will orchestrate D'Antoni’s pick-and-roll offense.

The Anthony trade saga lasted all season and often overshadowed the Knicks‘ improved play. During a chaotic final week, the Nuggets entertained offers from the Knicks and New Jersey Nets, with both owners meeting with Anthony during the All-Star weekend in Los Angeles.

Walsh repeated the Knicks‘ previous denials that Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan _ with advice from Thomas _ had taken the Anthony pursuit out of his hands and paid more than Walsh would have.

“I’m the one who knows basketball, so my job is to advise him, ‘This is good for your franchise,’ and I did that,” Walsh said.

The Knicks are probably too far back to make a move in the standings over the final portion of the regular season. But they believe they have enough time to fit in the new players and be a threat if they finally get back to the playoffs.

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