Monday, November 07, 2005

Larry Legend

Three games, three losses.

Thie first to the division rival Celtics, by 14 in overtime, in which the Knicks allowed 20 points in five minutes. The second, a home-opener double-digit loss to the Wizards which resulted in boos midway through the first quarter. And the third—a moral victory in comparison—a two-point defeat at the hands of the Golden State Warriors. With that 0-3 record firmly in hand, the Knicks go off to the West Coast on a six-game road swing.

These are your New York Knicks.

Three games into the season, and already there is dissent among the veterans (that being a relative term—Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway are the longest-tenured Knicks), abject failure at the fundamentals (Jerome James has 10 fouls to go with two points, Stephon Marbury has missed 13 of 28 free throw attempts), and late-game collapses, long a hallmark of this Knicks franchise. Giving up 20 points in overtime—just five off the all-time NBA record—is embarassing by anyone's standards, and downright disgusting considering what should be expected of Brown's Knicks.

There are a virtual stockpile of useful excuses at the ready, ranging from preseason injuries to youth to unfamiliarity with teammates and sets. But this wasn't supposed to be a rebuilding process, was it? You don't hire a 65-year-old coach with health problems for untold millions in order to win years from now, do you? How many $50-million-plus contracts are on the floor? You win NOW.

The biggest worry Knick fans should have is this: Is there even a plan? Or was this just the matter of bringing in big names at big prices and hoping it would work?

For starters, this isn't a Larry Brown team. He made his name coaching—no, teaching—hard-nosed players, not flashy ones. While Allen Iverson made things tick in Philly, they wouldn't have made the Finals without George Lynch, Aaron McKie and Eric Snow. New York is decidedly short on those types, with the exception of Antonio Davis, a throw-in from the Eddy Curry deal who played for Brown in Indiana. Also, Brown doesn't have much faith in rookies—or young players at all, for that matter. Even while his Pistons won a championship and competed for another, No. 2 pick Darko Milicic languished on the bench, seeing only sporadic minutes. And last year, Carlos Delfino and Carlos Arroyo were similarly neglected. As exhibited in the Warriors game, rookies David Lee, Channing Frye and Nate Robinson are among the Knicks most energetic players. In order for them to win, Brown may need to give the kids more time, and sideline some of the $50 million club (among them Curry, Quentin Richardson, Marbury and Jamal Crawford). Will he be willing—or even able, given Isiah Thomas's stake—to do so?

Obviously it's early. Things could turn around. Marbury and Crawford (and Robinson), or at least one of them, could become a traditional point guard. Eddy Curry could learn to rebound. Jerome James could stop fouling everyone. Trevor Ariza could learn to run off screens like LB-coached beanpole predecessors Reggie Miller and Rip Hamilton. Brown could learn to trust Lee, Ariza and training camp surprise Matt Barnes. Anything can happen.

Something'd better.

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