Sunday, January 29, 2006

As If Things Weren't Bad Enough.

You can always count on the Knicks to go above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to controversy. Not content with a hugely overpaid roster, a $10 million a year coach who seems to share his temperament with longtime Knick fan Woody Allen, and a record that's a considerable distance from .500, it seemed like now was the right time for a sexual harassment lawsuit against Isiah Thomas.

Now, I have no idea what the truth of the matter is. I haven't talked one-on-one with Isiah since he was coaching the Pacers, and while I occasionally saw his accuser around the Garden, I never once exchanged words with her. I have no idea what—if anything—happened. What I do know is that this is a lose-lose situation. Either it's true, and Isiah is a seriously slimy dude. Or it's untrue, and Anucha Browne Sanders is a loose cannon who probably should have never been given such a high-ranking position with the Knicks in the first place. Either way, the responsibilty rests with the same man—Jim Dolan.

On the court, things aren't that much better. Eddy Curry continues to appear and disappear like some sort of Doug Henning trick, Stephon's shoulder is obviously more messed-up than he wants to let on, and halfway through the season, LB is STILL trying to settle on a rotation. About the best news they've gotten is Jerome James's sprained neck—which has put him in a comical neck brace, and more importantly, keeps him off the court. There have been some positives, including Qyntel Woods's surgence, David Lee and Channing Frye's continued progress, and Maurice Taylor's emergence as an LJ-like post presence (making up for lack of athleticism with guile and craftiness). Also, they didn't trade for Ricky Davis, Mark Blount or Michael Olowokandi. Then again, they didn't trade for Ron Artest, either.

I'd expect the Knicks to make some changes before the trade deadline. They have some excess parts—Jerome James, Trevor Ariza, Malik Rose and an increasingly disgruntled seeming Quentin Richardson. But they can't trade anymore draft picks, and God knows who would want to take on the contracts of James, Rose and Q. And if they pursued a true point guard, they'd probably need to get rid of one of their three undersized guards—Marbury, Crawford or Nate Robinson. Robinson seems the most likely to move on. While he's a fan favorite and a burst of energy off the bench, he's an incredible defensive liability on a team that isn't all that good defensively to begin with. Another team might be able to do a better job of hiding him.

They'll also need to figure out what to do with Antonio Davis, who comes off his suspension on Tuesday night against the Lakers. He seems like a good guy to have in the locker room (provided his wife's not around), but he also wants to play. And it seems silly to take away minutes from Frye and Lee (and Taylor, as well). Besides, by the time this team's ready to win anything, Antonio will be old and gray. Um, older and grayer.


On another note, Chris Andersen kicked out of the League (for a minimum of two years) for failing a drug test? And, from what it sounds, it must have been one of the worst drugs—cocaine, meth, or heroin. The stories published on it made it clear that he HADN'T ever tested positive for steroids, and you only get booted for a third (or is it fourth?) positive test.

The funny part is that I just saw Andersen when the Hornets came to town last weekend. I was working on a piece about where players go out in their home city, and he seemed really eager to discuss it, though not in the locker room. He gave me his cell number and Tmobile address, and told me to call him on Tuesday. I asked whether they had found spots in Oklahoma City, and he just looked at me with a big smile.

I caught up with him Tuesday afternoon, but he was busy, and wanted me to call him back. And by the time I did get back to him, it was 11:45 p.m. Eastern, and he was already in bed. I tried him the rest of the week to no avail, and found out about his dismissal from the L on Friday night.

I just hope that when his two years are up, the Birdman comes back better than ever.

Friday, January 27, 2006


So yeah, Ron Artest is finally an ex-Pacer. The Maloof brothers, owners of the Sacramento Kings and several Las Vegas establishments, rolled the dice and swapped disgruntled (and soon-to-be free agent) sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic to the Pacers for the All-Star forward who hasn't played since December. It's been a rough month for the Pacers thus far—to add injury to insult, Jermaine O'Neal suffered a groin injury that will have him out for a minimum of eight weeks. This does not bode well for a Pacer championship.

As for the Kings, they needed to do something as well. Their defense was weak, their record atrocious, and ever since the trade of Chris Webber and the departure of Vlade Divac, things just haven't been the same. If Artest manages to stay sane, he should provide an element of toughness that hasn't been seen since the days of, God, Brian Grant? He'll be their best defender since Doug Christie, and probably their number-one option on offense (although Mike Bibby has been on fire lately). You would think if things don't turn around—or if Artest and Bonzi Wells immediately embark on a tri-state killing spree—Rick Adelman won't last too much longer. I suppose it's for the best the Kings have Brad Miller, who played with Artest in both Chicago and Indiana. Hopefully they got along.

The Pacers just needed Artest to be gone so they could get on with their lives. It would have been nice to get more than Stojakovic, who's pretty far off form this year, but teamed with a healthy O'Neal, he could obviously be a lethal perimeter threat. The only question, of course, is whether they'll be able to retain his services past this season. With O'Neal out until late March at best, they won't have much time to see how well he fits before deciding whether to offer him a lucrative extension. If they do, you would have to assume Austin Croshere's days in Indy would finally be numbered (they always have been, but apparently the number was triple digits).


Then there was today's huge swap, which sent (among others) Ricky Davis and Mark Blount to the Timberwolves, and Wally Szczerbiak and Michael Olowokandi to the Celtics. As Charles Barkley observed tonight on TNT, he doesn't see how this trade makes either team better. Taking that a step further, I can totally see this making both teams worse. Maybe KG will get along better with Ricky Davis than he did with Szczerbiak, but Blount has been every bit the underachiever that Olowokandi was this year. And Paul Pierce will absolutely hate Olowokandi, who is borderline useless. And will Szczerbiak be as good a second scorer as Davis?

It's a strange trade, because best I can tell both teams should be looking for the same thing: reliable veterans to surround their respective superstars (Pierce and Garnett) with so they can contend for a title—or, in Boston's case, at least a playoff spot. Exchanging your problems for another team's rarely works out. And I don't see this one working, either.

Monday, January 23, 2006


Seriously now, that didn't happen. They were Canadian points, so it was only like 65, right? Kobe Bryant torched the Toronto Raptors for 81 points on only (only, ha) 46 shots. Absurd. He bettered Michael Jordan's all-time scoring mark by an even dozen and didn't even need overtime (or, for that matter, all of regulation) to do it.

The worst part is that I didn't even watch it. Nope. Halfway through the Seahawks/Panthers I went to my girlfriend's in Brooklyn, and she doesn't have LeaguePass. Found out about it on the Channel 11 news this morning, then came home and actually endured SportsCenter long enough to see the highlights. Amazing.

It's only January, and Kobe has already done two things this season that Jordan never did—breaking 70 (and 80) and scoring 45-plus in four straight games. His 81 was only 19 shy of Wilt Chamberlain's record 100, and Kobe took 17 fewer shots and 12 fewer free throws. Not sure if Phil Jackson would say they all came within the flow of the offense (unless the offense simply flows through Kobe at all times), but the Lakers did get the W. He had 55 points in the second half. 55! How many players in the League have even scored that many in a game? (Let's see—Iverson, Shaq, T-Mac, LeBron...who else?)

The scariest thing, to me, is that it didn't seem all that difficult for him. Why shouldn't he get 90 later? Or a 50-15-15 triple-double? Regardless, he's making one hell of a case of who the best player in the League is. And he ain't in Miami.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


First off, I'd like to apologize for my absence of late. No good reason that I can come up with either, other than the fact that I can tend to be somewhat irresponsible. My bad. Gonna try to get into a groove of posting SOMETHING everyday, even if it's just a sentence. (I may have said that before, but hopefully I really mean it this time.)

Seeing that it's already 12:45 a.m. Eastern, I want to keep it short tonight, but I couldn't wait any longer to talk a little about what happened in Chicago tonight. For those of you who weren't watching Knicks/Bulls, it was actually an exciting game, with a Ben Gordon walk-off jumper ending things in OT. There was a brief scuffle between Chris Duhon and Maurice Taylor which ended with them both getting double-tech ejected. And Antonio Davis casually hopped over the scorer's table and went up into the stands.

Yep, Antonio Davis, the one-time Pacer, coached by Larry Brown, who was on the other side of things at the Malice In The Palace. Antonio Davis, who is 37 years old and the recipient of community service awards and countless accolades from his peers. Antonio Davis, who has been an All-Star and a mentor to many young players. Antonio Davis, who is the president of the Player's Association.

Now, this wasn't anything close to the Artest debacle. Apparently something happened involving Davis's wife, and he went up there to see what was going on. A natural reaction, to be sure. There were no punches thrown, and Davis was escorted back to the court (then back to the locker room) by arena security. Nothing happened. But didn't David Stern make it ABUNDANTLY clear after the Artest incident that players were absolutely forbidden from going into the stands for any reason?

Here's what he said following Artest's season-ending suspension last year: "We have to make the point that there are boundaries in our games. One of our boundaries, that have always been immutable, is the boundary that separate the fans from the court. Players cannot lose control and move into the stands."

Of course Davis's natural reaction is to protect his wife and chidren from harm. But this is an NBA arena in 2006. Has there EVER been a case in recent history of a player's family being harmed physically during a game? If there has been, I don't know about it. Sure, security didn't appear to be there when Davis arrived, but it was certainly on the way. There was no reason for him to go into the stands—in the opponent's building, no less—to do someone else's job.

If Stern was sincere in his words—and one has no reason to doubt he wasn't—Davis has to be suspended for his actions, however noble he felt they were. It certainly won't be for the rest of the season, but 10 games wouldn't surprise me. Whatever the case, someone definitely needs to get a quote from Artest.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Shooting Starbury


So since the New Year the Knicks are 3-0, and Stephon Marbury has been brilliant. Recent stories in the NYC tabloids put much of the credit for Steph's recent success at the feet of Larry Brown—for criticizing him after a few poor games. Even Starbury himself has admitted that Brown's words motivated him.

But let's not have the Pope fasttrack LB for sainthood quite yet. After all, despite the current winning streak, the Knicks are still an abysmal 10-21. And Marbury's stellar play of late isn't exactly unprecedented. After all, he's in his 10th year in the League, with averages of 20.5 points and 8.2 assists per to show for it. This isn't exactly making a silk purse out of a sow's ear (to use an old expression I still don't quite understand). In fact, Steph's overall numbers this year are well below his career averages—18.3 and 6.6—and anyone who thinks all is rosy from here on out might want to take off the tinted glasses.

Things may be good now, but the Knicks are still a disasterpiece. Give Brown credit for moving David Lee into the starting lineup at small forward, by all means, but at the same time, please question why Lee was on the inactive list for seven games at the start of the season. Why was Trevor Ariza so upset at finding himself out of the rotation? Why was Jerome James suspended for "conduct detrimental"? (OK, we know that one, but still, shouldn't Brown have been able to to make him play/practice "the right way"?) Why did it take until January to find a starting lineup that made sense?

Meanwhile, Brown's old team, the Detroit Pistons, are on pace to win 70 games, and are the class of the Eastern Conference. Another team Brown used to coach, the San Antonio Spurs, are the class of the West. I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year!

Some people awoke today sad to see 2005 gone. None of them are employed by the New York Knicks. Only a Friday night Nets victory over the Atlanta Hawks kept the Knicks from having the worst record in the NBA when the calendars changed. Of course, their record is still putrid enough to require a heck of a lot of deodorant. 7-21. Not exactly what everyone expected when Larry Brown came to town.

In fact, the only person who's thriving on the Knicks appears to be the Post's Peter Vescey, who appears more than happy to fiddle while Rome burns. While his latest column focuses on the recent (on-court) misdeeds of Kobe Bryant, he still finds time and space to belittle the Knicks brand of "casketball," a rather apt description.

And there really isn't any reason to think it'll get better in '06. Stephon Marbury and Brown allegedly hate each other (a feud which the local media is more than happy to fan the flames of), their certain lottery pick belongs to the Chicago Bulls, and two months into the season Brown STILL hasn't settled on a starting lineup. If it wasn't for his flashy resume (and his $10 million per deal) he would have been fired already. The Knicks aren't just losing, they're losing badly, with late collapses (didn't Don Chaney's teams do this too?) and hanging heads. Confidence is essentially nonexistent, and the playoffs are almost certainly out of reach.

It's Isiah Thomas who assembled this capped-out mess, of course, and even the timely retirement of Allan Houston didn't provide much relief to the bloated payroll or the crowded backcourt. It did mark the official end of the Layden era, as every player currently on the roster was acquired by Thomas. Their record is his legacy thus far.

What we have is failure. Two overweight and undertough centers, a few talented rookies who don't know from one day to the next if they're starting or being put on the inactive list, three point-guard sized shooting guards, a shooting-guard size small forward (and no real small forward), and all of one player with a sense of pride—37-year-old Antonio Davis, who didn't even want to play for the Knicks in the first place. The Knicks' player with the most passion, Kurt Thomas, was traded for a player without a position, Quentin Richardson.

The Knicks may have a slightly better record than the Hawks, but at least the Hawks have a future. They're laden with young talent—Josh Smith, Josh Childress, Al Harrington, Zaza Pachulia, Marvin Williams—that can either be allowed to develop, or be traded for other pieces. They're also well below the salary cap. The Knicks, on the other hand, have overpaid cast-offs whose former teams improved upon their leaving. Ask the Suns and the Nets about Marbury, or the Bulls about Jamal Crawford.

There's a reason Brown has used 19 different starting lineups, and it's not just because he's lost his mind. He's trying to assemble a puzzle with pieces from different boxes, with some duplicated and others missing altogether. The lineup that would seem to make the most sense—Marbury, Crawford, Richardson, Channing Frye and Eddy Curry—is short on leadership, rebounding and playmaking, not necessarily in that order. It also makes for a lame second unit, with only sparkplugs Nate Robinson and Trevor Ariza bringing any bounce. AD has fire, but at 37 he can only burn so brightly for so long. At least he doesn't give up the lane.

Some of these mismatched parts would be tradeable if they weren't being overpaid. Surely a team could use Jamal Crawford, but not at $55 million. Or Jerome James, but not at $30 mill. Penny Hardaway's expiring contract may be attractive to someone, but they'd have to take another poison contract in return. They could simply let it expire themselves, but given the mega-dollar presence of Marbury, Curry, James and Crawford (and Richardson), they'd still be above the cap. It's unlikely Antonio Davis will return for another season, and if he doesn't, who'll pick up the leadership slack?

It doesn't look like it'll be Marbury. His game is still fluid and dynamic—he can score with the best of them when he gets on a roll—but his personality is still caustic and damaging. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and too often it's broken. Rather than try to pick his teammates up when things get bad, he leads the sulking, which is every bit as contagious as enthusiasm, and far more harmful. Despite his considerable talents, it's hard to believe the Knicks will ever win anything with Marbury at the helm. And with $80-something million remaining on his contract, it's equally hard to believe that the Knicks will be able to trade him until his final year.

This, of course, is Isiah's problem. Acquiring Marbury was his boldest move, taking on tons of salary and a player with well-documented teammate troubles. It got him (and the Knicks) positive headlines almost immediately, as the first step towards building a contender. Every step since then, though, has seemingly been a backwards one. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the way Isiah built a team around Marbury—players were acquired simply because they could be, with little or no regard as to how they would fit into a system, or with the point guard. Instead of building a team AROUND Marbury, and trying to avoid the missteps that had led to his departures from New Jersey and Phoenix, Thomas basically set Stephon up to fail. Vilified in the past for his score-first mentality, Steph found himself again the best scoring option on a losing team. And there's not much that can be done. In purging the roster of all remnants of things Layden, Isiah built a roster with little—if any—flexibility.

Maybe things will get better in, say, 2008.