Sunday, February 26, 2006

Knicks On Road To Nowhere

If you've been following the Knicks season, you just might've become terminally ill watching them attempt to play basketball. The haunting reality is that these are grown men playing a professional game. They could've fooled me based on the lack of passion that's been on display far too often in a tumultuous season under $10 million coach Larry Brown. Not that it's entirely his fault but is he getting paid by the hour for this garbage they call basketball at the World's Most Famous Arena?

Truth be told, there are many things wrong with this year's Knicks which even the best executives such as Jerry West wouldn't be able to fix. That's what happens when you have clueless Team President Isiah Thomas running the organization into the abyss. In over two years on the job since vowing he'd turn the franchise around, Thomas has sunk it to new levels.

First, Thomas brought in former Lincoln High star Stephon Marbury. Marbury helped get the Knicks into the playoffs two years ago but they didn't get a game off the Nets. Last season, Thomas added Jamal Crawford to the backcourt. With Allan Houston unable to regain form due to chronic knee problems, Thomas banked on the streaky Crawford to mesh with Marbury. At times they played well. But after Marbury proclaimed that he was the best point guard in the NBA before a Nets game in December 2004, the team wilted and missed the playoffs.

So what did Thomas do last summer? Only traded away a number one draft pick which wasn't lottery protected to Chicago in a package for Eddy Curry. Curry has great size and strength on the block. However, he can't put together two good halfs due to lazy work habits and foul trouble. Here is the scary aspect for Knicks fans. With the Knicks currently 29th overall with just a 15-40 record (only Charlotte ranks lower at 15-42), that pick could result in the number one overall selection for an old nemesis. Imagine this. The Bulls select Adam Morrison or Rudy Gay while the Knicks have the inconsistent Curry. Which position would you rather be in?

Getting sick yet? Thomas also swung a deal last draft, moving defensive power forward Kurt Thomas and a pick to Phoenix for Quentin Richardson and a pick which turned into Nate Robinson. While the 2006 Slam Dunk champ has provided solid energy off the bench, Richardson has been a bust thus far missing nine games and seeing his scoring average dip to 8.0 PPG. He's also shooting 35.5 percent from the field including 32.3 percent on trifectas. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

The one positive impact Thomas has had this year is drafting Channing Frye along with acquiring Robinson and taking David Lee. The three rookies play with passion unlike most of the roster. Too bad their coach only gives significant time to Frye.

How confusing is this team that's headed nowhere? A couple of weeks ago, they traded for Jalen Rose. And before last week's trade deadline, Isiah was at it again acquiring Marbury-clone Steve Francis from Orlando for disenchanted second-year small forward Trevor Ariza and Penny Hardaway's expiring contract. Now, correct me if I'm wrong. But the Knicks already had two score-first guards in Marbury and Crawford, plus to a lesser extent Richardson. How can Thomas explain adding even more salary to a cap so maxed out that I'm longing for the days of Rory Sparrow and Louis Orr?

How many of the same players does this mismatched roster need? Is there talent? Sure. To Marbury's credit, he's played hard since the new year and sparked the only sign of life (six wins to start 2006) before injuring his left shoulder. He has missed 11 games already but continues to play through the pain. So, I'll cut him some slack.

Only 22, Curry should give the Knicks a low post presence that can dominate games. Right now, he's not even close. Whether he reaches that potential depends on his desire, which has been questioned. For the Knicks' sake, he better.

I still can't figure out what Francis is doing here. He's more selfish than Marbury and his former team wanted no part of him because they're building for the future with Dwight Howard, Darkko Milicic and Jameer Nelson.

Crawford has been a spark plug off the bench averaging 13.5 PPG. He is the only player who has shown dramatic improvement under Brown, even attempting to play D. Remember that mantra? The Knicks are one of five teams that give up over 100 points (101.3 PPA). I've seen better defense from a Richardson cardboard cutout during a Knick commercial featuring tennis legend John McEnroe urging him to play defense while he hits tennis balls.

Hard to fathom a Brown coached team that doesn't make life difficult for their opponents. Which is what makes Thomas' acquisitions even more baffling. Not one of them is known as a defensive stopper. Something they sure could've used in an embarrassing 110-89 loss at Washington Saturday night.

In the first quarter, Gilbert Arenas torched them for half of his 46. How uncontested was he? Arenas missed only three of his 16 shots, including a season best seven-of-10 from three-point range. He scored 33 of the points in a dominant first half in which the Wizards jumped out to a 71-45 lead. After scoring 13 more in the third quarter, he didn't even play the fourth. Had Washington coach Eddie Jordan let him continue, there's no telling how many he would've finished with.

That sums up how putrid the effort was for New York. It is still amazing that with this team playing this poorly, nobody is taking the fall. Just when does that happen exactly?

Don't tell Knicks brass. But fans are jumping overboard as they crumble.

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