Many thought this Lakers team was a mortal lock for the Western Conference Finals, if not the NBA Finals. I had them losing to Oklahoma City in the West Finals, primarily because of the Steve Nash/Russell Westbrook defensive matchup, but why quibble – even projecting them to make the conference finals was a gross over-estimation of their collective ability. They stumbled out of the gate, getting Mike Brown fired in the process, and have yet to show any sign that they’ll turn things around.
The Lakers have a host of problems, but many of them can be traced back to Dwight Howard. He’s been an awful fit playing alongside Kobe Bryant. He doesn’t like being a complementary player on the offensive end – even though he’s probably the Lakers’ fifth-best scorer. His presence has pushed Pau Gasol out of position. Gasol has been ineffective playing the four, fallen out of the starting five, and like Howard, taken to sulking about his role.
What’s Mitch Kupchak to do? He may have an out. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but according to reports, Dwight Howard is unhappy, isn’t sure what he wants to do with his next contract, and may be traded at the deadline. It might make an awful lot of sense for Kupchak to cut his losses and see what he can get for Howard, rather than risk losing him for nothing in the offseason. A deal sending Howard to his hometown Atlanta Hawks could bring back Josh Smith, a deal that might make sense for both teams.
Of course, there’s a very real possibility that Jim Buss was the real force behind the Howard trade, which could complicate matters significantly. Not to mention Howard’s lingering shoulder injury, which caused him to leave Wednesday’s game. (He should be back in action on Friday.)
Parents reading this are familiar, no doubt, with Max and Ruby – that most reprehensible of television programs.
For the uninitiated, here’s a quick summary:
Max and Ruby are cute and fuzzy bunnies who live together in a big house. Everyone in their town has adult supervision, but Max and Ruby appear to be on their own most of the time… which is odd; as an active member of the Bunny Scouts, Ruby seems far too young to be the primary caregiver for her younger brother.
Ruby’s role as caregiver is the primary driver of action in the stories. She tells Max what to do… sometimes because she’s providing proper supervision, sometimes because she just wants the little guy out of her hair.
Max never, ever listens to her. He does whatever he wants. And in the stories, it always works out perfectly for him. The over-arching lesson seems to be, “Do what you want. As long as you’re cute, everything will be OK.” My daughter, sadly, has taken this message to heart.
Which brings me to the Knicks.
Some fans might have been pleased to see the Knicks lay a 40-point smack-down on the Trail Blazers last night. I was not among them. To me, that game was the basketball equivalent of watching a toddler get his way after throwing a tantrum.
I know I’m not alone in thinking that D’Antoni’s system should have made Carmelo Anthony a super-duper star. It certainly suit him when he played for Team USA in Beijing. But for whatever reason, Anthony was unwilling – maybe even unable – to do the things his coach wanted from him this season.
In this somewhat tortured metaphor, D’Antoni is Ruby. He tries to get his way – sometimes for the right reasons, sometimes not. ‘Melo is Max. He does what he wants, and there’s no repercussions. The Knicks proved that by forcing D’Antoni’s departure.
Choosing the player over the coach makes perfect sense. After all, the Knicks are committed to Anthony for years to come, while D’Antoni’s deal was set to expire at season’s end. But here’s the problem with giving in to temper tantrums, to kids that just don’t listen. They learn, very quickly, that screaming and yelling will get them what they want. That they can do as they like without any repercussions.
And that’s no way to run a family or a basketball team.
Just posted to Rotowire – this week’s fantasy NBA waiver recommendations. To the surprise of no one, I led with Jeremy Lin:
Now, I don’t want to be accused of irrational Knick-fan exuberance here… the “MVP” chants at Madison Square Garden last night were a little much. And I don’t think Lin compares with other top point guards in terms of talent alone. But he’s got a quick first step, excels in the pick-and-roll game, and is very good at finding teammates cutting to the basket. That makes him an excellent fit for Mike D’Antoni’s offense. And as a bonus, he’s better-than-advertised on the defensive end.Lin is a must-add in just about any fantasy format, but you’ll have to act fast. He’s taken in 46 percent of Yahoo leagues and 48 percent in ESPN/NBA – but he was close to zero before the weekend.
The Knicks got a much-needed win last night, pasting the Detroit Pistons 113-86.
Given the lopsided score, quite a few fans took to Twitter wondering why Mike D’Antoni didn’t pull Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire or Tyson Chandler until the mid-way point of the fourth quarter – especially with three games in three nights looming on the schedule later this week.
To me, the answer is pretty simple: practice. It’s obvious – often painfully so – that the Knicks’ key players have yet to figure out how to get the best out of each other. That comfort level comes from familiarity, from repetition. And with this season’s schedule compressed like ten pounds of… uh… excrement in a five-pound bag… practice time is in very short supply. So why not give Amar’e and ‘Melo and Chandler a little extra run in a laugher, and treat it as a scrimmage?
It also doesn’t hurt to use the time to build the Knicks’ confidence – another thing that’s been in short supply of late.
The Knicks 6-10 on the season – a worse record than the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers. They are in the the midst of a six-game losing streak. They dropped all four games on last week’s homestand – three of them coming against teams that seem destined for the lottery. Carmelo Anthony is shooting way too much. Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t shooting enough. Baron Davis should be back soon – but is reportedly rusty, needs work on his conditioning, and will be brought along slowly. The Sixers could be the most-improved team in the league, and the Celtics are showing signs of life after an impossibly poor start.
As Andy’s pal Woody might say, “This is the perfect time to panic.”
Tom Hanks’ voice isn’t the only one calling for panic moves. Fans at Madison Square Garden are calling for Mike D’Antoni’s job. Stephen A. Smith is suggesting they trade Amar’e Stoudemire for Dwight Howard… others have pushed a Carmelo Anthony for Deron Williams deal (as if either of those trades have a snowball’s chance in hell of happening).
With all due respect, I have to side with Mr. Lightyear. This is no time to panic. Here’s why:
Panic moves created this situation
James Dolan panicked at the trade deadline and gave up too much to get Carmelo Anthony. Glen Grunwald panicked when he realized Chris Paul wasn’t going to be an option and spent a bunch of money on Tyson Chandler, even though doing so left him without a point guard. Another panic move gave the point guard job to Baron Davis – even though Davis wouldn’t be available for the first month of the season.
Panic moves are rarely ideal. The last thing the Knicks need is another stopgap solution.
You can’t make a good decision without more information
Before making any major changes, the Knicks really need to see how Davis impacts the team.
Options are limited
Say the Knicks fire Mike D’Antoni. Who are they getting to take over? Maybe they can convince Phil Jackson to coach the team some day – but I don’t see the Zen Master as a mid-season replacement. And I don’t think Jeff Van Gundy is coming back… well… ever. So firing D’Antoni probably means having Mike Woodson or Herb Williams call the shots for the rest of this season, and then a full-on coaching search (read: going to Jackson’s cabin in Montana and begging) this summer.
Same goes for the trade market. Who can the Knicks deal and get anything approaching a decent return? Stoudemire’s contract, health issues and poor play to this point would make him a very tough sell. Anthony’s contract is equally massive, and his play raises a very different set of doubts as to whether or not he’s the lead dog on a good team. Chandler? Stuck here until March. Shumpert? Might generate some interest, but why deal the least expensive, most promising guy on the roster? And what are you going to get for Toney Douglas or Landry Fields?
Every year, it seems, the Knicks attempt to re-make their roster on the fly at mid-season… and every year it sends them into a tail spin. I don’t know if it’s a Mike D’Antoni issue or an NBA fact of life, but it seems clear that major personnel shake-ups during a season do not lend themselves to winning basketball. (We’re considering the 2011 Denver Nuggets as the exception to that rule.)
The Knicks will have enough trouble getting Davis comfortable with Stoudemire, Anthony, Chandler and the rest. Other major changes will just complicate that process.
Changes I would make
That doesn’t necessarily mean I’d stand pat for the rest of the season, as this team does have some fairly obvious holes that need filling. The biggest is still point guard.
One of the best things about having multiple superstars on a team is the ability to have one take over while the other is on the bench. I’d love to see the Knicks run more plays specifically for Stoudemire when Anthony gets a breather. The problem is, Davis can’t play 48 minutes, and when Anthony is out, Davis may be too. I’d like to see the Knicks add a solid backup point guard capable of running the pick and roll with STAT and the second unit, whether that’s a Jamaal Tinsley or an Anthony Carter or similar.
And overall depth will continue to be a worry, especially with Josh Harrellson out for six weeks. Kenyon Martin’s name has come up quite a few times, and he’d make a lot of sense when he’s freed of his Chinese League obligations. (I’m not as big a fan of the J.R. Smith idea, mostly because I think Landry Fields has been playing better of late and Iman Shumpert will be getting minutes at the two once Davis is healthy.)