Knicks 123, Sixers 110

Philadelphia 76ers 110 Final

Recap | Box Score

123 New York Knicks
Amar’e Stoudemire, PF 30 MIN | 9-10 FG | 5-8 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 23 PTS | +21Let’s get the bad news that isn’t really news at all out of the way first: Amar’e Stoudemire is not someone who can offer even a remotely passable performance on the defensive end when he is the center in an otherwise small lineup. And his defense was atrocious tonight: his rotations were slow and sloppy, his help uncertain and lazy. Henry Sims, Arnett Moultrie, and Jarvis Varnado went a combined 9 for 11 in leading Philly to a whopping 52 points in the paint. The Sixers rebounded 14 of an available 39 misses (36%; they average 25% for the season) and STAT grabbed a pathetic 3 on the defensive end in his 30 minutes.

It is hard to do enough on the offensive end to paper over that kind of a defensive performance. But damned if that isn’t exactly what STAT did; his combination of explosion on the move and quickness and guile in the post racked up points and fouls aplenty. He was the key figure in the Knicks’ comeback from an early 12 point deficit and he helped bring it home in the part of the second half that has proven so treacherous for the Knicks all season. His on-paper value on a night like this is hard to pin down and will remain so until a better means of teasing out an individual’s impact on team defense is discovered. But this FELT big and it was one of those performances where the feeling ripples and swells and infects and ends up meaning as much in the end as it felt like it meant at the start. Bravo.

Carmelo Anthony, SF 32 MIN | 9-24 FG | 4-4 FT | 9 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 22 PTS | +13A weird one from Melo, his makes were gorgeous (three acrobatic finishes stand out in particular and, despite the ugly 0/7 from deep, the arc on his jumper looked pretty all night) but the were sporadic and his peripherals (9 boards, 5 assists, a steal) slightly overstate his overall impact on the game. Got hot at the right time in the second half and in a win that carries him to a B- but this was a generally forgettable, if by no means bad, evening.

Raymond Felton, PG 27 MIN | 4-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 13 PTS | +1A really great game, better even than the numbers suggest (and 13 points on 5 shots suggests quite a bit to begin with). The bagel in the turnover column was indispensable in a game that could have gotten away from the Knicks in the first half had their brutal defense been paired with sloppy offense. Two assists doesn’t do justice to his command over the offense, he matched Philly’s intensity by pushing the break harder than usual and he moved the ball exceedingly well. It may not show up in his line of the box score but it sure as hell shows up in the FG% and 3-point shooting columns.

To my eyes, Felton was also one of the Knicks’ better defenders tonight, his switches were tight and his hustle was consistent. This says more about how lost New York was on that end than it does about Felton but he was passable defensively and excellent on offense.

J.R. Smith, SG 39 MIN | 8-18 FG | 2-4 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 22 PTS | +21In the words of Stringer Bell, JR’s been giving us a lot more 40 degree days lately. Appropriately, as we (hopefully) near the end of what has been a vicious winter, 40 degrees doesn’t seem half bad. Smith has kept the fireworks to a minimum — both the good kind and the bad — while shooting a solid percentage and contributing all over the stat sheet. Against the better teams, the Knicks need to catch the better side of his volatility but on nights like this against teams like the Sixers, all he really has to do is avoid imploding. Implosion avoided.

Iman Shumpert, SG 31 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +13Blech. Do you even lift, bro?

Jeremy Tyler, PF 18 MIN | 2-4 FG | 2-4 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | -6He is a bright, shiny, colorful puzzle whose pieces are strewn all over the old ping pong table in the half-finished basement and I’m just praying to God that there is somebody in this organization who has some conception of how to put him together.

Earl Clark, SF 7 MIN | 0-1 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -810 blocks per 36? Meh.

Pablo Prigioni, PG 15 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 3 PTS | +18Increasingly invisible but that’s not even a bad thing. He was +18 in just 15 minutes tonight. Good things happen around him whether or not he appears to have anything to do with him. You don’t give awards to rabbit’s feet but you still keep them around.

Tim Hardaway Jr., SG 29 MIN | 9-13 FG | 5-6 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 28 PTS | +8How thoroughly has this season broken me? I spent portions of today defending Isiah Thomas, Phil Jackson, and Tim Hardaway’s son on Twitter and none of that seems odd to me right now. It really can’t end soon enough.

Bombs away from Junior tonight, though. A nice oasis in a month-long desert of crappy shooting. May his canteen be ever full and his camel’s humps provide only the softest of upholstery.

Mike Woodson
Called a timeout after Tyler dove for a loose ball in the second quarter that was the fastest I’ve ever seen him react to everything. Two competing theories:1) This winning streak has spurred Woodson to a higher level of consciousness and attentiveness; from this point forward his adjustments will be spot-on, his strategic decisions well-placed, his personnel management unimpeachable, his clock management pristine. He needed a whiff of success to allow him to become the coach we thought he was after last year and the coach he’s always known he could be.

2) Before the season he thought “Hmm, at some point if somebody dives for a loose ball and gets it, I should call timeout right away” and has been waiting for this situation to develop all year. Aside from his quick trigger in that moment, this would frankly explain his the majority of his in-game decisions and post-game comments all year, to say nothing of the “Fuuuuuck….my car isn’t parked on this level, is it?” look that is permanently…

Yeah, it’s Number 2.

Two Things We Saw

  1. Yes, the Sixers are awful. We can only win the ones we play. And more importantly, we can lose ANY of the ones we play. Some nights it’s nice to just watch basketball and not have to contemplate the emptiness of life and shit.
  2. Nothing from me on Phil tonight because 1) Chase Thomas already hit that hard today; 2) Who knows? ; and 3) I’m writing something specifically on that later. I’m sure that will take over the comment board right quick, though, and frankly it’s ‘much more interesting than this game anyway.

Knicks Waive Beno Udrih and Metta World Peace

Now this, from the heralds atop Mount Knickerbocker:

NEW YORK, February 24, 2014 – New York Knickerbockers President and General Manager Steve Mills announced today that the team has waived guard Beno Udrih and forward Metta World Peace.

“We are disappointed that it did not work out for Beno and Metta here in New York,” Mills said. “We thank them for their contributions this season and wish them well.”

Udrih, 6-3, 210-pounds, averaged 5.6 points and 3.5 assists over 19.0 minutes in 31 games (12 starts) for the Knicks this season after signing as a free agent on Aug. 8, 2013. The Slovenia native holds career averages of 8.9 points, 3.6 assists and 2.2 rebounds in 659 games (255 starts) over 10 seasons with San Antonio, Sacramento, Milwaukee, Orlando and New York.

World Peace, 6-7, 250-pounds, averaged 4.8 points and 2.0 rebounds over 13.4 minutes in 29 games (one start) for the Knicks this season after signing as a free agent on Jul. 16, 2013. The Long Island City native holds career averages of 13.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.81 steals in 931 games (833 starts) over 15 seasons with Chicago, Indiana, Sacramento, Houston, L.A. Lakers and New York.

I would pay at least twenty dollars for MWP to tweet: “I am similarly sorry that it’s not working out for Steve Mills here in New York.”  Anybody else want to throw a bill or two in the hat?

Anyway, this is not particularly surprising and it is only interesting to the extent that it opens up a roster spot or two for any free agents/buy-out candidates/masochists that might want to spin the orange and blue roulette wheel.  Personally, I’m happy about the swap; the two empty roster spots could not be reached for comment but are expected to provide a defensive upgrade over Udrih.

Grizzlies 98, Knicks 93

And now a reading from the Book of Knickerbocker here on the commencement of the season’s nominal second half and its lesson is so timely that it speaks to the night’s 98-93 defeat in Memphis and the season as a whole in equal parts. And the lesson is this: sometimes a first half can be butchered so thoroughly that even an impressive second half — one where the coach makes adjustments that had long been wanting, one where the players’ intensity and skill both reach a new plane — proves futile. In a year that’s already bore its way down a couple miles below ground, the Knicks dug a bit deeper tonight before a desperate attempt to scramble up the side ended the way you knew it would: with their faces full of dirt and a shovel-shaped welt on their butts.

Some thoughts, because we’re all adults here and that’s what we’re supposed to do at times like this:

  • There aren’t a whole lot of nice things to say about the first half of tonight’s game but credit to Mike Woodson for going small against the famously super-sized Grizzlies and staying small despite the early deficit.  The Knicks (obviously) don’t have the manpower to go match up with Memphis on the interior and Woody didn’t pretend they did — of the 46 possessions that Tyson Chandler played last night, only 3 of them featured another Knick taller than Carmelo Anthony.  Melo’s 42 (!) minutes almost all came at the four and it was precisely the quickness and perimeter spacing of the smaller lineup that keyed the Knicks rally back from a 13 point halftime hole.
  • Speaking of Melo, he chipped in 11 boards tonight as the Knicks (shockingly) outrebounded Memphis, 39-38.  The Knicks grabbed 33% of their own misses (an excellent percentage) while allowing Memphis second chances off of 28% of their misses.  One thing that sometimes goes unsaid in the big vs. small debate is that Carmelo is actually a better rebounder than Bargnani or Stoudemire, rendering any argument in favor of the big lineup as superficial as it is absurd.
  • Sporadic excellence from Tyson Chandler tonight.  He exploded out of the gate with an impressive early display on the glass and defending the rim before settling in (for the rest of the first half) to something closer to the workmanlike rut in which he’s been mired for much of this season (he finished with just 6 rebounds which is legitimately shocking since I’m pretty sure he had 4 on his first shift).  He did have another nice stretch in the second half that included a vintage dive to the rim and finish off the pick-and-roll but otherwise it was low-usage, high-efficiency stuff which has value but is a far cry from the franchise-altering impact that his first 18 months or so in New York seemed to promise.  The question is whether this is the result of an effort issue related to discontentment with the coach and his schemes or whether he’s physically limited and can only dial it up to eleven for a few minutes a night anymore.  The first one would be disappointing but ultimately curable (Hint!).  The second one would probably mean that the Tyson Chandler who was the most versatile and disruptive defensive force I’ve ever seen in a Knicks jersey is a thing of the past.  Which would suck.
  • STAT really had very little place in a game like this, his nominal size is fools gold against Memphis since he doesn’t have a prayer of checking either Gasol or Randolph on defense or on the glass.  Offensively, unless the Knicks planned on playing him at the five and using him in the pick-and-roll (which they basically never do anymore) he doesn’t have much value either — Memphis will happily concede a few mid-range spot-ups in the name of being able to load up the lane with big bodies.  I think it’s likely that if his minute count (23) had been inverted with Jeremy Tyler’s (9) the Knicks get a couple more stops, lose basically nothing on offense (STAT was 4/12) and very possibly win the game.
  • Tyler gets his own bullet point.  He’s not perfect but he’s our second-best big.  Criticizing Amar’e had always been something of an academic exercise because the Knicks lack of athletic bigs who could hold their own on defense meant that, as obvious as the flaws in STAT’s game might have been, there were always going to be significant minutes for him.  That’s no longer really true.  There’s no (basketball) reason not to give Tyler 15-20 minutes a night and use STAT for basically one shift per half as the center in a small-ball lineup.  The real worry is that when Bargnani comes back, Tyler’s minutes disappear entirely in which case the Knicks will almost certainly get noticeably worse.
  • Pablo Prigioni was fantastic tonight (with a suitably weird 7/10/5 line to show for it) and in a world that made sense would have officially taken Raymond Felton’s role as New York’s primary point guard option away from him.  I struggle to think of even one thing that Felton does better than Prigs at this point and the quickness and decisiveness of Prigioni’s piloting of the New York offense was the singularly notable development of the Knicks’ second-half comeback.  30 minutes is about as much as Prigs can give us in a night but he should be spending more and more of that time with the ball in his hands and should start to take some of the minutes Felton gets as the only PG on the floor.
  • Nobody was willing to tell Tim Hardaway, Jr. that he’s our second offensive option so he’s basically just decided it for himself and grabbed hold of that mantle.  He’s coupled his ability to get open for threes with an increasingly impressive slasher skillset in recent weeks.  He’s become J.R. without the headache and a more reliable jumper to boot; if he ever becomes an even slightly-below-average defender he’s going to be a long-term NBA starter.  I hope he’s still on the team in three days.
  • J.R. looks spooked and I hate it.  It’s one thing for him to pass more (and the criticism of him for passing off on the Knicks final meaningful possession are misplaced; the Grizzlies were HEAVILY overadjusting to him and in making the extra pass he gave Prigioni a clean look against a totally disorganized defense) but quite another for him to look like the reason he’s passing is that he doesn’t WANT to shoot anymore.  His brashness gets him in trouble but he also needs to be able to call it up at times or else he’s just another dime-a-dozen NBA wing who can’t defend and isn’t a particularly special jump-shooter.
  • I don’t know how much is on Shumpert and how much is on Woodson but you aren’t a top-flight NBA defender if you consistently help away from good shooters to double the high post no matter who the post player is.  My inclination is to think that this is mostly a scheme issue (JR Smith,* for example, left Mike Miller to double Zach Randolph, resulting in a kick-out and the game’s decisive three-pointer) but Shumpert is by far the most frequent culprit.  I’m growing concerned that Shumpert’s had a defensive scheme that is a horrid mismatch with his natural skillset so thoroughly hammered into his head by now that it’s become a part of his game.  Which would be bad news for everybody.

UPDATE:

*I originally and incorrectly attributed this mental lapse to Pablo Prigioni.  Thanks to Nick C. for the correction.

Thunder 112, Knicks 100

New York Knicks 100 Final
Recap | Box Score
112 Oklahoma City Thunder
Carmelo Anthony, SF 36 MIN | 5-19 FG | 4-5 FT | 7 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 15 PTS | -9

In a sense it wasn’t as bad as you probably think. He actually passed very well and hit the boards nicely. You could argue that it’s a bit unfair that Melo gets called one-dimensional and selfish when he scores a ton but when he DOESN’T score, the rest of the line doesn’t even matter to the same people as they pounce on him.

All of that said, he was beaten up on both ends by Kevin Durant today in a game where he was going to have to play that matchup to something resembling a draw in order to get the victory. It’s a bad performance.

Tyson Chandler, C 32 MIN | 5-6 FG | 2-3 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | -10

Had a few flashes (a big block stands out especially) of actually being, you know, “Tyson Chandler.” But has still never looked like the same guy all year and today was only sporadically an exception to that. His offensive game is so conservative that even when he has a bad day his stats will never scream out “I stunk today” at you but…yeah, he stunk a little bit today.

Raymond Felton, PG 34 MIN | 7-14 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 7 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 16 PTS | -14

What do you want from him? He actually kept them in the game (!) with scoring (!!!) in the first quarter, where he dropped 10 of his eventual 16 including a loooong contested three to open the afternoon’s scoring and some really nice work from floater range. He was mediocre at best on the defensive end, got caught a couple of times straying away from Derek Fisher who you should basically never give space to because he’s about as likely to blow by you as, well, Raymond Felton. In the end though it’s 16-7-7 and if everyone played as close to their ceiling today as Felton did, this is probably a win.

Pablo Prigioni, PG 22 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | +1

5/4/1/1 on 2/2 and 1/1 in 22 minutes? I believe the Spanish word for that stat line is “Un Prigioni.”

Iman Shumpert, SG 22 MIN | 4-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | -5

Came out of the gate hot off of corner catch-and-shoots. That’s really the only shot he should ever be taking other than an uncontested dunk or lay-up. I increasingly get the impression that the scouting report is to help off of him, especially when Melo drives, and he has to be able to hurt teams for it because his defense hasn’t gotten to the point where he’s worth playing 4-on-5 on offense. That was demonstrated in spades today by his inability to do anything to check Durant — a forgivable vice but also an indication that we got a bit ahead of ourselves in thinking he was an All-NBA type of defender. The troubling part, though, is that he doesn’t really seem to be improving on that end, no matter his assignment. In crunch time the minutes that would once have been his went to Hardaway and the odds are fairly good of that becoming the new normal.

Jeremy Tyler, PF 11 MIN | 4-8 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | +2

Is there a good basketball reason that Jeremy Tyler isn’t the first big off the bench? Especially when Melo is on the court. It would be better for everybody if we subbed Tyler in first to play off of Anthony and then let the O run through Amar’e and JR when Melo got a blow. His athleticism is a revelation among his thoroughly analog Knicks teammates, he doesn’t pooch easy finishes and his motor on defense is impressive. There’s a lot of work to be done on his basketball IQ (I could do without the 18-foot stepback on offense, if you wouldn’t mind, and he certainly lacks Chandler’ preternatural sense of defensive spacing) but man, if we don’t at least use the rest of the season to figure out what we have in this guy then we are even dumber than I thought. Which is already pretty dumb!

Amar’e Stoudemire, PF 26 MIN | 5-11 FG | 6-7 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 16 PTS | -14

He’s just a role player at this point, of course, but he’s one who produces points pretty efficiently. His burst is still there a few times a game and his mid-range ability is one of the few elements of any Knick’s offensive game that actually creates matchup problems. A small gripe: he’s developed a Zach Randolphian tendency to catch in space and then waste his look with a series of herky-jerky hesitation moves that only serve to give the defense time to adjust. He’d benefit from quicker decisions and a slightly more straightforward approach.

Tim Hardaway Jr., SG 22 MIN | 2-6 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | -7

Not much today. He’s one of the three guys on the team (Chandler and Tyler) who would benefit the most dramatically from the acquisition of an above-average point guard. Not only would they be able to take better advantage of his developing ability to clear himself in the corners and on the wings but his ability to finish in transition could actually become something that we see more than once or twice a week.

J.R. Smith, SG 31 MIN | 3-10 FG | 0-1 FT | 2 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 7 PTS | -10

Can’t guard Kevin Durant, to the surprise of literally only Mike Woodson. Took a nasty knock to the head in the fourth quarter but returned to the game quickly. Hopefully the Knicks’ concussion tests involve something other than asking him what color an orange is and sprinkling Holy Water on his temples.

Mike Woodson

Would’ve been nice to try MWP on Durant instead of saving him for garbage time. Would’ve been nice if Jeremy Tyler got more than 11 minutes. Would’ve been nice to run some pick and roll and force the Thunder to move on defense instead of standing back with their bases covered and making the Knicks shoot over them. Would’ve been nice.

It’s been real and it’s been fun but it hasn’t been real fun.

Bucks 101, Knicks 98: Harshing My Melo

I mean, what’s left to say?  Certainly nothing useful, or particularly insightful, or even marginally comforting.  The Knicks are not only a bad basketball team but the worst kind of bad basketball team: the kind that is good enough to invoke sporadic hope but sufficiently inept to ensure that it’s promptly and consistently crushed.  The kind without a draft pick or a young centerpiece or a long-term plan beyond “make money, spend it on ‘marquee’ players, don’t let the haters get you down.”

This paragraph will be the only place that I mention Mike Woodson, who regardless of the amount of blame to which he’s entitled is at best entirely incapable of doing anything about any of a great number of the issues plaguing this team.  It will be the only place that I mention Ray Felton, who appears physically outclassed by his counterpart with such regularity that it’s almost pointless to continue cataloging his frequent shortcomings.  It will be the only place I mention Tyson Chandler, from whom I expect more, or Amar’e Stoudemire, from whom I sadly do not.  JR, you were good tonight, now for the straightforward but daunting task of simply doing it again and again.  Shump, there must be another gear — find it.  Timmy, shake this one off.  Pablo, if only you were a few years younger; Jeremy, perhaps if you were a few years older.  This paragraph is for all of you and here you’ll all stay because I need to talk about Carmelo Anthony.

It’s hard to remember it now but there was a time way back at the beginning when, for those trying to build a narrative around the young 2003 NBA Draft Class, LeBron James was the “individual stats” guy and Carmelo Anthony was the “team success” guy.  James was Rookie of the Year and the latest, truest heir apparent to the Jordan Throne, but his 2003-04 Cavs won just 35 games.  Melo, on the other hand, was an NCAA champion and his Nuggets were playoff-bound from the start and he polled a now-surprising 40 of 118 first place ROY votes, no doubt from the same types of people who now want you to believe that that Peyton Manning’s legacy was forever tarnished on Sunday night at Giants Stadium, because #rangz.

You know the rest of the story: LeBron’s ascent – both individually and in terms of team success – has been meteoric, his stardom unimpeachable, and while the narratives circled him like sharks after his move to Miami angered the Hot Take gods, two titles and an unprecedented run of all-around greatness have reduced their shrieking to a low hum and generally left his viewing public — while still divided on whether to root for him — in near-unanimous awe.

Carmelo’s path has been more checkered, his improvements more subtle, his value more hotly (and intelligently) debated, his labeling more elusive.  Certainly, though, and despite an unblemished streak of playoff appearances, the idea of Carmelo-as-paragon-of-team-success is long dead — words like “one-dimensional” and “selfish” and “egotistical” follow close at every turn, having climaxed with his self-orchestrated trade to New York and, unlike LeBron, heretofore unsoothed by the salve of championship success.  And all of this has brought us to a place where, for all but the most delusional of Melophiles, the very premise of these last few sentences — which is to say a side-by-side discussion of James and Anthony —  seems trivial at best, misleading at worst.

But I guess my point is this: the perceptions of many are colored by narratives which are shaped by the impressions or impulses of few.  And the color and the shape of Carmelo Anthony’s career arc in the minds of the multitudes have never been able to shake the fact that his journey has been intertwined, since the moment of its origin story, with that of the most supremely gifted human being ever to play Carmelo’s position.  Which is not to paint Anthony as a stutter-stepping Salieri to LeBron’s Wolfgang Amadeus, but rather to ask you the following question and beg your introspection and candor: When you say it’s silly to compare James and Anthony, as you surely do, aren’t you still sort of doing exactly that somewhere in the recesses of your subconscious?

Another question: had Melo’s time and place been reversed with that of his childhood hero, would Anthony be the beloved folk hero and Bernard King the prodigal son whose gifts had been squandered, his flaws laid bare under the dazzling light of a contemporary who seemed to have none?

Anthony is a long way from perfect but to obsess over his failings — as player, teammate, person — is to ask too complex a question and settle for to simple an answer.  To call him one-dimensional is to reduce all the elements of offensive basketball — boundless in their breadth, depth, and nuance — into a single elementary rating.  To say that he is selfish or lazy or disloyal or uncaring is simply to announce that you have not been watching the Knicks this season.

I’m focusing on all of this, and choosing to do so today, because of what is happening a few months from now and its connection to what happened last night.  Pushed to the brink by a team that loses four or five times as often as it wins, the Knicks stopped — as they so often do — and looked to Melo.  And time and again, he carried them away from the edge.  And time and again, his teammates and his coach undid his work before his eyes through an almost impressive combination of blithering incompetence, sleepy apathy, and general disarray.  In the end, his efficient and timely 36 and the yeoman’s work of his own personal Sancho Panza were not quite enough and despite my general disdain for cliches about one team “wanting it more” it was hard not to look at the young Bucks last night and commend them for simply being more deeply invested than their spectacularly uninspiring counterparts in blue and orange.  I would need to pick both hands up from the keyboard to have enough fingers to point at the culprits so instead I’ll just point one and I’ll point it at the team writ large and, while I’m pointing it, I’ll say this to Carmelo Anthony:

Carmelo: this is what you have to work with.  Take a good, long look at the team and the people who built it.  Where can you take it?  What more can you do than what you did tonight against the very worst team in the NBA?  Look past the men in jerseys to the people in suits.  What is their next move?  How are they going to fix this?  What’s their track record and why do you think it’s going to change?  If you leave, there will be a price: people won’t like that you pushed your way through the door and then walked back out when the outlook seemed stark.  They won’t like that you left without an NBA or Eastern Conference title, and they will absolutely hate that you bailed at the end of such a disappointing season.  Make no mistake: there will be a price.  But what is the price of staying?  What is your ceiling with this franchise, what is it’s ceiling with you?  Will you keep your wagon hitched to this star just because you’re determined to clean up any mess as long as it’s a mess that you embraced with your starry, 26-year-old eyes wide open?

This spring, Carmelo Anthony will decide what team he wants to spend the rest of his prime with.  No matter his decision, some will criticize him, some will support him.  Surely he will have moments of regret and moments of triumph in the months and years to follow.  And at the very end, when we write the story of his legacy in permanent ink over the oft-erased pencil marks that have told it until now, judgment will be passed on what kind of player he was and what kind of decisions he made.  But, at this moment, I sit here trying to look with Carmelo Anthony’s eyes at the task that lays before him in New York and at the green grass of the unknown in parts distant.  And as much as I want to see it differently, the only conclusion I’m able to reach is this: leaving this group is not an act of disloyalty, it’s an act of self-preservation.  Sticking it out, despite the daunting promise of seemingly endless futility?  Such is the province of only a deeply devoted personality.  So when you judge Melo this spring, as surely you will, don’t ask yourself whether he quit on this team despite all it’s offered him.  Ask instead whether he has embraced it and claimed it as his own despite the moments, like last night, when he gave it everything that was in his power to give and it failed him all the same.

Knicks 114, Celtics 88: The State of the Knicks Address

Boston Celtics 88 Final

Recap | Box Score

114 New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony, SF 28 MIN | 8-15 FG | 5-7 FT | 9 REB | 4 AST | 4 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 24 PTS | +22

Good evening distinguished players, honored coaches, august bloggers, committed comment board veterans, and everyone reading this at home. I stand before you as a humble representative of a blog, a team, a franchise to report to you that the State of our Knicks…is strong.

[RAUCOUS APPLAUSE FROM ALL IN ATTENDANCE]

It is impossible to talk about the Knicks without talking about Carmelo Anthony. Only a week ago, this incomparable talent authored the most outstanding display of scoring in the history of our franchise.

[RAUCOUS APPLAUSE FROM ALL IN ATTENDANCE]

Tonight, while less explosive, was impressive in its own right. Anthony turned in three brilliant quarters of two-way basketball, attacking the glass, picking his spots on offense, and moving the ball to create opportunities for teammates. And it is because of games like this that I am recommending that Congress order Mike Woodson to continue playing Carmelo Anthony at the power forward position so that he can continue to force impossible matchup decisions for opposing defenses and utilize his impressive inside-out passing skills when doubled on the block!

[WILD APPLAUSE FROM HALF THE CHAMBER, A STRAY VOICE AMONG THE MINORITY THAT IS SITTING YELLS “NO! THE EAST IS TOO BIG!”]

Tyson Chandler, C 23 MIN | 5-6 FG | 2-2 FT | 13 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 12 PTS | +28

It is hard to think of the New York Knicks without thinking of those who defend us and keep our rim safe. I speak of course of Tyson Chandler.

[EVERYONE EXPLODES OUT OF THEIR CHAIRS, HOPING THAT THE CAMERA WILL CATCH THEM BEING THE FIRST TO APPLAUD]

Tyson Chandler has spent the past few years doing the kind of thankless work that no one else wants to have to worry about. But we can not ignore the real costs associated with this kind of work. Tonight’s ankle injury provided us with another sobering reminder that leaning too hard on one person, no matter how courageous, leaves us vulnerable. A chain, after all, is only as strong as its weakest link. And that’s why I’m recommending that we abandon our switch-happy defensive scheme and make EVERY defender accountable for checking his own man before Tyson Chandler’s legs snap like pretzel rods and he kills his coach in a bout of stress-rage!

[UNIVERSAL APPLAUSE]

Raymond Felton, PG 25 MIN | 2-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 8 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 4 TO | 4 PTS | +24

When Mike Woodson took office 3 years ago, he inherited a team with no healthy point guards under the age of 35. That summer, the Knicks acquired Raymond Felton via free agency and decided not to match the Houston Rockets offer for Jeremy Lin.

[PART OF THE AUDIENCE STANDS TO APPLAUD, THE OTHER PART HISSES AT THEM VIOLENTLY. THE ROOM EXPLODES INTO A CHAOTIC MAYHEM OF FAN ON FAN VIOLENCE. BRICK STABS A GUY IN THE HEART WITH A TRIDENT. AT LONG LAST, ORDER IS RESTORED AND RAYMOND FELTON IS GIVEN A C-PLUS.]

Pablo Prigioni, PG 27 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | +12

America is, at it’s heart, a melting pot and a land of opportunity. It is a place where power forwards from Germany can play next to point guards from Puerto Rico, where a Chinese center can kick the ball out to an Eastern European swingman. Two years ago, the Knicks found a slender Argentinian point guard and made him one of the oldest rookies in the history of the NBA. That point guard, Pablo Prigioni, is here with us tonight.

[CAMERA CUTS TO A SMILING PRIGIONI SITTING IN THE LOWER BALCONY, WAVING AT THE STAGE AS THE FIRST LADY NUDGES HIS ARM]

My friend Pablo is familiar with both the challenges and the triumphs that come with playing in the NBA. When he first got here, he didn’t get to play much and was confused by the stubborn withdrawal of the man with the shiny head and the perfectly-pencilled circle beard. He didn’t understand a great many of our customs. But he had that most-cherished of dreams: to be a Knick. And when duty called and Jason Kidd was reduced to a dripping pool of wax — not unlike a candle too-often burned — Pablo became the linchpin of the team’s second-half revival. It is with this in mind that I am recommending the Knicks return to the two-point-guard lineups that underscored their success in the second half of last season!

[GENERAL APPLAUSE; THE SENIOR SENATOR FROM C.A.A. RISES BRISKLY AND LEAVES THE ROOM]

Iman Shumpert, SG 8 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PTS | +14

It is important that we never forget the contributions of the next generation, and the investment we must make in the youngest and most helpless among us. Too often does a promising youngster make a forgivable mistake and have it met not by a calm and understanding hand, but by being derisively called “Rook” and benched for something that would be ignored if done by an older, higher-profile teammate. But it has been proven, time and time again, that when we believe in youth, youth rewards that belief!

[NEAR-UNIVERSAL APPLAUSE; CAMERA RESTS ON A CLEARLY OUT-OF-PLACE LARRY BROWN WHO STARES GLUMLY AT THE GROUND]

As important as it is that we invest in youth, it is equally important that we not become overly-enamored with the familiar — that we believe in our players but do not fail the test of objectivity. It is for this reason that I am recommending that Iman Shumpert only be made available in a trade that brings back a long-term asset but that the New York Knicks reverse their damaging habit of trading away mid-first-round draft picks in an ill-advised swipe at the false promise of expediency!

[HALF THE ROOM APPLAUDS, THE OTHER HALF TEARS OFF THEIR DRESS SHIRTS REVEALING A SEA OF “TEAM BARGS!” TEES]

Jeremy Tyler, PF 23 MIN | 7-9 FG | 3-5 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 2 TO | 17 PTS | -2

The Knicks, like America, must be a meritocracy — built on achievement rather than relationships, on promise rather than promises. There is a young man here tonight who embodies this sentiment.

[CAMERA CUTS TO JEREMY TYLER, SITTING WITH HIS EXCITED PARENTS AND TEACHER]

Jeremy Tyler could have been a Knick three months ago, but the team allowed itself to be blinded by the urge to please a player who was never realistically going to receive a better offer than the one he had from New York. And in their attempt to indulge this person, the Knicks risked losing a player whose youth and interior athleticism has the potential to make him a legitimately important part of their rotation. We are lucky to have Jeremy Tyler with us today, but we must never forget the lesson that our 15 spots go to the 15 best players, no matter their last name, or their brother, or their agent!

[SCATTERED APPLAUSE, KNICKS’ PR STAFF LOOKS VISIBLY CONCERNED ABOUT THEIR JOB SECURITY FOR LETTING ME TALK]

Kenyon Martin, PF 9 MIN | 3-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | +12

As important as it is that we invest in our youth, it is equally vital that we care for the elderly in our society who have done so much for us in the past. In the past 12 months, Kenyon Martin has provided everything the Knicks could have expected of him and much, much more. He has served as a rim protector, a spiritual leader, an occasional mid-range threat, and — at times — the primary interior anchor of a team ravaged by injuries and lacking in post player depth! Thank you Kenyon!

[UNIVERSAL APPLAUSE]

Metta World Peace, SF 8 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | 0

For milennia, humans have striven to solve the riddle of World Peace. Is World Peace something attainable here on earth, or is it the province only of the angels? I am here to report to you that we have World Peace! World Peace works for us now! But man, has World Peace gotten old! I want to urge you to believe that we can do BETTER than World Peace! Give Peace a chance…

Tim Hardaway Jr., SG 33 MIN | 5-10 FG | 4-4 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | +10

…but only give Peace a chance for like 9 minutes a night because, dammit, how great does Tim Hardaway, Jr. look!

[CROWD LOSES THEIR DAMN MINDS]

J.R. Smith, SG 34 MIN | 6-14 FG | 2-5 FT | 1 REB | 5 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 17 PTS | +13

If the Knicks are to be a franchise of opportunity, they must also be a franchise of accountability. Much of what makes our team great is embodied in JR Smith: his brashness, his flair, his love of the big moment. But we must strive to temper that which makes us great with that which can also make us good. Nothing is more frustrating than watching a player that we know can help us in so many ways loaf around the court, only to be sparked into action when he has the ball in his hands and a decent look at the basket. JR Smith showed us tonight, like he has so many nights, that he is a creator, an attacker, a capable passer, a willing if sometimes unprincipled defender. We must push him, as we must push ourselves, to look deep within himself!

[CROWD BEGINS TO RESPOND]

To find that which tempts him toward selfishness — and tame it! To find that which is best — and nurture it! To know himself not only as we know him, but also as he can only know himself! And to rise every day — as we all should rise — with a firm desire to return to his bed that evening a better player, teammate, and person than the one who got out of it in the morning!

[CROWD APPLAUDS LOUDLY, CAMERA RESTS ON J.R. PLAYING ON HIS PHONE]

Mike Woodson

Only one man has the ability to take what is beautiful about this team and put it into practice! Only one person in this room has the power to pair with the intuition that can compel this team to be its best self. Mike Woodson: it’s been a long and interesting journey to this room, on this day. Your failures, though often self-inflicted, can not objectively be said to have exceeded your successes. There have been times when you deserved to be shown the door — this may still be one of those times — but today, you are here. And you have a job. And whatever else I can say about you, let me also say this: I believe that you want to do that job and I believe that if you simply look objectively at the things that you have already done right and stand firm against the forces that would have you ignore them, you can do it!

[FRONT OFFICE SHOOTS DAGGERS AT ME, EVERYONE ELSE APPLAUDS]

We do not have a championship-caliber team. No matter. The Knicks have 15 players and they have a coach and they have an arena and they have a basketball and they have a deathly loyal fan base in a bad division in a weak conference and they have thirty-seven more games to show people that they can do the things they did tonight, and the things they did last year, and the things that they do in our minds every night when our heads hit the pillow and we dream of a future with defense and ball movement and a Garden that sways from the energy generated by the players and through the fans of a team that knows what it is to represent a city where basketball is second to nothing!

[LONG STANDING OVATION]

Ladies and gentlemen, on this night, against this Boston Celtics team, for just this one moment, I speak to you with hope and honesty and purpose when I tell you that the state of our Knicks is strong! Good night, and God Bless the New York Knicks!

What Kind of Big Has the East Been?

Robert Silverman and I decided to have a Midseason Assessment e-mail exchange. It quickly devolved (EVOLVED?) into something predictably weird but unpredictably specific in its weirdness. It is recorded below. We promise you an actual midseason post soon.

ROBERT

Here we stand, Kevin. At the midpoint of a howling garbage fire of a season. The ruins of yesterday still smoldering, possibly to the point of toxicity (and I’ve certainly made inquiries with the NY DEP) and definitely emitting an odor that is as pungent as a combination of burnt dog hair and whatever that smell is when you stick a digit inside your belly button (Public Service Announcement: Don’t do that).

So with more or less a half of a season still on the horizon, let’s take a look at where things stand and where they might be going–a taking of a moral inventory, as it were. To start, how are you feeling? Optimistic? I’m more at that point after you get really sick–ate bad shrimp/chicken-level food poisoning sick–where you’re perspiring like you just got out of a Native American sweat lodge and your stomach is still having nervous, palpitating aftershocks, but you can tell that the offending materiel has actually been expunged.

You’re still clutching at the sides of the toilet, and you know that another bout of porcelain-splattering convulsions might still be forthcoming, but as a whole, you feel better, if still chalk white-complexioned and as feeble and shaky as a newborn calf.

Is that optimism?

KEVIN

As if it matters how a man falls down, Robert. Ah, but when the fall is all that’s left, it matters a great deal.

We are not watching a championship-caliber basketball team but, rather, a core with a pending death sentence. The question, then, is when and how. There’s no draft pick, no hope of an immediate and rejuvenating overhaul. This team, this group of players, will soon perish. And with every game, every quarter, every possession, we watch them move one step closer to that end. They are fatally flawed, it remains only to discover which of their flaws will ultimately prove fatal.

It still matters though, and it matters because I don’t want to watch a repeat of the past three months. The nascent hope that has rumbled these last few days — in Melo’s dominance, Chandler’s spry defensive aplomb, in J.R.s waking competence and Hardaway’s ascendant promise — is not the sort of hope that promises a victory over impending doom. Rather, it’s the sort that suggests that the end, while inevitable, might not be so grisly. And so we will march inexorably toward an inexorable demise, whether it takes the form of a high lottery pick for the Nuggets or a near-miss of the postseason or a first-round exit or a pleasant but ultimately unfulfilling postseason surprise. And we will march intently and hopefully and — yes, Robert — optimistically. Because, when the fall is all that’s left, it matters a great deal.

Your puke is the puke of the faithful.

ROBERT

You’re going to invoke Sorkin? I mean, if he really wants to delve into an incestuous, basically-flawed, but still fascinating bureaucracy filled with intrigue and short strolls down the corridors of power (like you wouldn’t enjoy a Woodson/Mills walk-and-talk, and the occasional sexy liaison in a truck, he really needs to take his vast warehouse of lil’ darlings and write an hour-long prestige-type HBO drama about a pro sports franchise, specifically our beloved ‘Bockers.

Picture this…

[THE OFFICE OF MIKE WOODSON — INT. AFTERNOON Head Coach Mike Woodson is sitting at his oddly pristine, spartan, well-organized desk, his head in his hands, semi-frantically writing and rewriting starting lineups and substitution patterns. Amar’e Stoudemire is waiting at the entrance. Woodson is talking to himself, unaware of Amar’e’s presence.]

WOODSON: Start Tyson and Kenyon with Melo, then Bargs at the six minute mark. Then STAT, but..no then you get STAT and Bargs and Melo. Okay Tyson, Bargs AND Melo? Then you bring in Kenyon. No…because. DAMNIT

[He gathers up a handful of papers and throws them in the trashbin, taking a lighter out of his pocket, he sets them on fire.]

STAT: Hey, Coach. You free too…

WOODSON: What?

STAT: Hey, Coach.

WOODSON: Yeah, Amar’e. Hey. I was just…

STAT: You free?

WOODSON: Yeah, yeah. Sure. What’s up?

[The bin is smoldering and smoke is starting to emerge.]

KEVIN

STAT: Um…coach?

WOODSON: Yes?

STAT: Remember how you told me never to put my fist through a pane of glass again unless the building was on fire?

WOODSON: Yes.

STAT: Well…

ROBERT

[Woodson calmly gets the extinguisher from his desk and proceeds to put out the smoldering fire.]

WOODSON: Okay, what’s next.

STAT: See, Coach, I’ve been thinking.

WOODSON: Yeah.

[WOODSON gets up from his desk and begins walking quickly down the corridors of Madison Square Garden. STAT follows.]

STAT: It’s about my playing time…

WOOSDON: Yeah…

STAT: I mean, it’s been phenomenal, but I was thinking…

WOODSON: Look, Amar’e. At the end of the day, you’re a big part of what we do as a ballclub

STAT: …Yeah, but …

WOODSON: …You’re a piece of the puzzle, and it’s my job to get you playing the right way. I’m not going to kick you to the curb. We’ve just got to make shots and get you playing better.

STAT: …Okay. That’s phenomenal, but…

[They are interrupted by OLENNA O’LEARY, an attractive woman in her mid-30’s. EDITOR’S NOTE:We needed a CJ Cregg/Dana Whitaker/McKenzie McHale character, so we kinda sorta turned Alan Houston/Jonathan Supranowitz into a lady. They’re Sorkin’s rules, not ours.]

WOODSON: Okay. I’ve gotta go to the…

STAT: (somewhat dejectedly) yeah…

WOODSON: …go do the thing with the….

STAT: Yeah, Coach. I….yeah….

WOODSON; Okay.

[STAT ducks into a side hallway. Without breaking stride, WOODSON continues talking with OLENNA]

WOODSON: You still here?

OLENNA: I go home when you go home

WOODSON: Okay.

OLENNA: Is Amar’e still complaining about the…

WOODSON: (resignedly) Yeah…

OLENNA: Again? I mean… This isn’t basketball camp, It’s not important that everyone gets to play.

WOODSON; You think I don’t know that? Don’t talk to me like I’m other people.

OLENNA: The sideshow is over.

WOODSON: Yeah…

OLENNA:… And you know it.

[LARRY JOHNSON begins walking behind WOODSON and OLENNA.]

WOODSON: Yeah, I still need to go the…

OLENNA: Eat ’em up, boss.

[WOODSON exits.]

KEVIN

OLENNA: Can someone get me the Suns’ salary cap numbers? They were in my purple folder? And where the hell is L.J.?

LARRY JOHNSON: [Jogging to catch up] Here they are. Have you spoken with Coach about the guy yet?

OLENNA: [Sighing] No, L.J. I thought you were gonna do it.

LARRY JOHNSON: This is kinda your territory Olenna.

OLENNA: The guy? That’s my territory?

LARRY JOHNSON: Yes, the guy, that’s all you. It’s right up your alley.

OLENNA: [Inhales deeply to prepare for extended overwrought exposition] I’m a Columbia-educated, Julliard-trained former model who has worked at the New York Times and the Federal Reserve and the Peace Corps before leaving those jobs out of a deep but conflicted love for sports management and abandoned all hopes of a family and true love in the name of giving myself over to a franchise that I dream can one day capture the imagination of my native city again and I have legs that go all the way down to the floor. And telling New York Knicks Coach Mike Woodson that J.R. Smith promised his grossly underqualified brother the 15th spot on the roster and C.A.A. is demanding that we honor it is MY territory?

LARRY JOHNSON: You bet.

OLENNA: [Pratfall]

[JUMP CUT, INT. Madison Square Garden. JAMES DOLAN walks across the basketball court, talking on a cell phone and smoking a cigarette]

DOLAN: We’ve been at this for 15 years and all we’ve gotten is 15 years older, We went 54-28 last year but I think that number’s soft, and I’m tired of being the field captain for the gang that couldn’t shoot three-pointers straight, WE’RE GETTING THIS DONE!

[Pauses, growing increasingly angry as he listens to the person on the other end of the phone]

DOLAN: Well you can tell him that if he had traded for Carmelo Anthony, HE WOULD HAVE TRADED FOR CARMELO ANTHONY.

[Pauses, shorter this time]

DOLAN: It wasn’t enough when they took Jason Kidd to retirement? What was Rasheed Wallace, a warning shot? He was like an employee to me. In fact, he was an employee to me and I was thisclose to getting him to come to one of my concerts. Gratias tibi ago, domine. Yes, I traded a pick that turned into Joakim Noah. I’ve traded many picks! Have I displeased you, you feckless thug?

[Hangs up phone, drops cigarette at halfcourt and stamps it out]

DOLAN: You get Bargnani.

[Enter WOODSON, OLENNA, LARRY JOHNSON, and STEVE MILLS, looking depressed]

DOLAN: I guess you’re the people with the worst jobs in the building today.

OLENNA: Sir, I spent the whole day on the phone with Phoenix and they’re just not going to give us Goran Dragic and 3 first rounders for Amar’e. They seem to think the picks are actually worth something and they went off on this whole tangent about Amar’e’s contract somehow being a bad thing and…

WOODSON: Sometimes, I think we SHOULD kick people like that to the curb.

[Everyone is clearly dismayed at WOODSON’s uncharacteristic statement. Finally, DOLAN’s expression softens and he speaks over rising music]

DOLAN: You all remind me of the story my father would tell about the man in town who couldn’t run a successful basketball team. The man woke up every morning and went to the office and hoped other teams would trade him their good players and that the league would abolish the salary cap and quit ignoring his e-mails about Mikhail Prokhorov being a post-Soviet strongman who employed Timofey Mozgov as a sleeper agent. So certain was this man that his team would eventually get over the hump that he fired anyone who disagreed with his decisions…

LARRY JOHNSON: Wait, but…

DOLAN: …And that man was told many times — by people with numbers, and people with basketball experience, and people who regularly consulted multi-billion dollar multinationals on strategic decisions — that his choices were inane and that it was almost mind-blowing that someone from a genepool that had produced one of the greatest visionaries in the history of the American media industry could make a string of decisions so devoid of any guiding logical principle…

STEVE MILLS: Right, sir, but I think what LJ is trying to say is…

DOLAN: …But here’s the bottom line folks: tomorrow morning, we wake up the kings of a city that loves basketball in a country that loves an underdog story. We stand on the precipice of one of the greatest opportunities in the history of signing people just because our headstrong sixth-man has grossly overestimated his leverage — that’s a steal at twice the price. We have an UNIMAGINABLE opportunity to pair two of the worst defensive bigs in the league with a point guard tandem that can’t keep anyone out of the lane — and it’s 6-to-5 and pick ’em whether Amar’e still has any cartilage left in his knee. If we’re going to run into walls lets go CRASHING into them and then crash into the same walls again and again because, by God, we refuse to admit that the wall was even there in the first place! And let that be our legacy.

[Wide shot of the Knicks’ front office members reveals OLENNA on the verge of tears, WOODSON sporting a grin of renewed determination, LARRY JOHNSON with his head cocked in the pose of a man ready to conquer the world, and STEVE MILLS openly sobbing in speechless ecstasy]

DOLAN: I guess what I’m saying is: break’s over.

[HARD CUT TO CREDITS]

ROBERT

Wait, we were supposed to talk about the Knicks. Shoot. Granted, my entire regurgitation bit was something I’ve said ’round these parts before–a pretty Sorkin-esque move on my part.

But yes, let’s get back to digressin’ and assessin’. Part Two, coming tomorrow!