There are no bright spots. There isn’t a goat. There are no A’s and B’s, no D’s and F’s. There are players who seem utterly incapable of doing what is required of them and then there are other players whose lesser crime is that they can’t cover up the blemishes anymore. So let’s start there. That’s the scenery.
There is a coach, a coach who won 54 games last year and garnered considerable popular support during awards season. A coach who has been reduced to platitudes (“We just don’t know who we want to be yet!”) that would be easily dismissed as trivial if they weren’t both accurate and, when you think about it, kind of his fault. He might still be the coach in a week. He might not. But that’s not the point.
There is a star and he faces a conundrum. He craves respect, needs it, knows within himself he’s earned it. And that means that when he draws contact, the refs blow the whistle. And when they don’t, he feels it burning between his ears and his head goes down and the open man is an afterthought and it’s a test of his worth to go through his obstacles (over them, not around them) and, hey, that’s a foul dammit! That’s a foul! And a whistle but not on the defender. A technical. And 8-for-20 and 7 turnovers and nothing at the defensive end and how can you expect the respect, how can you expect to be viewed as a leader, when a couple of iffy calls are enough to knock all the leadership right out of you. He’s the protagonist in an O. Henry story and he’s the only one who can’t see it. But that’s not the point.
There is a big Italian forward and he’s sort of awkward and gangly but he’s playing his butt off and his shots are dropping and almost none of this is his fault except for the part where he’s filling in for the team’s best rebounder, best help defender, and he just can’t grab a rebound or protect the rim. He’s tall and he’s deceptively strong and he’s not lazy and if you try to back him down he doesn’t budge. But rebounding and rim protection are their own skills and there are people who can do them and he isn’t one of them and neither is anybody else on the team right now. He’s probably been the Knicks’ best offensive player these past few games, certainly as good or better than any of us had a reasonable right to expect, but there’s a job that needs doing that he simply isn’t the right person for and —
I mean, isn’t that exactly the point? See, there’s this thing that’s been happening during Knicks’ games lately: the announcer, whoever it is, tends to trot out the laundry list of all the veteran bigs who chipped in last year — ‘Sheed, Kurt, Camby — and say “Well, hey, look, that was an underrated part of the team’s success! You need guys to chip in like that and this year’s Knicks are just going to need to get those kinds of contributions from someone on the team.” Mike Breen said it tonight and for my money it was the lowest point of the whole evening (and that’s saying something) because it’s built on this kind of ridiculous insistence that somewhere within this group of players lies a magical switch that has yet to be flipped and when it finally is then, presto, playoffs! Titles! Champagne corks and high fives and girls in bikinis and all-you-can-eat shrimp!
But when do they talk about the way the team was built? When do they talk about who built it? Politics are miles from the point but I can’t be the only one who gets a little bit offended when labor gets called out for basically being lazy and ineffectual while management (and I mostly don’t mean Woodson here) gets a pass? Last year we made smart moves in the offseason and added cheap veteran contributors. We made smart moves in-season and added more. And when adversity struck — as it always strikes — we were ready. And we acquitted ourselves damned well.
This year we didn’t do that. The moves were flashier, more expensive, less targeted at the team’s needs. And now adversity has struck and the pegs are square and the holes are round and this is what it looks like when you disregard fit in the interest of intriguing skill sets in a sport where fit is critical and intriguing skill sets are just that: intriguing.
We will be better when Tyson Chandler comes back. We may still make the playoffs (if you want to take comfort in anything, tell yourself that we’ve been horribly unlucky to run into a bunch of teams with great front lines right when our best interior defender is hurt – you wouldn’t be wrong.) and at this point, without a draft pick, that might qualify as its own small measure of victory. But Tyson Chandler isn’t the point. There will always be injuries and sometimes the guys who they befall are critical to what you do and that’s show business.
Chandler isn’t the point. Bargnani isn’t the point. Melo isn’t the point. Woodson isn’t the point.
The Knicks are a ten-million-dollar beach house without reinforced windows or an emergency generator or flood insurance. And every time there’s a hurricane warning, the architect just springs for a new paint job.
And that’s the point.