The ongoing soap opera style feud between coach and star player hit rock bottom yesterday (well, hopefully). Brown, in a press conference, ripped “Marbury a.k.a. Starbury” a new one, questioning his willingness to “play the right way,” as well as his [basketball] IQ. According to David Waldstein in today’s Newark Star Ledger:
[Brown] also put the onus on Marbury when he said that if the point guard hasn’t by now grasped his basic concepts of defense, rebounding and unselfish play then, “it’s not on me.” Said the coach: “The bottom line is, I want us to rebound the ball, share the ball, defend and play hard. That’s all. If you can’t do that, if that’s not important enough to you, it’s not on me. It’s not on me. And you owe it to your teammates to do that every single night if you care about the right things.”
Not that the Knicks haven’t been spiraling toward rock bottom since January but they are unmistakably there now. Sigh.
A good friend of mine tells a great story about being in a bad relationship, hitting rock bottom, having to just get up and walk away in the middle of the night, but forgetting his keys. When he returned the next day to pick up his things the doors were, not surprisingly, locked. Long story short: he got himself stuck trying to crawl in through the doggy door. It took him 30 minutes to finally slither through and get his things. During that half-hour stuck in the doggy door his mini epiphany was that he knew he’d hit rock bottom; that for all practical purposes he’d seen the worst. In an odd way he said it was kind of freeing. He looked at things differently from then on.
Marbury is stuck in his own personal doggy door. How he handles himself will in large part set the trajectory for his remaining playing days and his legacy as a player, such that it is.
Here are the two questions about this Brown-Marbury feud I’ll be looking to see answered over the remaining 20 painful games.
1. Is there any method to Brown’s madness?
The conspiracy theorist in me thinks that Brown’s constant public agitation of Marbury was designed to bait him into an outburst, or at least that such an outburst was the most likely consequence. It certainly had the effect–if not the intent–of opening the door for the coach to assert his authority in a very public way. Marbury has had institutional power over all of his previous coaches, forcing them to publicly coddle him; but not Brown.
So this must be some Marine Corps-inspired training designed to first humiliate then re-make Marbury, right? Brown wants Marbury–and everyone else–to know that he’s the man in no uncertain terms, right? That must be it because otherwise there would have been no need to constantly denigrate him in the press. (If nothing else it further diminished the already tiny possibility of trading him.) Well, if this is all part of some master plan then Brown has clearly taken the high ground (if not the high road) with yesterday’s press conference. He now has Marbury right where he wants him. Of course it’s far easier to tear people down than to build them up, which is one reason the Marine Corps training style tends not to work so well outside the Corps. So now what? I for one have no idea but am gonna be damned interested to see what Brown does next.
2. When will it set in on Marbury that he entered a battle he cannot possibly win? What will he do?
Irrespective of whether Brown intentionally baited Marbury into his outburst following the Denver loss, he has thrown him completely under the proverbial bus for it. Brown has also drawn an equally proverbial line in the sand (“I wish he would turn into Starbury.”), a line Marbury may now lack the skills to cross–even if he has the temerity. It is now clear that Starbury glows a little dimmer than he used to. He has reached the point where he’s closer to his physical decline than to his physical peak, and that fact coupled with a few others make him far less powerful than he has ever been in a coach player relationship. Should Brown follow through on his thinly veiled threat to start Steve Francis and move Marbury to the bench Steph could do little to forestall it with his play. He is for the first time something less than a monumental upgrade over his backup. Peter Vescey may be the closest thing he has to a friend in the media who might portray him as a sympathetic figure over Brown–a thought that sends a shudder down my spine. He has an untradeable contract and little bargaining position with which to coax a favorable offseason buyout if it comes to that.
So now I can’t wait to see Marbury’s next move. He has little choice but to play ball the way Brown wants or pout. If recent history is any indication he’ll choose the latter. If he does then this thing will become “reality TV” series worthy. I hope I am wrong about his choice. In any event I think the next 20 games will tell us just about everything we need to know about Stephon Marbury as a player.