I must admit, the current drama unfolding in the halls of Madison Square Garden is entertaining in a guilty pleasure sort of way. Even though I know this cannot have a happy ending I can?t wait to see what insanity turns up in each day?s sports section. But, after reading yet another tale filled with blaming, speculation, dysfunction, and non-denial denials I feel like my soul needs a shower; the way I feel after one of those really bizarre episodes of Law and Order. You know the kind, where the murderer on trial turns out to be the least depraved of the central characters. Well, at this point the Knicks and their meager win total (23) have become the least depraved of the central characters in this drama. Despite the players? flaws and faults I feel some sympathy for them. They?re playing for a gaggle of immature, image-obsessed kids, not grownups.
I wanted to wait until KB weighed in on the still-rumored Brown buyout/firing before adding anything. At the risk of repeating any of his points about the current drama I?ll add a couple of my own in no particular order.
1. The lack of accountability is really what makes this all so disheartening, and so unlikely to change.
The notion that ?saying everyone is responsible is a lot like saying no one is responsible,? is the worst kind of truism. Sometimes, everyone really is responsible. In those times, unless everyone is held to account then some get off scott free and delude themselves into thinking that they must therefore have been right all along.
It appears as if Larry Brown will be forced out soon, following what is likely the worst coaching season of his career. What is most sad is that at virtually every major crossroads this season Dolan, Thomas, and Brown simply would not get past their egos in order to work together. Rather, they all chose at various points to actively undermine one another. As a result we have the current mess, aptly described by Adrian Wojnarowski, the fine beat writer for the Bergen County Record:
[T]hese Knicks have turned into the league’s crazy uncle who keeps showing up at the family picnic, getting loaded and falling face first into the potato salad.
Only the Knick ?family? is lucky enough to have three such uncles laying face deep in potato salad, each having passed out trying to out-drink the other two. No amount of sensible advice can convince them to give up these childish games, especially since none can hear past the sound of his own slogans muffled by potato salad.
We need to get younger and more athletic!
No!! We need to play the game the right way!!
Fiscal restraint!!! We don?t need no stinkin? fiscal restraint!!!
2. Although Larry Brown?s performance and antics are grounds for dismissal, forcing him out after one year says far more disparaging things about the Knicks than it does about Brown.
I have read in multiple outlets now that the thinking behind forcing Brown out is that it is cheaper to simply buy him out than trade for so-called Brown-type players. Sigh. Before addressing why this kind of delusion?if these reports are accurate?is precisely why the Knicks are laughingstocks let me first address the merits of forcing Brown out. In my opinion, ?losing a team? is (and should be) grounds for firing an NBA coach. The overall talent league wide is so close that the marginal value of even a great coach is probably quite low. Truly great coaching pays off in very specific situations; namely after the first round of the playoffs. Otherwise, it?s about talent and execution. So when the star(s) won?t play for the coach in pro sports it is almost always wisest to side with the star. That?s why you hope your star is not selfish or a moron.
Brown was truly wretched this season. Winning coaches in the NBA have been forced out for far less than his sub-25 win total, brutal public spats with players, and reports of widespread player revolt. (Ask Paul Westphal, or more recently Stan Van Gundy and Rick Adelman.) The cat-fighting began early and never stopped. I think Brown had ?gone fishin,?? to use the parlance of Kenny Smith, somewhere around three-quarters of the way through the season. Further, losing Brown may not be any huge tragedy. I am not sure any amount of coaching can mold this roster into a legit title contender. So, this could be as good a time as any for Brown to exit. The important question for me is where would that leave the Knicks? For starters it leaves them looking for the 4th coach of the Thomas regime (i.e., Wilkins, Williams, Brown, and whoever is next), a coach who may in fact be Thomas.
Before pulling the trigger on our current diva-coach for a different diva-coach though, Camp Cablevision should consider this. They appeared to have hired Brown for the wrong reason in the first place. They hired Brown to get NY to the Eastern Conference playoffs and then see what happened; probably figuring that where Don Chaney got swept Brown might have actually won such a series or at least a couple games. They thought, and I believe still think, they are another scorer and a few defensive drills away from being a contender in the East. This remains the central delusion of the Thomas regime, confirmed by the leaks claiming that it?s ?cheaper? to fire Brown than reconstruct the roster.
There is a right reason and a wrong reason to force Brown out now. The right reason: he has irretrievably lost the team. We know for a fact that he has played games with players and alienated them. For example, though much ink has been spilled over his dustup with Marbury, the way he savaged Trevor Ariza in the press was far more distasteful. I didn?t see ?tough love? or development anywhere in that interaction. I saw Brown mostly flexing his ego. So it may very well be that Brown cannot undo the considerable damage he has done. The wrong reason to fire Brown: he should have gotten more out of this team. The current roster has a 35-45 win ceiling, regardless who coaches it. In fact Brown?s public disparaging of the roster, though tacky and unproductive, was pretty much spot on. The guards really don?t defend. Nobody blocks shots. The roster is filled to the brim with one-dimensional, high turnover players, who had been so long before Brown and his unstable rotations showed up. Eddy Curry likely will never be more than a modest rebounder and will never block shots. Marbury, despite his protests, was not unduly shackled in Brown?s post-and-cut offense. It just isn?t based on Steph?s pet play, the screen-roll. (I?m not so sure that?s such a bad thing long term.) None of that is any less true just because Brown was being a self-righteous windbag by airing it publicly. Those problems must still all be addressed Brown or no Brown. If he must go, force him out because he can no longer help address them, not because he pointed them out in a way that embarrassed. Thomas’s sensitivity on this matter is more than a little hypocritical, given the shameful way he treated Don Chaney. Chaney, along with Lenny Wilkins and Herb Williams, all basically sang the same song Brown is singing now, only to a softer tune. They were ignored.