Thursday, March 02, 2006

What You Missed Last Night

I looked for something interesting to write about last night. Nothing – well, except for a few NFL cap casualties, but I’d rather wait for the final cuts to make commentary on that subject. It should be known, however, that the owners and the NFLPA can suck my tiny white dingaling. There are always complaints about the massive egos that flood the playing field, but the egos of the guys behind the scenes are at least 30 times bigger. Since the cap deadline is 10:00 tonight, I’ll be doing up this subject tomorrow.

In Yankeeland, there’s next to nothing. There aren’t any position battles to report on, since everyone’s role seems to have been defined months ago. Randy Johnson is the Opening Day starter, which should ring in a mild degree of shock. And Carl Pavano starts throwing half way up the mound tomorrow. Hopefully he’ll be fully healed by mid-April, lest we cart J-Wright out there for a few guaranteed losses.

In Knicksville, however, there is pleeeeeenty to talk about. Since probably no one watched the game last night, allow me to recap. Down two with circa 30 seconds left, the Knicks had an inbound opportunity. Steve Francis received the pass and drove to the hoop. At this point, I began to cringe, fearing the ever-present scenario where he tosses the ball towards the rim amidst a sea of defenders. Up went Francis, and down went to the ball to Token White Guy David Lee, who stuffed it through the hoop. Tie game. Just over 24 seconds left.

The Knicks color commentator (not sure who it was, but it sure as hell wasn’t Walt Frazier, which is a disappointment since he’s one of the only reasons I continue to watch Knicks games) went over the possible scenarios during a timeout, concluding that Pau Gasol would be the guy to make the play, and that the Knicks needed to double him up once he got the ball. The strategy would be to make a lesser player like Chuckie Atkins win the game.

All went according the plan. Atkins dribbled around until there were eight ticks on the clock, finally dishing it to Gasol, who was a foot or two outside the key and about halfway up the block. However, a pick was set which resulted in the swapping of Gasol’s defender from David Lee to Stephon Marbury. Seven feet worth of Gasol vs. the 6’2” Marbury. Surprisingly, Marbury did an adequate job in not allowing Gasol to drive to the hoop. Not surprisingly, rookie Lee didn’t come back to help, opting to stay back in case Gasol dished out to Atkins. No, wait, that’s not what happened. Actually, Lee stood between Gasol and Atkins, and not even in a passing lane. I can kinda sorta understand if Lee was staying back to guard Atkins from tossing up a game-winning J, but he didn’t even do that. So a rook mistake cost them an opportunity to take the game to OT. Of course, Gasol hit a 15-footer, putting the Grizzlies up by two.

The game wasn’t technically over at that point, since there were about 1.2 seconds left on a clock, time for a dribble or two and a shot. Now, in this situation do you give the ball to the guy who was 8-11 from the field and 2-2 from beyond the arc, or a guy who was 9-14 and had already clunked a free throw? You take the 8-11 guy every time, especially when his name is Stephon Marbury. Alas, Larry Brown designed a play for Francis, who took the inbound, dribbled twice, and STEPPED ON THE ARC before bricking a J. It’s not so much a big deal that he missed, because players can’t be expected to hit 100 percent. But 1) there were no screens set beyond the one that allowed Francis to take the inbound at the top of the arc, and 2) he stepped on the line, meaning that the game would have been tied. Another inch back, and a made shot wins the game. Makes me feel reaaaaaaaaally good about the Steve Francis era.

This heartbreaking loss has brought me to a clear realization: it is not unreasonable to think the Knicks might not win another game for the rest of the season. Okay, maybe they’ll win one. But in their last 23 games, they’re 2-21. Do I even need to make some snide commentary on that? I think you all have your own thoughts in mind (especially if you’ve read up to this point).

Allow me to take a step back now and trash on Stephon Marbury for a bit. For the record, I wanted nothing more last summer than Isiah to dish Marbury. This became an increasing notion once they drafted Nate Robinson and hired Larry Brown to coach the team. Let’s see: point guard and defense oriented coach with a guy who needs to be taught the ways of a point guard. Seemed like a good combo to me. But not to the rookie-hating Brown or Isiah Thomas. I knew already that Brown would be of no help to Marbury, and that a clash would ensue – and they proved me right within days of camp opening.

I noticed hints of Marbury dogging it during the first few months of the season, but that shouldn’t have come as any surprise. Every NBA fan has seen Marbury dog it at several points in his career, which is why maybe 2 percent of NBA fans (which equates to maybe 5 people) would never want Starbury on their team. But then the shoulder injury came, and he REALLY started to dog it. I know that some of his declining performance can be attributed to the injury, but it shouldn’t have been that drastic a drop-off. In fact, during the Spurs game on Monday, Walt was talking about how Steph must be “really sore,” because he was playing like crap and favoring that shoulder. But then he comes out and drops 25 points and 13 assists the very next game, two days later. Hmmm….

My dad was appalled yesterday when he read an article explaining how Steph blatantly ignored a play call from Larry Brown. I started to get mad as well, before I realized that this has probably been going on all season. Steph is the big money star who really can’t be touched. He’s unhappy, so surely he’s going to stick it to the coach he dislikes whenever he can.

Then this morning, during a rare stint watching SportsCenter (I was running, and it was either that or Tyra Banks’s show), I saw STEPHEN A. SMITH talking about the turmoil within the Knicks, and how it all boils down to Marbury. Apparently, none of his teammates like him. Really now? I mean, if it weren’t for STEPHAN A., I would still be thinking that he was the Derek Jeter of the Knicks.

The only solution is to dish Marbury this summer, which should be Isiah’s No. 1 priority. Trade him for $.02 on the dollar if need be. I’d be willing to take a package of expiring contracts for him any day of the week – and with the Knicks cap woes, that would certainly be of exceeding value. But we all know Isiah, and we’re all pretty sure that he’ll have to succeed next season in order to not lose his job halfway through it. So rather than trading Marbury for expiring contracts (and maybe, I dunno, a draft pick?), some combination of Jalen Rose, Malik Rose, and Mo Taylor will probably be packaged with our 2008 first round pick in an attempt to land Kevin Garnett.

If – and this is the biggest “if” I’ve ever written about – Kevin McHale is retarded enough to pull the trigger on such a deal (and he does have the lack of mental capacity to do so), that would give the Knicks a starting five of Francis/Marbury/Garnett/Frye/Lee, and I may be a bit optimistic about the Lee starting thing. On paper, that looks stupendous. On paper, the current Knicks team looks stupendous. Problem is, with all those cooks in the kitchen, nothing gets accomplished. Most of the guys on the team are ineffective without the ball in their hands, which creates a conundrum that can only be solved by changing the rules of the game to allow four balls on the court at once.

There is no mercy in the future for the Knicks. Even after Isiah is replaced, his successor will have such a mess on his hands that it will take upwards of two to three years to fix. Just you watch, though; Dolan’s patience will run out with the new guy much faster than it does with Isiah. But now I’m just getting ahead of myself.

If anything good can be said about this Knicks team, well, at least people are talking about them (and I think this is how I will end every Knicks column from now until the Apocalypse).

Some other Knicks literature from today:
Dolan Says He Believes In "The Plan."
Frankenbury isn't the problem...it's EVERYONE else. Isn't that kinda like the "it's not you, it's me" line?
Larry Brown isn't quitting. But if we begged, would he consider?
And the Knicks are at the bottom of the NBA. So the Bulls will win the lottery.