Not What They Signed Up For

“Playing out there is not fun.”

I’d imagine Carmelo Anthony is completely right; getting completely outplayed, booed by your home crowd, and benched for the closing minutes against a division rival must not be all that enjoyable.

Now that the season’s at a crossroads, following a five-game skid after reaching the .500 mark last month vs. Cleveland, Melo and co-culprit Amar’e Stoudemire (who has looked nothing short of washed up for most of the season) have some serious issues to address if they look to lead the Knicks to the postseason for a second consecutive season, something they haven’t achieved since the Jeff Van Gundy era.

For starters, Anthony must either sit and rest his injuries that seem to be hampering his play, or simply put his shooting woes behind him. To his credit, he’s been playing with injuries basically all season long. What seems to be the case, however, is that the week he took off earlier in the season was not enough. His jumper has been flat, and looks lost on offense the majority of the time. His .39 shooting percentage since returning, which isn’t that far off from his full-season total, is hurting the Knicks playoff chances, not helping them.

The same can be said for Amar’e Stoudemire, who, following an MVP-type debut season in Gotham, has looked greatly disabled in all facets of the game. Potential excuses include the back injury he suffered in last season’s playoff series against Boston, the 15 pounds of muscle he added over the past offseason, or mere indifference. Amar’e has recently shed ten of those additional pounds, and looks to lose the remaining five in the coming days– so we will soon find out if this was a real issue.

Following Sunday’s loss to the division-leading 76ers, Amar’e said candidly, that the team was just “going through the motions.” And he’s right. Opposing teams run up and down the Garden floor at will, as if they’re playing a JV. A very expensive JV.

The duo, who take up over $36 million of the Knicks’ payroll this season, has simply brought inadequate energy and effort to Madison Square Garden. So much so, that coach Mike D’Antoni left the reserves in to close out Sunday’s matinee versus Philadephia, and rightfully so. It was evident that that squad provided the most energy and flat-out played better. Carmelo spoke on this after the 106-94 loss.

“I don’t really know what was Coach’s mindset. Maybe he was trying to save us for tomorrow. I’m not sure. You’re going to have to ask him.”

Clearly frustrated over the situation, it’s almost as if he doesn’t comprehend how much of a liability he has become on the floor.

“We’ve just got to figure it out,” he says.

Well, the time for “figuring out” has came and gone. Especially in this condensed 66-game season, there is little time for adjustments and rest. Anthony and Stoudemire must lead by example, if they do indeed wish to call it “their” team, and at the very least bring a positive energy to the court. The Knicks aren’t a team opponents fear playing. This is unacceptable for a team of the Knicks’ caliber, and must be changed.

Then there’s the coaching issue. Mike D’Antoni has quickly fallen out of favor with the Garden faithful. Players’ lack of energy or motivation can sometimes be attested to their coaching. Players quitting on their coach in crucial games at this important time in the season is simply inexplicable. That’s one issue. Another, however, is player misuse. Save Sunday at MSG, D’Antoni has repeatedly benched his second team in the final minutes of close games, only to watch the starters squander whatever chances the team had of winning.

D’Antoni also has a knack for benching players at the wrong moments. See Sunday for example, When Camelo Anthony opened the first quarter shooting 5 of 7, and 12 points– clearly the closest Melo has looked to being Melo. To open the second, D’Antoni, ignoring what he just saw on the court, stuck to his usual plan of resting Anthony. He then went on to miss every shot he took for the remainder of the game, flushing any resurgence down the drain.

D’Antoni’s stubbornness and failure to adjust is what will eventually do him in, whether it be sooner or later. Mike Woodson’s seat on the bench will then become all that more important, as he will presumably slide in to fill the vacancy that D’Antoni leaves, whenever that may be.

After all, Woodson was brought in as the “defensive coordinator” following last season when the Knicks allowed over 105 points per game. That number has shrunk to 96 this season, to the credit of Woodson, and enforcer Tyson Chandler who has been the team’s best all-around player this season.

Defense has actually been something of a strong suit at time this season for New York. The emergence of Jared Jeffries as a useful defensive piece off the bench, and rookie Iman Shumpert providing invaluable perimeter defense (currently 4th in the NBA with 1.94 steals per game), has surprisingly brought about a change of culture, with the whole team buying in at times. Imagine that.

More bright spots (yes, there are bright spots) this season include that second team that has provided so many key minutes this season. Led by Shumpert, sniper Steve Novak who’s shooting a lethal 48% from beyond the arc, and vet Baron Davis who has shown glimpses of Boom Dizzle circa 2004, this squad is responsible for Mike D’Antoni’s duties still being considered active.

But how much longer can this last? Not long if you ask me. Championship Winning teams are not marred by the issues the Knicks currently have. And they start from the top. It’s only a matter of time before the problems need to be cut at the sourceand the sooner the better. 

Look, it is possible to write a 1000-word Knicks piece without mentioning Jeremy Lin.

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