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01-15-2004, 01:10 PM
The honeymoon's over, Isiah

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Is it just me, or have the Knicks been on a really, really long road trip?

I know there's a basketball team wearing Knicks' jerseys shooting around in the Garden, but I'm still not convinced they're the good old Knicks, whom you either love or hate, depending on your persuasion.

"The MSG Circus" I'd buy. "Jerry Springer on Ice" I'd believe.

But the Knicks? That team with the long, proud history that Isiah Thomas promised to meticulously restore? They were better off with Scott Layden pacing the hallways mumbling "We like our team" under his breath.

Thomas has been president of the Knicks for roughly three weeks. In that time he's made as many moves as Layden made in three years. If you think that's a good thing, Knicks fans, be careful what you wish for.

The Clarence Weatherspoon-for-Moochie Norris deal has been a mild success.

Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway for Antonio McDyess, Howard Eisley and the entire future of the Knicks was bold enough. Only time will tell whether Marbury's leadership skills will ever catch up to his talent.

The last 10 days have been less impressive.

There's a reason Lenny Wilkens was available to coach the Knicks.

Thomas tried and failed to land Rasheed Wallace, Darius Miles and Marcus Camby.

He started bringing in cronies to mentor players without first asking his coaches how they felt about it.

He took over as Marbury's personal tutor only after he made sure the cameras were rolling.

He decided to fire coach Don Chaney days ago, joked about Chaney's status with David Letterman, but somehow forget to tell Chaney until just minutes before a press conference on Wednesday.

He debated privately between three washed up coaching candidates -- Lenny Wilkens, Mike Fratello and himself -- before concluding Wilkens was the best choice. Of the three, I probably have to agree with him. Fratello is a terrible fit for the Knicks and Thomas would be a disaster. But there's another 10 candidates I'd put in front all of them.

What's next? Hiring Dennis Rodman to help bolster morale and good friend Michael Jackson to help with public relations? I can see the press release now. "Dennis and Michael have been successful in every endeavor they've ever undertaken, despite overwhelming odds."

At first glance, it's not unreasonable to conclude that Isiah' quick trigger finger on Wilkens is a result of a panic attack -- an act of desperation just three week into his job as savior of the Knicks. Moochie didn't get done. Starbury hasn't meshed with his teammates. Maybe Lenny's the answer. What's Zeke going to do if the crowd starts chanting "Fi-re Tho-mas!"?

Wilkens is a terrible choice to replace Chaney. Several of Thomas' closest advisers tried to talk him out of pulling the trigger, to no avail. On style and substance, Chaney and Wilkens are mirror images of each other. Both are laid back, let players play the game their way and hope player happiness and chemistry translate into wins. Wilkens flamed out royally in the last two places he coached. He completely lost his team in Toronto, and the suggestions from players there were that the game had passed him by.

That is, of course, no concern to Isiah.

"You never thought you would be able to get a Hall of Fame coach to be able to coach a team," he said at the press conference Wednesday. "Having the opportunity to have the winningest coach in basketball, we pride ourselves on being the best and having the opportunity to select the best. I just think he's a perfect fit. And I think he's the perfect fit for Stephon."

Wilkens the best? Wilkens unattainable? There's a reason he didn't get one of the 20 coaching jobs that were open this summer, Isiah. Tim Floyd, the losingest coach in the history of the NBA, heard his name called before Wilkens. In a league where guys get recycled by the hour, that means something.

In Isiah's world the past is more important than the present or the future. Stature and image trump substance and reality -- it's how Isiah continues to make himself relevant in the face of mounting evidence that his glory days ended in the late '80s. Wilkens is a Hall of Fame coach who owns the most career wins (and losses) of anyone who has ever coached the game. That his team was 24-58 in his last season in Toronto and 28-54 in his last season in Atlanta is irrelevant to Thomas. So is the fact that he has coached in the conference finals just once in the past 25 years (with the '91 Cavs). Wilkens is a name and names mean something to Isiah.

Wilkens will coddle Marbury, who is now on his ninth coach in eight seasons in the NBA. He will toe the company line. He will, I assume, stay out of Isiah's way (something Fratello apparently was unwilling to do). And, most importantly, he'll pave the way for Isiah to take over on the bench once Thomas is convinced he has the pieces in place to make a run at the NBA title.

What Wilkens is not is Hubie Brown, as Isiah tried to insinuate Wednesday. Wilkens does not have the demeanor nor the temperament to take this team and drill down to the basics, the fundamentals the Knicks so sorely lack. He is not bold enough to force Marbury to play the right way, like Brown did with Jason Williams in Memphis. Wilkens is a name. A whisper of a bygone era. A 14-carat placeholder.

Barring more trades and more high-profile hires, the Knicks are essentially the same team Layden "liked," just with fancier names, more hype and much higher expectations.

The honeymoon's over, Isiah. Unless Wilkens transports back to 1977, Marbury turns into Jason Kidd, Allan Houston morphs into Kobe Bryant and Keith Van Horn starts resembling Larry Bird, it's going to be a rocky marriage.

Around the League

Did Isiah botch Chaney's firing? Adding to the circus atmosphere in the Garden was the way Don Chaney was let go on Wednesday. The New York Daily News on Wednesday morning reported that Chaney would be fired and replaced by Mike Fratello after the Knicks game versus the Magic on Wednesday.
Despite the report, Thomas failed to communicate anything to Chaney, and Chaney was forced to run the Knicks shoot around Wednesday morning knowing that he was coaching his last game. Chaney described his "horrible working conditions" and told reporters during shoot around that he felt he was being disrespected by Thomas.

"Without hearing anything one way or the other is a sign of disrespect to a degree, yeah," Chaney said. "If that's the case. I don't know if that's the case yet. If that's the case, I think management should at least communicate with me, just out of respect."

Chaney and his staff finally got word around 5 p.m., less than an hour before the Knicks held a press conference to announce that they'd hired Lenny Wilkens to replace him. Thomas had gone through a similar firing in Indiana, and folks around the league thought Isiah would be more sensitive to Chaney's plight.

Thomas claims he was.

"I think I've been very respectful and supportive of Don since the time I've been here," Thomas said. "I didn't feel it was appropriate to give a 24-hour status update of what was going on. I didn't feel it was appropriate for me to go in every day and say to him, everything's O.K., because I was still in the process of evaluating the whole situation. I never wanted to lead anyone on or give any false intentions. I wanted to be completely honest."

Assistant coach Lon Kruger, who was also fired Wednesday, disagrees. He told reporters Wednesday that he told Thomas he felt he botched the firing.

"There should have been better communication," Kruger said. "I'm disappointed for Don. My emotions are tied to Don."

Nelson off the hot seat in Big D, for now: Don Chaney wasn't the only coaching Don in hot water on Wednesday. Speculation that Mark Cuban was inching toward firing coach Don Nelson was running rampant in Dallas on Wednesday after several newspaper reports claimed that Nelson's relationship with Cuban had grown cold and that Cuban was eyeing former Heat coach Pat Riley to take over.
Cuban and Nelson called a press conference on Wednesday to clear the air.

"Nobody's getting fired," Cuban told reporters. "I'm not going to let Nellie sit in Hawaii and play golf and get a suntan if I can't get one. He's got to stay here and work this thing out and get it to the next level. I wasn't going to do the old vote of confidence thing because that's a kiss of death. I wanted to tell him that, with all the [expletive] going on, you ain't going anywhere"

"I have no plans to make a change this year," he added. "It would have to be something that I don't foresee. . . I'm not planning on firing him. Period. I want Nellie to be here until the end of his contract. I want Nellie to earn his money."

By qualifying his statement with "this year" Cuban understandably left the door open to axe Nellie this summer. For his part Nelson seemed to understand that Cuban's endorsement meant very little if he can't get this team turned around.

"He told me he's not firing me -- he didn't say when," said Nelson. "Don't throw me in that briar patch. We're all hired to be fired. We're in the sports business. Very few guys retire. Usually, you get fired. Hopefully, I'm here a long time. But if I'm not, then that's the way of the business."

Nelson admitted that he and Cuban haven't spoken much this season and they do have differences of opinion on the direction of the team.

"Mark and I both want the same thing," Nelson said. "The difference of opinion might be on how to get there and how long it will take. We both want to win. This team isn't winning enough."

All and all it was a bizarre press conference. At one point Cuban called Nelson a "drama queen" and denied he had ever met Pat Riley.

Trouble in Big D? Let's just say that you don't have press conferences like these when everything is going great. The Mavs are 22-16 (not too shabby) but their 5-13 record on the road and their league-leading 100.5 points allowed per game are major issues.

How bad is the Mavs' defense right now. They gave up career highs of 24 points and 16 rebounds to Samuel Dalembert on Wednesday? Samuel Dalembert?

"Everybody is cranky right now," Cuban said . "There's nothing different there."

Wallace to Dallas, again? Mark Cuban also spoke about possibly acquiring Rasheed Wallace (a guy earlier in the week who he claimed he hadn't been pursuing) at the press conference on Wednesday.
Rasheed Wallace
Small Forward
Portland Trail Blazers

33 16.8 6.6 2.7 .430 .726

"I'm not knocking Rasheed. For the right deal, I wouldn't say no to Rasheed. That's not the issue. But we're not out there shopping. We're not looking to break things up."

That slight change in stance coincides with yet more rumors in Portland that a deal of Wallace for Antawn Jamison, Tony Delk and Eduardo Najera was imminent.

Blazers GM John Nash did little to quash them on Wednesday.

"As we get closer to the trading deadline, I'm going to speak less of trades, because it really is unsettling to the players to continue to hear their names mentioned," Nash told the Oregonian. "We're trying to conduct business behind closed doors. When you have trade discussions, somehow or another they occasionally leak out, but we don't want to be the source of those leaks.

"It's safe to say we've talked to every team in the league, and we'll continue to do so, if there is reason to talk. But to identify the teams, that's not fair, because it's easy enough to then pinpoint what players match up with what players."

Blazers head coach Maurice Cheeks actually seems to be endorsing a major trade. Can you blame him?

"Sometimes, I think you can be in a situation like we are in now where I think you get a little stagnant and maybe something changes it up," Cheeks said. "Maybe it's a trade. Maybe that would change it up."

T-Mac on the block? The Orlando Sentinel reported that the Blazers called the Magic about a McGrady-for-Rasheed Wallace swap.

GM John Gabriel denied that McGrady was on the block. He claims that offers like this come for McGrady "because other teams, looking at your season, think you're down."

McGrady's response to the rumor? "I don't believe any of that, but I did hear the Rasheed rumor," McGrady said. "I think there would be a lot of disappointed Orlando fans if that happened."

No kidding.

Will Bender's return force the Pacers' hand? Speculation that the Pacers' frontcourt is too crowded and that a trade of one of their young bigs was imminent has been quieted all season by the absence of forward Jonathan Bender.
Al Harrington
Small Forward
Indiana Pacers

39 13.1 6.6 1.9 .451 .760

Bender's return to the lineup on Wednesday should also usher in the return of the Al Harrington trade rumors. The Pacers have made no secret that they believe that Bender will be a big part of their future, but someone is going to have to give up some serious playing time for Bender to see the minutes he needs. Bender played 14 minutes on Wednesday, but Harrington sat out the game with a bruised right leg.

The Pacers still maintain that they have no intention of trading Harrington, but if Bender begins to blow up, things could change. Bender went 0-for-5 from the field on Wednesday, but he looked like a different, more aggressive player. He got a few touches in the low post, grabbed five boards and took it strong to the rim on two separate occasions.

"That's how I'm playing nowadays -- I'm coming out and taking it straight to them," Bender told the Indianapolis Star. "It's time to show people the player that I am.

"We'll just have to see over the next few games. I'll try to work myself in (to the playing rotation) and then we'll see what happens."

Medvedenko the little Aristotle? Maybe the Lakers don't need Shaquille O'Neal after all. (That's a joke for folks who take these type of things way too seriously.) The way Stanislav Medvedenko is playing the last three games, the Lakers look like they've found a guy who can, at the very least, give Shaq a breather now and then. Medvedenko is averaging 19.6 ppg and 9.3 rpg on 56 percent shooting.

Eveyone has own All-Star criteria
By Greg Anthony

I've received a lot of good feedback regarding my picks for the Western Conference All Stars, and while someone will always be left off of these lists, I tried to pick the guys who are having the best year thus far, not necessarily the best players. And as usual, a lot of you have drawn your own conclusions.
My criteria for the selection is simple:

1. Who is having the best year

2. Impact in terms of wins and losses (show me an improvement over last year or relative to where I think your team should be).

3. Star quality. I want to see you perform, put on a show. A high degree of skill level is required.
So let's dig into the e-mail bag and see what's cooking.

Juan from L.A. says:
Kobe Bryant
Shooting Guard
Los Angeles Lakers

33 22.0 4.9 4.3 .423 .864

I'm sure you're tired of hearing this by now, but are you saying that Peja should start over Kobe? What are you smoking? Can I have some? It's gotta be some potent stuff. Even with the impending trial hanging over his head, even with his poor shooting as a result of having to carry the load so far, even with one arm, Kobe Bryant is a better player (not to mention two-guard) than Peja Stojakovic could ever hope to be.

Juan, my man, I don't condone drugs, and whatever you're smoking would not be my choice if I did, because I like having clarity. You can pick who is best, but I choose who is having a better year. The fact Peja has taken this team to the best record in the league without Chris Webber in the lineup is telling me he is having a better year. And while he is not a shooting guard, he sure as hell is shooting the ball pretty damn well. Kobe will be there, likely voted as a starter by the fans, but right now Peja is the man.

Saro from N.Y. asks:
Kenyon Martin
Power Forward
New Jersey Nets

29 17.2 9.8 2.5 .479 .648

What do you think of K-Mart's chances of making the All-Star team as a reserve?

Saro, I think he should be a lock. After all the controversy regarding his contract extension, or lack thereof, he has let his play do the talking, averaging career highs in points, rebounds, steals, FG percentage, 3-point percentage and minutes. On top of that, he plays great defense, always guarding the opposing team's best post player, and his team is leading the Atlantic. What more would you want? He'll be there.

James Vann from Staten Island, N.Y., asks:

Does the all-star balloting process truly work? I know the game is for the fans, but there is no balance. Peja out in Sacramento should be starting this year, but most fans don't know who he is. And what of Sprewell? He is looking like the offensive force he was before the choking incident. How does Scottie Pippen make the game? LeBron over Baron Davis? Please don't get me started on him. Melo is better. I may sound like a hypocrite, but I agree on Alonzo making the game (citing sympathetic reasons) wanting to see him suit up and have his name called out. Do you feel that, in the end, the fans should have final say in who goes and doesn't, or should our input only be part of the process?

James, first there is no perfect solution to the selection process. What is best is fan participation. I love it. No matter who was given the responsibility to put the team together, at the end of the day people still would not be totally satisfied. Even with the selection of the seven guys who are not voted in you could argue for who should go and who should not. This is the one time that the people who make the game great -- the fans -- have a chance to actually participate and make a difference. So I say keep it as it is. Remember the All-Star Game is a popularity contest, not a productivity contest.

Keep the e-mails coming, things are starting to heat up in the Association. I'm going to start something new in the mailbag this week - posing a question or a topic and asking you to respond to it.

This week's topic: Who do you think should have been named coach of the New York Knicks? Mike Fratello seemed to have gotten the job, then Lenny Wilkens' name came out of nowhere. And a lot of people assume Isiah eventually will name himself coach. What are your feelings?

Rumor Central


Tracy McGrady


Jan. 15 - The Orlando Sentinel reports the Blazers called the Magic about a McGrady-for-Rasheed Wallace swap. GM John Gabriel denied McGrady was on the block. McGrady's response to the rumor? "I don't believe any of that, but I did hear the Rasheed rumor," McGrady said. "I think there would be a lot of disappointed Orlando fans if that happened." No kidding.


Rasheed Wallace


Jan. 15 - Blazers GM John Nash thinks it's likely the Blazers will make a trade before the Feb. 19 deadline, and most of the buzz centers on Wallace. The Oregonian reported Jan. 15 that the Mavs and Blazers are talking about a Wallace-for-Antawn Jamison, Tony Delk and Eduardo Najera swap. Mavs owner Mark Cuban claims the Mavs aren't inclined to make a trade, but he wouldn't rule out trading for Wallace if the Blazers offered him a "sweetheart" deal.
Knicks president Isiah Thomas has also been in the hunt for Wallace, but his offer of Keith Van Horn, Michael Sweetney and Frank Williams doesn't look like enough to get it done in Portland.


Antawn Jamison


Jan. 15 - Mavs head coach Don Nelson claims the team has no intention of trading Jamison, but Jamison's name has appeared prominently in two recent rumors. One has him going to the Blazers for Rasheed Wallace. The other has him heading to Cleveland in return for Zydrunas Ilgauskas.


Marcus Camby


Jan. 15 - Isiah Thomas called Nuggets GM Kiki Vandeweghe over the weekend about Camby's availability but reportedly was shut down. The Nuggets are leaning toward keeping Camby around, given their success in the West this year. That doesn't mean Camby isn't available at the right price, but the Knicks have nothing the Nuggets really want.


Keith Van Horn


Jan. 15 - With former enemy Stephon Marbury now in New York, how long can Van Horn last? If Isiah Thomas is going to make another big move, it will have to include Van Horn. Several GMs were convinced last week that Van Horn was on his way to Cleveland (for Zydrunas Ilgauskas) or to Portland (for Rasheed Wallace), but nothing ever materialized. However, Van Horn won't have a good night's sleep until the trade deadline passes next month.


Darius Miles


Jan. 15 - Miles is having another disappointing season and has fallen out of favor with head coach Paul Silas. The Knicks made a run at Miles last week, offering Moochie Norris in return, but the Cavs understandably balked. The Cavs countered with Miles for Frank Williams and Othella Harrington, but sources say Isiah Thomas balked. The Heat also have shown limited interest in Miles, but they probably don't have enough ammo to make a deal.


Jason Terry


Jan. 15 - Terry has been pushing Hawks management to make a trade, even if he has to be included in it. Plenty of teams are interested, but Terry is a base-year compensation player, making a one-for-one swap virtually impossible. Unless he's paired up with someone like Theo Ratliff or Shareef Abdur-Rahim in a blockbuster-type trade, Terry's going to have to ride out the storm in Atlanta.


Shareef Abdur-Rahim


Jan. 15 - The interest in Abdur-Rahim around the league is enormous. The question is whether the Hawks actually will trade him. Don't count on it unless two things happen. One, the sale of the team finally is approved by the league sometime in January. And two, the Hawks find takers for Theo Ratliff and Jason Terry. If they can get those guys off the books, trading Rahim gives them lots of cap flexibility. The Sonics have shown the most interest, and Brent Barry, Jerome James and Vladimir Radmanovic for Abdur-Rahim works under the cap.


Theo Ratliff


Jan. 15 - Ratliff's ongoing feud with coach Terry Stotts has put him in the crosshairs. There's talk the Blazers want Ratliff and would be willing to swap Rasheed Wallace for him if the Hawks also included Terry. Terry is a base-year player, which makes that trade more difficult, but it is doable with the right add-ons.
The Grizzlies also have interest in Ratliff, but they're running out of ammo to get him. A combo of Stromile Swift, Jake Tsakalidis and Shane Battier might be enough, but is the injury-prone Ratliff really worth that price?


Zydrunas Ilgauskas


Jan. 15 - Ilgauskas is another guy who really hasn't seemed to fit in since LeBron James and Paul Silas arrived. With so many teams in need of a big man, he's a pretty hot commodity. There's talk the Mavs (for Antawn Jamison), Knicks (for Keith Van Horn and Frank Williams) and Blazers (for Rasheed Wallace) have all tried to pry Ilgauskas away, but so far GM Jim Paxson isn't biting.

Peep Show

Washington Wizards: Tick, tick, tick. With 8 minutes, 38 seconds left in the Nets-Wizards game Wednesday night, Washington head coach Eddie Jordan went off, chasing down a couple referees and giving them an earful after receiving one technical foul earlier in the game. He was ejected, the Wizards lost again and fines should be forthcoming. "His frustration is more than just this one game," point guard Brevin Knight said in the Washington Post. "We've been battling this all season, but that's the position we're in. When you're a team with the record that we have, that's the respect that you get." Teammate Larry Hughes agreed. "It's the little things. Little ticky-tack things that we do we get called for and we don't get on the other end. That frustrates everybody."

Denver Nuggets: The Carmelo bandwagon is picking up steam. A day after Charles Barkley chose 'Melo over LeBron James as his Rookie of the Year, Magic Johnson joined the crowd. "The hype (the two have had) is wonderful," Johnson said in the Rocky Mountain News. "They both deserve it. They've changed two franchises. But Carmelo has changed Denver more at this point than LeBron has Cleveland. That's why (I) think he should be Rookie of the Year. He's a winner. He's a player who does a lot of different things. He commands respect."

Boston Celtics: Hopefully, Paul Pierce will never have another career-low four-point game like he did against the Rockets Wednesday night. Hopefully, the Celtics never lose to Houston again by 15 after Pierce bruised his left hand. "Hopefully I'm going to get it X-rayed (today)," he said in Boston Herald. "Hopefully it's just bruised and nothing major. Hopefully I'll be ready for (tomorrow).'' But head coach Jim O'Brien was no help. "I don't know,'' the coach said. "I don't want to speculate. I can't help you with that one. I don't know if he's beat up or whatever.''

Indiana Pacers: Kenny Anderson has fallen. But he's already gotten up and the strained right calf has healed up just fine. He's just waiting for the right time to make his comeback. "I don't want to come in there and hurt myself or be a liability to my team," Anderson said in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "They're doing well right now, so that gives me a little more time."

Miami Heat: Apparently, Lamar Odom has seen the light. "I only knew what I was hearing,'' teammate Brian Grant said in the Miami Herald. "Right from the first day when we went in and got him off the podium [at Odom's news conference] I was like, 'OK, I'm just waiting to see this guy that they've been talking about -- this guy that Elgin Baylor says is lazy, doesn't do this and doesn't do that.' I never saw it. And the guy that I'm seeing every day, I like him a lot. I'm not saying that that's not how he was out there. But here he is nothing like that.'' Even his coach is gushing over him. "A lot of guys, they sign and say, 'I have to go back for a week and get my stuff,' '' Stan Van Gundy said. "He literally signed and was in the gym five days a week doing voluntary workouts for the rest of the summer. I think that really set a tone and sent a message to his teammates of the kind of guy he planned to be.''

Minnesota Timberwolves: Don't expect Kevin Garnett to be happy about former teammate Rasho Nesterovic ditching the team last summer to sign with the Spurs. "He looks out of sync, but it's not my business," Garnett said in the Star Tribune. "He doesn't really look comfortable. When you're playing with Rasho, you have to understand: Rasho is not physical, he's not all-out, beat 'em up, slam 'em, rough 'em up. He's more of a soft-spoken kind of guy and when you go at him, you have to go at him like that. In a game, you have to put him in positions where he can go right up and score. He's at disadvantages when he's outside that rim. I adjusted my game around making him better a little bit. I can't sit here and say Tim [Duncan] is doing the same thing."

Phoenix Suns: On one hand, Suns head coach Mike D'Antoni knows his team is young. "We're working through that, but it's going to be what it is," he said in the Arizona Republic. "We are impatient and we want to win right now, but we also know we have kids on the floor and we have to have some patience with them." On the other hand, he's tired of saying that his team is young. "You know, we don't need an excuse," he continued. "I'm kind of tired of talking about us being young, because it gives us an excuse. We don't need it. We can win the way we are, and we need to think that way." So what's a coach to do? "We have to learn who's dogging it and who's being paralyzed by analysis," he said. "We have to give them the benefit of the doubt because they come out here in practice and kill themselves for two hours. You'd think playing in the game would be easier. It's not that they don't want to do it. We have a program we're going to stick to and work with the young guys."

Max Power
01-15-2004, 04:29 PM
On style and substance, Chaney and Wilkens are mirror images of each other. Both are laid back, let players play the game their way and hope player happiness and chemistry translate into wins.

It sounds like Nellie should be in that group too.