NEW YORK – As absurd as it would have sounded just a few weeks ago, it now makes total sense.
The Knicks were better off last season.
It was easy to be a Knick in 2008-09. No one expected any major improvements and when something went wrong, there was always the newly departed Isiah Thomas to blame. And when that got old, Stephon Marbury was earning $22 million not to play, so he was an easy scapegoat as well.
Yes, life was easy for newly crowned Donnie Walsh and his handpicked coach Mike D’Antoni, since no one expected anything from the Knicks. And outside of a sexual harassment suit by Walsh or D’Antoni publicly ripping James Dolan, the Honeymoon on 33rd never seemed to have an end.
But nine games into this season with only one win to show for it, it’s safe to say the honeymoon is over.
This Knick team is awful. They can’t shoot. They can’t defend. Opposing teams are faster, stronger, and more athletic. It’s almost like the rest of the NBA had bionic implants leaving the Knicks behind.
And here’s the kicker, the Knicks actually believed they had a chance to be a good team this season and even compete for a …gasp…playoff spot.
“That’s the most frustrating thing is that I came into the season with high hopes and I still have them,” said forward David Lee. “I still have them, because the chemistry and the character on the team is as good as its been. Guys are putting in the work and unfortunately it’s not corresponding into victories on the court.”
So this is now ’Gar-barge” time on Broadway just nine games in. Tonight D’Antoni presented a starting lineup of Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Lee, Toney Douglas, and Duhon, with all the high priced veterans sitting on the bench. Believe it or not, the coach was right, this gave the Knicks their best chance to win, in their eventual 114-101 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
Although Al Harrington had 23 points off the bench, he missed two fast breaks by being too cute on the court. Jared Jeffries continues to steal his Cablevision salary, while Darko Mikicic didn’t even see the light of day.
It was as if D’Antoni was sending a message to his veterans to shape up and quick or he will ship them out.
“I want to play,” said Larry Hughes, whose tear drop tattoos under his left eye explains why he’s a Knick. “I want to come out and contribute and try to do the best I can do to help this team along.”
That’s fine but his 14 was better of coming from the bench. As would Duhon’s goose egg of a night, but D’Antoni has no one else to play at guard with Nate Robinson hurt.
In fact, the only thing worth watching at this game was Douglas, who continues to impress with 23 points on the night.
“For a point guard, he‘s going to have to grow a lot,” said D’Antoni. “He’s playing with a lot of enthusiasm. He does hit baskets. In order to be a point guard, run your team and control the tempo, and all that, he’s got some learning to do.”
That means another year or tough basketball on 33rd Street. Maybe it will end with Lebron James coming to New York in the offseason, but that would be the only real reward worth waiting for at MSG.
And if James doesn’t come to the Garden, then the spotlight will go on Walsh and D’Antoni as there will be no scapegoat for them to point at anymore.