Category Archives: New York Knicks

Jeremy Lin: the oil that makes Mike D’Antoni’s engine run

For weeks, Knicks fans have been sold the idea that crocked point guard Baron Davis was the saviour, the facilitator who would grease the wheels of the stagnant New York offence.

The Madison Square Garden faithful clung to this belief more in hope than in expectation until two nights of Linsanity breathed genuine life into the world’s most famous arena for the first time in this truncated season.

When Jeremy Lin came off the bench against the Nets to make a game-winning 25-point contribution, the Garden crowd erupted for a career performance most thought would be an aberration.

But three nights later, making his first NBA start, Lin did it again with a 28-point, eight assist performance that prompted “MVP” chants as a severely depleted Knicks line-up put the Utah Jazz to the sword.

It turns out Mike D’Antoni was right after all. All he needed was a competent point guard, a facilitator, a provider for his much-vaunted offence to regain its flow. But it was the athletic, intelligent and daring Lin, not Davis, who made the Knicks look like a basketball team again.

Pick and roll

There’s a little Steve Nash in Jeremy Lin, particularly the mazy dribbles into the lane and the ludicrous but effective scoop shots. In terms of shooting, court vision and passing, Lin isn’t in the same league of course. But he’s quick and plays better defence than everyone’s favourite Canadian.

But the crucial thing is this: Lin is the only active member of this Knicks roster able to execute a competent pick and roll. And execute it he did. And lo and behold, the D’Antoni offence – where everything starts with the pick and roll – started to click.

Even better, with Lin attacking the hoop and the Jazz defence collapsing, kick out passes found open shooters. Shooters set to take proper three-point shots, the absolute antithesis of Melo jacking it up from downtown while his teammates stand around watching.

Suddenly, even the depths of the Knicks bench started to make sense. Who else would you prefer to have waiting in the corner to drain an open three than dead-eyed long range marksman Steve Novak? OK, Ray Allen would be better but you get the point.

Team ball > heroball

What do we make of the fact that the Knicks best performance of the season came with Amare Stoudemire absent and Carmelo Anthony limping off the court after five minutes of the game?

First up, no one in their right mind could seriously suggest the Knicks are better without their two biggest stars. But what the Jazz performance does do is challenge both players. If Lin, Tyson Chandler, Novak, Fields, Iman Shumpert and Billy Walker can make this offence work, why would you not buy into it?

In fairness to Amare, you’d guess he’d been crying out for the emergence of a point guard to get his game back on track. He needs the pick and roll in order to be at his devastating best.

But for Melo, the Lin-powered defeat of the Jazz is far more important. It screams at him: “Look how much better we are when the ball actually moves, teamball beats heroball, join us”.

Seriously, how refreshing was it to watch a Knicks game where the words ‘stagnant’ and ‘futile’ weren’t used by Clyde and Mike Breen?

Jared Jeffries

If you’ve read my musings on the Knicks before, you’ll know I am something of a Jeffries apologist. At times, his limitations are so obvious that he makes you feel genuine pity.

But he always plays with heart. He somehow ignores 15,000 people groaning ‘Oh no’ when he raises up for a jump shot. He’s never slow to put his body on the line. He’s the garbageman’s garbageman. For my sins, I can’t help but like the guy.

The key to liking Jeffries is accepting his limitations. He already has, so why can’t you? Once you’ve managed to do that, it becomes easier to like him. Against the Jazz, he not only hustled, played defence and took five – count ‘em – charges, he made some jumpers and hooked up on some nice plays with Fields.

But above all, on a night where two all stars were missing and Chandler was glued to the bench with foul trouble, he provided genuine leadership. The sight of JJ leading a huddle with the inexperienced Lin, Fields, Shump and Novak was funny at first until you realised he was helping to galvanise this team.

Jeffries performance was nothing short of heroic against the Jazz – playing through injury and taking responsibility for the hard yards that helped the Knicks claim the win. He fully deserved every high five he got from the New York Giants players at courtside.

All Lin the game

Despite Jeffries understated heroics and, when he eventually was able to stay off the bench for more than a couple of minutes, Chandler’s defensive plays that helped secure the win in the fourth quarter, there’s no doubt the real story is the emergence of Lin.

Can it continue? Until Davis is healthy enough to play, there’s no reason why not.

Lin’s game is perfectly suited to the offence D’Antoni wants the Knicks to run. For reasons only Knicks personnel managers will know, there are no other healthy guards able to run pick and roll. So Lin’s mistakes and turnovers will not see him benched..

As Chandler noted after the win, Lin’s presence on court puts everyone else in their correct positions. With Lin on the court, none of the other players are being asked to do things they aren’t accustomed to doing.

Best of all, Lin’s two performances have made the Garden the raucous, amplified and intimidating arena that it’s supposed to be. The toxic environment, created by the turgid offensive displays that were becoming depressingly standard, is gone.

In Jeremy Lin, Mike D’Antoni may just have found the oil the makes the engine run.

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The new Knicks are Mike D’Antoni’s ultimate nightmare

Twelve games into this hectic, compressed 66-game NBA season and alarm bells are ringing in New York.

Mike D’Antoni, once the NBA’s anointed modern-day Guru of Go thanks to the Steve Nash-powered ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ product he oversaw in Phoenix, is left to reflect on what must be some of the most turgid, stagnant displays of offence for which he has ever been responsible.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like Knicks fans haven’t seen 30+ three-pointers jacked up before. That’s been a staple of the Knicks offence since D’Antoni took charge.

The difference now is that the ball has stopped moving.

The Knicks rank 25th in the league in assists per game with a meagre 18.33.

D’Antoni, whose stubborn streak and resistance to change are well known, must be dying inside as he witnesses game after game of his players standing around witnessing Carmelo Anthony’s brand of hero-ball (admittedly the main reason the Knicks have eked out the majority of their six wins to date) and Toney Douglas jacking three ball after ill-advised three ball.

The fact that the Knicks have struggled isn’t surprising. D’Antoni’s offence requires a point guard – and the Knicks don’t have one. Douglas, the at-times impressive Iman Shumpert and the corpse of Mike Bibby have platooned at the point to date. Melo has run the offence at times.

None of them are able consistently move the ball and feed Amare Stoudemire and, less frequently, Tyson Chandler in the style to which they are accustomed. STAT has failed to make an impact in many games, his shooting percentage is in the gutter and he looks utterly bereft of belief and confidence.

The addition of Chandler and his imposing presence at the rim has contributed to the Knicks giving up 12 fewer points per game than last season. Unfortunately, loading the frontcourt (and amnestying floor general Chauncey Billups to do so) means the Knicks now score 12 fewer points per game too.

So the net gain is nothing. And watching the offence is now frequently as much fun as repeatedly hitting yourself in the face with a brick.

You’ve got to love the Knicks front office. Historical personnel decisions caused salary cap hell that meant D’Antoni, in terms of talent, worked with scraps for his first two seasons in charge. Now the roster has been overhauled, he’s left with better players completely unsuitable for the offence he wants to run.

A lot of the time the offence looks eerily similar to the unwatchable one-on-one ball perpetrated by new Knicks defensive coach Mike Woodson when he was head coach in Atlanta. This style will let you beat the league’s bad teams and tired squads at the end of back-to-back-to-backs. It will fail miserably against the +500 teams, especially on the road.

The departure of Billups to make room for Chandler has also left a gargantuan void in terms of leadership. With no veteran vocal presence on the floor, it seems the Knicks are ultra-aware of when they are beaten. They threw the towel in halfway through the second quarter in Oklahoma last night. They arguably gave up even earlier in Memphis last Thursday on national TV.

All of the above places enormous pressure on Baron Davis when he is finally healthy to play. If the inspired Golden State-era B Diddy shows up, he’ll be the antidote to many of the Knicks’ ills. But, given Baron’s history of up-and-down effort, it’s far from a guarantee.

Unless and in-shape and inspired Davis shows up the end of the month, this short season is going to feel like a very long one.

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Forget the sweep, the Knicks have more pressing matters to resolve

Given that he carried the Knicks for the majority of the NBA season, it’s almost apt that an injury to his back severely restricted Amare Stoudemire for the final three games of New York’s first round playoff loss to the Boston Celtics.

Would the outcome have been any different with the Knicks’ leader and best player at 100%? The brutal (if you’re a New York fan) or obvious (if you are anyone else) is a resounding “no”.

People may point to games 1 and 2 in Boston as proof the Knicks could hang with their higher-seeded opponents. But remember how badly the Celtics played in those opening games. And then remember how well the Knicks played only – thanks in the main to their mediocre late-game execution – to lose anyway.

Like an FA Cup game between a Premier League team and a side from the lower divisions of English football, New York had to play above themselves while the Celtics fell below their usual standards for the series to be close. Games 1 and 2 proved that can happen occasionally. Games 3 and 4 proved that sort of thing never lasts for the length of a series.

The manner in which Boston raised their game once they arrived in Madison Square Garden was impressive. Rajan Rondo controlled the game. Kevin Garnett took care of the intangibles. And Paul Pierce and Ray Allen shot like true assassins. All this while the Knicks took to the court with no point guard and an ailing superstar.

Which is why I can live with getting swept. More than anything this season, I wanted the Knicks to eradicate their statistical list of shame. Ten years since a winning season? Sorted. Seven years since their last playoff appearance? Never again. A decade since they last won a playoff game? That one is going to have to wait for a season. Still, two out of three ain’t bad.

Besides, the Knicks have too much to worry about in the coming weeks to sit around moping about being swept on their own floor.

First order of business is the future of Chauncey Billups. By the terms of his contract, the veteran guard’s future must be decided in the next few days. Either the Knicks pick up his $14m option or pay him just shy of $4m to take his talents elsewhere.

In Billups’ favour, he brings veteran leadership, a winning mentality and a playing relationship with Carmelo Anthony. On the flip, he is two steps slower than the player that took Detroit to a championship, took more time than anyone expected to get used to Mike D’Antoni’s methods and, most worryingly of all, is at that age when injuries take that much longer to recover from.

Could Billups’ $14m price tag be better spent on $4 to pay the point guard off and using the remaining cash to acquire a more durable point guard and a genuinely useful starting center? Maybe. Would a younger point guard be respected by Melo and Amare as much? I doubt it.

But the addition of a tough Raymond Felton-like pick and roll point guard and Marc Gasol is not financially viable – especially given Gasol’s stellar playoff play at the time his contract is due to expire.

For what the Knicks will likely be able to afford, the defensive big man they so badly require is more likely to be someone like DJ Mbenga or Jeff Foster. Serviceable but not spectacular.

All of which brings things to the second – and most important – order of business. Whatever happens with Billups and potential additions to the roster, what remains essential is that Donnie Walsh remains as the man who makes these decisions.

Only the Knicks, or more accurately owner James Dolan, with an all-world executive at the helm fulfilling his remit of returning the franchise to non-lottery, winning seasons would fail to have locked up the man who made it possible.

If Walsh is forced to walk away in the off-season, all the (relative) stability at Madison Square Garden flies out of the window. The future becomes unclear. The chaos of the recent past (which I’ve visited far too many times and doesn’t need repeating) looms again.

But what if Walsh stays? Will he be able to acquire the aforementioned point guard and center to shore up the Knicks’ porous (and that is being generous) defence? If he does, would D’Antoni be able to fit them into his offence? Would the offence-preaching coach even play these players? Would he, in what would be an unprecedented move given his career history, even try adapt his coaching principles?

As always with the Knicks, there are more questions than answers. At least in the cases of Billups and Walsh, we won’t have to wait too long to find out what’s happening.

The 2010/11 season may have ended with a sweep but that doesn’t make it a failure. The Knicks improved by 13 wins, acquired two all-stars and went some way to erasing the doom-laden Clipper-esque statistics that have dogged them for the past decade.

More importantly, they have the potential to get much, much better. Only the front office will decide if this potential is to be realised. And Donnie Walsh must be the man making those crucial decisions.

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D’Antoni must adapt to arrest Knicks decline

Six successive defeats. Nine losses in the last 10 games. A team devoid of consistent defensive effort now spluttering on offense thanks to the addition of a ball-stopping superstar and a veteran guard unable to execute a pick and roll.

Yes, the New York Knicks are primed for a potentially historic collapse, seemingly unable or unwilling to arrest their decline from a certain playoff team to a squad clueless as to where the next W – and, at times, the next basket – is coming from.

Unwatchable mess

Let’s not overreact. Even a monumental collapse isn’t likely to keep the Knicks out of the playoffs. For that to happen, Charlotte or Milwaukee would have to string together an uncharacteristic series of wins too.

But how have the Knicks gone front sixth-seeded certainties and the toughest-looking out in the first round of the post-season to a stagnant, unwatchable mess limping aimlessly into the playoffs?

The knee-jerk response is to look squarely at the trade for Carmelo Anthony. After all, the Knicks gave up 60% of their starting line-up and rookie center Timofey Mozgov to acquire the free-scoring superstar, right?

Wrong. No one in their right mind would have turned down the chance to sign Melo. How many times does an opportunity like that come along? And it’s not as if the Knicks were purveyors of consistent defence and strangers to occasional fourth quarter collapses before Anthony donned blue and orange.

Excuses

But the list of excuses for the Knicks’ increasingly woeful performances extends beyond Melo. And none of them are legitimate.

After playing at an MVP-contending level prior to the All Star break, Amare Stoudemire has cited fatigue for his recent poor form. His scoring and field goal percentage have markedly slumped over the past 10 games. D’Antoni has often been criticised for overplaying his starters but, coming down the stretch, is there elite player in the league who doesn’t feel tired? Whether you’re talking NBA or video games, there’s no excuse for being outplayed by Kwame Brown.

More alarming than Amare’s struggles has been the recent play of Chauncey Billups. Until his thigh connected with Dwight Howard’s knee, the veteran point guard looked like being the bridge that could link Melo’s low post threat with the Knicks’ up-tempo style.

The demands and complexities of D’Antoni’s offence didn’t trouble Billups before his injury. Only since his return, when he can’t buy a bucket or stay in front of even mediocre opposing guards, has adapting to a new system become a problem.

D’Antoni on the hot seat

The addition of Anthony and Billups was supposed to signal the start of the good times in New York. Instead, up to this point, the trade could ultimately cost D’Antoni his job.

Whether D’Antoni or Donnie Walsh wanted Melo or not, the public perception of the trade is that Knicks owner James Dolan got involved and made it happen. But if things don’t work out, there’s no way Dolan will accept any blame.

There’s also no guarantee Walsh will be around after the end of the season. No, the blame for the Knicks failings, should they continue, will be laid squarely at the door of the coach.

Need to adapt

Looking at things this way, it boggles the mind that D’Antoni stubbornly refuses to adapt his principles to the skills of his new superstar.

Quick shots, run ‘n’ gun and ball movement don’t suit Melo’s game. Couldn’t you get just as many open perimeter shots by running more plays through Melo and Amare closer to the hoop, forcing double teams and then kicking the ball outside?

The Knicks currently find themselves trapped in a style that no longer suits their roster. Their coach’s empty post-game platitudes (“we’ve just gotta do better”) isn’t going to arrest their decline.

Their confusion on offence is exacerbated by their lack of defence. Is there any worse sight in basketball than the lumbering Boris Diaw dancing to the hoop completely unopposed? Probably not, but watching all three of your guards getting lit up by the Bobcats’ bench players runs it close.

With Ray Felton, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler now Knuggets, the Knicks can’t be a fast-paced team any more. Surely D’Antoni can see this. Or is he simply too stubborn to concede this point and adapt?

Shape up or prepare to ship out

History suggests the latter is the case. How long did D’Antoni hang around in Phoenix after then-GM Steve Kerr revealed he planned he bring in a defensive coach to address the Suns’ obvious failings? Has D’Antoni ever demonstrated even the slightest interest in changing his style to the skills of his players? Is he simply one-dimensional as a coach? A one-trick pony able, if he has the right players at his disposal, to produce spectacular offence that lights up the league but unable, with a roster of players with different skillsets, to mould a system better suited to their abilities?

Forget about tiredness. Forget about injuries. Forget about new players adapting to the coach’s complex system. There’s still time to figure these problems out. But the onus must be on Mike D’Antoni adapting his principles to the players at his disposal.

Melo isn’t going anywhere next season. If D’Antoni doesn’t find a way to stop the Knicks decline, James Dolan might decide the coach can’t say the same.

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How much should the Knicks give up for Carmelo Anthony?

On an All Star opning night when actor Michael Rappaport tried way too hard to be liked and teen idol Justin Bieber unveiled a herky-jerky – yet uncannily effective – three-point shot, the reality of Carmelo Anthony becoming a New York Knick moved one step closer.

Amidst reports that Knicks owner James Dolan had met with Nuggets star Melo, a fresh Knicks trade offer – Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Eddy Curry and a to-be-acquired first-round draft pick to Denver in exchange for Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams and former Knick Renaldo Balkman – looked the likeliest scenario to bring an end to the season-long Melo-drama.

Forget about Melo meeting with New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and the deal agreed between the Nuggets and Nets involving Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, Ben Uzoh, Troy Murphy and four first-round picks. That particular deal only happens if Melo agrees to sign an extension in New Jersey, something most NBA observers (not to mention several players) are certain he will not do.

Anthony’s destination of choice has always been Madison Square Garden and, with reporters like Frank Isola and Ryne Nelson suggesting a deal could be struck during all star weekend, it looks like he’s going to get his wish.

But the question most Knicks fans will be asking is: “Are we giving up too much to land Melo?”

Head v heart

There’s two ways to respond to that question, from the heart or from the head.

The heart tells you the Knicks are enjoying a long-awaited resurgence this year. The heart tells you you’ll miss Felton’s toughness (and his ability to seemingly hate a shot into the basket), Gallinari’s arching threes and Chandler’s free-wheeling, sixth man of the year-contending scoring and blocks.

As a fan you might even think, as I did when David Lee moved to Golden State, about the favourite jersey you’ll never be able to wear again without looking like an out-of-date, fair-weather supporter.

You might even bristle after reading rumours Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni privately think that the price for Melo is too high but their judgment counts for nothing now Knicks owner/idiot in chief (delete as appropriate) James Dolan is leading the negotiations.

Your heart might even blame Melo and his people for scaring Dolan into thinking he has to make a move with the Nets lurking in the shadows when the reality is, assuming Anthony won’t sign his extension with anyone other than New York, the Knicks are bidding against themselves.

While you should always listen to your heart, you don’t necessarily have to agree with it.

Your head should tell you that Billups, despite his advancing years, is an upgrade on Felton. It should also mention that resigning Chandler at the end of this season, assuming Anthony came aboard then as a free agent, would have been extremely difficult due to the increased salary he would command.

Obviously, the only people who’ll miss Eddy Curry in New York are owners of restaurants, fast food outlets and that big Hershey’s store in Times Square.

The one thing your head might struggle to rationalise is the Nuggets’ insistence that Danilo Gallinari be included in the deal. The Italian sharpshooter, in his third year but still only the age of a traditional rookie, is the player the Knicks least want to lose.

But aside from when the Lakers skinned Memphis for Pau Gasol, when did you last see a trade where only one team got everything they wanted from the deal?

Pulling the trigger

The bottom line is that the Knicks have to do this deal. Ultimately, the NBA is a superstar-driven league – you put two superstars in place and build around them.

That might sound like a harsh way of justifying the break-up of a young, resurgent Knicks team but I’ll go one step further. In the case of the 2010/11 Knicks, what are you actually breaking up?

Would a 28-26 record be a reason for excitement in another city where fans hadn’t endured 10 years of losing seasons, roster mismanagement and off-court debacles?

As things stand, the Knicks are a .500 team that looked a real force when they were benefitted from an extremely friendly schedule from mid-November through to the new year but came back to Earth when the opposition got a lot tougher in January.

As great a story as the Knicks have provided this season, they pose no threat to the top four teams in the Eastern Conference. And that situation won’t immediately change pairing Melo with Amare.

But what it does do is create the superstar core to build around that all contending teams have. The challenge for Walsh will then be to add complementary assets (starting with a shot-blocking center able to consistently protect the rim) and then challenge D’Antoni to develop a way to make things work.

It’s the way the NBA has always functioned and the way the Knicks have to go if they are serious about bruising their way back into the league’s upper echelons.

If last summer’s Lebron-athon taught us anything, it’s that, in the NBA, stars get their way. Melo wants his destination of choice, when he moves and his contract of choice. And it’s most likely, when this deal eventually gets done, he’ll get all three.

Are the Knicks giving up too much to get him? Yes, but the price they have to pay is what it costs to land a legitimate star in this league. And, as a fan, when you take your emotions out of the equation, it’s a move you should want them to make.

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Knicks struggles worsen as James Dolan interference intensifies

There’s a famous old quote from Irish poet Brendan Behan that goes: “I never saw a situation a policeman couldn’t make worse”.

When it comes to the New York Knicks, to paraphrase the famous Irish wordsmith, I’ve never seen a situation that team owner James Dolan couldn’t make worse.

In the midst of his team’s toughest stretch of the season, at a time when the Knicks have lost 11 of their last 15 games, at the pivotal point of what looked like being a long-awaited season of revival, this is the moment Dolan decides to involve himself in team affairs, undermine his president and coach and help destabilise the cohesion of his players.

Yes, there are other mitigating facts in the Knicks’ recent run of poor results. Injuries to Wilson Chandler and the team’s emotional heartbeat Rony Turiaf haven’t helped. Floor general Raymond Felton playing through the pain of a bum ankle has affected team cohesion.

And the seemingly never-ending Car-melodrama played out on a daily basis by the media has, if you believe the players, also had an effect.

But Dolan’s ability to insert himself into situations as a looming, dangerous, silent spectre should be even more troubling to Knicks fans.

Walsh

First of all there’s Donnie Walsh’s extension or, more accurately, the speculation that the man who patiently restructured and rebuilt the team roster with characteristic professionalism and competence, may no longer be wanted come the end of the season.

The Knicks have until April 30 to exercise a team option on the final year of Walsh’s contract. So far, nothing has happened to secure his services. After the job Walsh has done restoring the Knicks’ credibility on and off the court, he should be getting offered an extension. Scratch that, he should be told the job is his for as long as he’s physically able to do it.

Instead, with the silent shadow of Dolan cast over the future of the franchise’s off-court cornerstone, Walsh finds his position under threat as stories abound that his future is squarely dependent on his ability to bring Carmelo Anthony to Madison Square Garden before the trade deadline on February 24.

No matter that that blowing up the roster to get Melo now would destroy the structure of the team. No matter that you could sign Melo as a free agent in the summer and give up nothing. No matter that, arguably, a top class center and a strong back-up point guard would serve the Knicks better than a scorer who plays no defence and whose need for the ball doesn’t fit with Mike D’Antoni’s offence.

For the record, it’s clear the Knicks should sign Melo if they can. The point is that Walsh should not be fearing for his job if he doesn’t sign the Nuggets’ superstar in the next 10 days. Under any other owner, Walsh’s work to date would have earned him more than enough trust, not to mention a contract extension.

When you are so dense that David Stern feels he needs to step in to tell you to extend Donnie Walsh, it’s probably a good idea to do it.

Isiah

Of course, one of the reasons Donnie Walsh’s job security isn’t what it should be is Dolan’s inconceivable belief that, along with Red Auerbach and James Naismith, Isiah Thomas remains one of the greatest minds in the history of basketball.

Forget the desperate, team-crippling trades he made. Forget the endless wars with high-profile players. Forget the sexual harassment case and the years of embarrassment on and off the court. According to a report by Yahoo’s Mark Miller, the man who made the Knicks a laughing stock is still on Dolan’s radar to make a return to the team he all but destroyed.

While this particular story has been refuted in other circles, its existence once again shows how the rumours that surround Dolan’s decision-making only ever seem to bring disorder to the team.

Speaking of which, given the very obvious effect the Carmelo Anthony trade rumours had on the players of the New Jersey Nets, why did Dolan choose to muddy the Melo waters even further by inserting himself into the situation and putting his players in the eye of the media storm.

By-passing his front office personnel, Dolan chose to enter the Melo negotiations directly. According to Knicks writer Frank Isola, Dolan attempted to conduct his own negotiations for Anthony with Stan Kroenke who, because of his ownership of the St Louis Rams in the NFL, isn’t even the owenr of the Nuggets any more.

While it would be foolish to assume Kroenke has no influence over what the Nuggets do – he turned over control to his son, after all – what did Dolan possibly think he would achieve by getting involved? The only effect of his chat with Kroenke has been to leave his players fearing for their jobs.

Since the hapless Nets dropped out of the Melo sweepstakes, they’ve won seven of 13 games. The Knicks have gone 4-8 in the same period. Both Walsh and D’Antoni felt the need to address the “We want Melo” chants that chorused through MSG as the Knicks fell to the Clippers.

Worse, the proof that the trade speculation had provided some players with an excuse to lose was borne out when point guard Felton admitted the Melo rumours has affected some of the players.

Midas in reverse

At a time when the team is really struggling and the prospect of a first winning season since 2001 now seriously hangs in the balance, why would a team owner, a man who, like King Midas in reverse, turns everything he touches into shit, pick this critical moment to involve himself in proceedings?

The answer might be that, every so often, James Dolan feels the need to demonstrate his authority and doesn’t comprehend the ramifications of his actions. The answer could be he can’t bear to see credit for the Knicks revival going to men whose salaries he pays. The answer could be he is simply a clueless, deluded filthy rich businessman whose decisions repeatedly go unchallenged.

Whichever answer is true, one thing is certain. Nothing good happens when James Dolan gets involved in Knicks’ front office and on-court business.

The man is dangerous and the sooner he steps back into the shadows, the happier this Knicks fan will be.

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Knicks remain a play-off team despite losing streak

Over last the decade, six successive losses, not to mention 12 defeats in the last 18 games, would have been enough to send Knicks fans into fits of distress.

Usually losing runs, particularly mid-season ones, have been emblematic of the dysfunction at the core of the organisation. Not only that, they’ve usually triggered the panic moves that saddled us with, for example, the corpse of Steve Francis at huge financial costs.

This season, however, things are little bit different.

Six of these 12 defeats have come against the league’s best teams (the Lakers, Heat, Magic and Spurs). None of them have been blowouts. Only two, the home losses to Sacramento and Phoenix, count as unacceptable. Only against the Kings have they failed to put forth the effort that fans expect. In this five-week period, the toughest stretch the Knicks face all season, Mike D’Antoni’s men have beat San Antonio and Chicago at home and got the better of Portland on the road.

So what’s the lesson here? For me, it’s that the recent spurt of losses has basically served to calibrate what our expectations should be.

The temptation with a rebuilt team that starts to enjoy some success is to anoint them the rising stars of the league. After all, Boston went from the basement of the Atlantic Division to the title in one year, right? But the overhaul of the Knicks roster last summer wasn’t even close to the reconstruction that happened in Boston. The Celtics ended up with three superstars and a rising star in Rajan Rondo. The Knicks added one all star in Amare Stoudemire and an relatively unheralded point guard in Ryamond Felton who has turned out to be better than anyone could have hoped.

In terms of on-court artillery, the Knicks had enough to become a play-off team, not a title contender. They had teething problems to start, a win streak that garnered national attention soon after and now, as we pass the halfway mark of the season, a string of defeats.

Over 43 games, the ups and downs of back-to-backs, road trips, injuries and developing chemistry level out and show, record-wise, where the Knicks stand. They are – and indeed have been for some time – the sixth best team in the east. They will make the play-offs. Unless the roster undergoes a Melo-dramatic change, they’ll get bounced by a superior team in the first round.

Is that enough? For now, I say it is. And not just because of where this team has languished for such a long time.

Sure, a winning season and a play-off spot will be more than welcome after the interminable failures of the Dolan/Thomas years. But that’s not the main thing here. And that’s because there’s something else Knicks fans can take from the current losing run.

It’s not losing that’s always the problem, it’s how you lose. And while D’Antoni’s reliance on playing his starters up to 40 minutes a night has arguably left his key men gassed and pining for the all star break, at no point has this team looked disinterested or like they’ve surrendered as the losses have begun to pile up.

This week’s games have been a good illustration. Falling by 15 points to Houston to start a tough road trip wasn’t ideal but, two nights later, facing the league’s best team in San Antonio, the Knicks refused to fold, coming back into the game time and again before falling in the final minutes.

One night later, a solid Knicks road performance was rendered fruitless thanks to a Kevin Durant buzzer beater. Once again, the desire to fight and the refusal to mail it in were on show. Sure, Durant’s three denied them overtime. But he’s a top three player in this league. He’s supposed to win games like that. Whether he should have had the opportunity to put the game away is another question. New York’s failure to find buckets in the final minutes is what really cost them this game.

Like I said, it’s how you lose. There’s no quit in this team. And it’s been a long time since Knicks fans could say that.
 
The toughness of Stoudemire and Felton flows through this team. No longer are the Knicks collectively willing to accept losing. Getting beat should never be about lack of effort. But there are superior teams in this league. Over the last five weeks, the Knicks have had to learn to take their lumps.

When will the winning habit return? Well, having a home game against a Washington team with zero road wins all season should certainly help.

The Knicks current slump shouldn’t blind fans to the progress this team has made. No, they’re nowhere near the finished article. Yes, the defence isn’t anywhere near good enough. But the facts are these. The Knicks remain on pace for a 44-win season despite having been through their hardest stretch of games. This team has leadership, talent and toughness to ensure it reaches this mark, something no Knick team has managed since 2001/2. Despite recent setbacks, they remain on the right track. Keep the faith.

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