Your New York Knicks are off to a slow start, Mr. James Dolan, so whatta we have for 'em Jimmy?
Fire and brimstone. Pandemonium. A hatchet. Oh yes, it's that time again: Time to play Dolan's To Hell With Everybody But Myself blame game.
For the folks at home who haven't played before, this isn't your average game show. It's not fun or entertaining, nor are there prizes awaiting the victim—I mean winner.
Usual editions consist of Dolan making a mockery of his storied franchise. Jobs are lost, prospects undervalued and players traded. If he's really cheesed off, New York's bloodcurdling owner will even deprive fans of the one thing right about his team—the Knicks City Dancers.
To answer your question, yes, it's that bad. Dopey Dolan expects the Knicks to win a title. Now. But the Knicks can currently be found dwelling near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, a trifling mess, hoping they've joined the Brooklyn Nets in hitting rock bottom.
Fear of things getting worse will lead Dolan to actually make things worse. Barring a miraculous turnaround with the current group of guys the Knicks have, change will come. And while no one's safe, there are a select few who will want to sleep with one eye open and some sort of Dolan repellent by their bedside.
Contestant No. 1: Head Coach Mike Woodson
Ah, Mike Woodson. You loyal coach, you. You've done everything Mr. Dolan expected of you. Fire your agent, practice blatant nepotism and lead the Knicks to their first division title in a decade. A few months back, Dolan could've kissed you. Now, you'll be lucky to keep your job.
Coaches are frequent scapegoats in these kinds of situations. The team gets off to a bad start? Blame the coach. Players underperforming? Blame the coach. Dolan can't seem to find his favorite pair of blue suede shoes? Get his 1970s tailor on line one. Then blame the coach.
Sideline gigs have always been a fickle profession. Most aren't granted the stability Gregg Popovich is with the San Antonio Spurs. Here today, but maybe not tomorrow. That's a fitting, albeit depressing, motto for NBA coaches.
"It’s the era of the absurd," former NBA head coach and current ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy said, per Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher. "You get fired if you lose or if you win."
George Karl would concur. Vinny Del Negro is presently nodding his head in agreement, too.
Coaches aren't safe in this business no matter where they reside. In New York, it's worse. The pressure to win coagulated with a roster that can't puts Woodson at risk, like Mike D'Antoni before him.
If and when he's fired, he won't really be fired. He'll "resign" or stay on as a consultant. But really, he'll have been fired. Canned by the very owner who was smitten with him last season and picked up his option for 2014-15.
To be fair, it's not last season. The Knicks aren't on pace to win 54 games, Carmelo Anthony isn't gunning for a scoring title and J.R. Smith isn't in line to win the Sixth Man of the Year award. To be even more fair, Woodson has continuously endorsed the use of big lineups, even though the Knicks small-balled their way to prominence just a year ago.
This obsession was, and remains, peculiar. Bigger starting fives are already 0-4 this year, while smaller ones are a more impressive 3-3.
In an attempt to drop some more fairness, it's not all on Woodson. Higher ups—aka Dolan—urged him to insert Kenyon Martin into the starting lineup. He did as he was told, because that's what he does. So maybe this isn't all on him. Maybe he's finally resigned to playing small while New York's pharaoh wants the Knicks to run big.
"Expectations are high and they should be," Woodson said previously, via ESPN New York's Ohm Youngmisuk. "I am not running from that as the coach. As the owner, Mr. Dolan being an owner of our team, he has every right to voice his opinion."
Those familiar with the Knicks know Dolan's opinion is mandate. What he thinks, what he believes goes.
"This is his team, we all work for Mr. Dolan and I am happy to be a worker for Mr. Dolan," Woodson added.
For how much longer he'll remain a happy little worker bee, or employee of the Knicks at all, is anyone's guess.
Contestant No. 2: Iman Shumpert
Though the numbers don't always show it, Iman Shumpert is the most promising two-way talent the Knicks currently employ. Naturally, Dolan wants him out. Gone. To the gallows with him.
Once Tyson Chandler went down, the rumors started. The New York Daily News' Frank Isola reported that the Knicks were talking with the Denver Nuggets about a Kenneth Faried swap and the Boston Celtics about a "complicated deal" for Rajon Rondo.
Constructing a deal around Shumpert for a star like Rondo makes some sense. New York needs a point guard and stars are always welcome. Shumpert is neither, so he's acceptable collateral damage in such a scenario.
Knicks looking to upgrade at PG, have eye on Rondo. But sources say no interest on Celtics' part— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) November 18, 2013
But, like they always do, the Knicks took this one step further, to Defcon Stupid.
For a team in need of defense and a low-post presence capable of creating his own offense, dealing for an offensively limited, defensively challenged forward like Faried would be harmful. Because that's not enough, Isola also mentioned names like Jason Thompson of the Sacramento Kings. Again, pointless.
Denver has made it clear to Kenneth Faried's reps: There are no active talks involving him. Knicks offered Shumpert. Denver rejected idea.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) November 13, 2013
The Knicks have always been one to overvalue their stars and undervalue their prospects, a trend that, unfortunately, remains alive and well. With Shumpert, however, it's a bit more complicated. Dolan seems to despise him.
ESPN's Stephen A. Smith previously revealed the Knicks owner wanted Shumpert gone after he played in just one summer league game over the offseason. Isola later learned that Shumpert, like Amar'e Stoudemire, had covert knee surgery too.
Angered by Shumpert's decision to, you know, get healthy, the organization quickly turned on the young guard. And, well, here we are.
Sources confirm Shumpert had offseason surgery on his left knee. The timing of it angered some in #Knicks org. 1st reported by NY Daily News— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) November 17, 2013
Shumpert, even after his super-secret surgery, is clearly the Knicks' most valuable trade asset. He's still on his rookie deal and can be a defensive catalyst. That's also why it's so hard to move him. Capitalizing off the value of a player on his rookie deal when you don't have the ability to take back serious salary is almost impossible.
Not to say that would stop Dolan. Someone has to be the fall guy for this mess. It could be Shumpert. The fact that the Knicks can spin any deal as addressing a need is simply a bonus.
To think, if Shumpert never got that second surgery and instead put himself at risk for severe injury, his seat wouldn't be so hot.
Contestant No. 3 and No. 4 and No. 5 and...
You get the point. No one, save for maybe Anthony, is safe. Dolan's a temperamental fellow. One day he's on a roster-slashing warpath, the next he's on a roster-slashing warpath with a smile on his face.
Smith, the turbulent sixth man, could find himself on the chopping block. Suspensions, fines and Twitter beefs may not suit Dolan. And if not him, then maybe Raymond Felton, who has finally succumb to a pinched nerve in his hip. Or STAT/the Knicks' cap flexibility in 2015. Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling reports that the Knicks could deal him to the Celtics in a trade that would land them Gerald Wallace's beastly contract, thus hogtying some of their future spending power.
Hell, if Cole Aldrich doesn't get off his butt and save this franchise, blame could fall on him, too.
Life in New York isn't normal, easy or comforting. When the owner cannot stay out of matters he isn't suited to resolve, players and coaches are constantly watching their backs.
Every day in New York could be their last. Remember that, unsuspecting Knicks players. Dolan is your master, and you his puppets.
Cherish the time you have in orange and blue, because if Dolan pulls your number while playing bingo, your time is up.
And the Winner Victim Is...
Shumpert. Doesn't mean Woodson, Smith, Felton or the Knicks' ball boys won't follow, but Shumpert will be the first to incur Dolan's wrath.
The Knicks have already started shopping him and with the amount of rumors floating around, it seems like only a matter of time before he's relieved of his jersey.
If the Knicks don't turn things around, who will be the first to go?
When that time comes, the Knicks will play it off as a necessary move. They needed that no-name big man. Or that overpaid scorer who plays just like the rest of their scorers. Or that wicked-awesome pogo stick Dolan has coveted for quite some time.
Could be that I'm wrong. That Dolan fires Woodson first or, less likely, does nothing at all. But I, like you, know that's almost never an option. Dolan, in all likelihood, is going to do something. Something that may be necessary, but is probably more destructive.
So congratulations, Shump. You (may have) earned yourself a one-way ticket out of New York.
Knowing what a nightmare it is to play under Dolan, it's possible that makes you less of a victim than the poor souls you'd be leaving behind.