You know the best way to confuse a New York Knicks fan?
Sit them down and ask which individual is most at fault for this disaster of a 2013-14 season.
The poor fan's mind will churn and eventually produce a look of confusion similar to something you'd see on Raymond Felton's face when he's asked to play defense at the end of a close game. It mimics the expression you'd find J.R. Smith wearing when Mike Woodson tells him to avoid taking a contested shot.
Eventually, his mind will just explode.
Now I don't particularly care for making the brains of my colleagues explode, which is why I asked B/R Featured Columnist and Knicks fan Dan Favale for the top five people he blames. Here was his list:
- Mike Woodson
- James Dolan
- J.R. and Chris Smith
- The God of Health
- Masai Ujiri
Even that is a tough exercise. It's difficult to narrow the selections down to just five, and placing them in any sort of order is tougher still.
Because a disaster this big can't simply be pinned on the shoulders of any one person, be it a player, coach or executive. It's one of those developments that can only be blamed on the entire organization.
It's never a good thing when a columnist like CBS Sports' John Schmeelk begins a column with the following sentence: "Sadly and regretfully, I once defended the idea that the New York Knicks could win a championship with James Dolan as their owner."
And it gets worse.
Schmeelk's column was published one month before this article, and the Knicks have only continued their downward spiral.
Dolan has since entered into the zone where no decision he makes would completely shock you.
Would you be that surprised if he fired Mike Woodson and decided to start coaching the team himself? What if he traded Carmelo Anthony for Paul Pierce and a first-round pick in 2067? How about if he decided that Iman Shumpert wasn't worth having on the team, couldn't find a trading partner and just cut him from the squad?
Let's turn back to Schmeelk for the close of that Nov. 19 column:
I can see it now: Dolan standing in the center of the newly transformed Madison Square Garden, with the Knicks City Dancers not dancing, while the sky bridges and new scoreboard fall down all around them. All the while, Woodson looks on incredulously as J.R. Smith hoists up a step-back 22-foot jumper for the right wing. Amar’e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin sit at trainer’s table getting worked on. Ray Felton is eating a cheeseburger as he dribbles while Pablo Prigioni looks confused on the bench. Anthony is walking out the door before he can be caught in the rubble.
That’s going to be Knicks basketball if things don’t get better very, very soon.
How's that for a grim picture? Sadly, we're closer to it becoming a reality, and there's no one who can just bail out the Knicks.
Because Dolan is still involved. What self-respecting coach wants to subject himself to the whims of a maniacal owner, one who has consistently proven himself completely inept when making basketball decisions?
Why would George Karl, one of the Van Gundys or Lionel Hollins wish to put himself in a lose-lose situation, knowing full well that he'll turn into a scapegoat if he doesn't get a little lucky?
It's impossible to know just how involved Dolan has been in making the Knicks into what 'Melo called a laughingstock. But it's not difficult to see how he's keeping them from exiting that unfortunate realm.
Quick—point to a good decision that the New York Knicks have made over the last few years. Here's some music to entertain everyone while we wait for an answer.
Steve Mills, the current general manager, is one of the many front-office members who deserves a portion of the blame, though he's by no means culprit No. 1. He's only been in charge since late September, so the amount of damage he's done is rather minor, although he's been unable to swing any deals that would actually help N.Y. get off the schneid.
He's also helped bring the CAA (Creative Arts Agency) theories to the forefront of the list of theories behind the Knicks' decline.
Mills chose to keep Chris Smith instead of Ike Diogu, Chris Douglas-Roberts, C.J. Leslie, Josh Powell and Jeremy Tyler, which is notable because the brother of J.R. Smith has been called the worst player in the history of summer league basketball.
But is that the only negative thing that the front office has done?
Of course not.
The Knicks also re-signed J.R. Smith to a contract extension after knowing that his knee was injured, and he may have come as a package deal with his brother thanks to the CAA connections.
J.R. has gone on to shoot the lights out during the 2013-14 season, but not in a good way. Normally that phrase means he's been so good that the lights flicker, but Smith's shooting has been so ugly that Knicks fans are turning the lights off to avoid watching him.
How about trading for Andrea Bargnani and giving up multiple draft picks in the process?
Better yet, what about this entire roster?
It's clearly not suited to complement Carmelo Anthony's skill set, and that doesn't bode well for either the present or the future. And if 'Melo leaves town, what does that say about the Anthony trade that New York made with the Denver Nuggets a while back?
You can now see why Favale called Masai Ujiri, the architect behind both the 'Melo trade and the Bargnani deal, one of the main culprits.
As Frank Isola of the New York Daily News made clear, it sometimes seems as though the Knicks are more concerned with making headlines than winning basketball games.
How's that going for them?
One timeout represented everything that has gone wrong with the on-court product during the 2013-14 season.
You can see the sequence in its entirety here (h/t CBS Sports' Matt Moore), but let's go over it once more for good measure.
After no one helped out Beno Udrih, which made Bradley Beal's attack on the basket way too easy, no one called a timeout. As Ken Berger wrote for CBS, not even Chris Webber called one. Instead, 'Melo lollygagged up the floor with just a few ticks left on the clock and nonchalantly lofted up an unbalanced three-pointer in a desperate attempt to win the game.
Needless to say, it didn't go in.
That should've been the final strike for Woodson, especially after a season that has been full of swings and misses. At this point, Woody might as well be operating on an 0-8 count, which isn't even supposed to be possible.
There's been his terrible use of rotations, as he insists on putting in the wrong people at the wrong time. He's particularly insistent on using J.R. Smith and letting him shoot his way out of slumps—he hasn't—despite having a quick hook for Iman Shumpert whenever he plays the same style of basketball.
The use of Raymond Felton has been terrible; he's put the slow-footed point guard in a bunch of unwinnable matchups at the end of games. It almost seems as though he's trying to create other scapegoats.
Lately, the biggest problem has been Amar'e Stoudemire.
After forgetting about the whole minutes restriction thing and allowing STAT to play in consecutive games for long stretches at a time, Woodson announced that the power forward was out for "a while," per Marc Berman of the New York Post.
Too bad Stoudemire didn't agree, tweeting instead that he was healthy and only sitting out for one game. He claimed—in all caps—that he wasn't injured.
But let's go back to the timeout fiasco.
Woodson took the blame for the failure to remember one of basketball's basic rules, and Anthony wasn't willing to change that. According to the New York Daily News' Mitch Lawrence, the New York superstar said, “Mike’s taking the heat. If he said it’s his fault, it’s his fault."
Good to see players standing up for their coach, right?
But no, keep thinking he hasn't lost the locker room and has full control of the team.
Which player on the Knicks is actually having a good season?
It certainly can't be Tyson Chandler, who has missed the vast majority of the 2013-14 campaign while recovering from a broken right fibula he suffered early on. And his absence has forced New York to adapt, a plan that hasn't exactly been carried out.
Carmelo Anthony is one (more on him later), but the other two are Andrea Bargnani and Tim Hardaway. The former has been a solid offensive option, but his porous defense more than negates whatever scoring punch he brings to the table. At times, it seems as though Kadeem Hardison could play better defense.
Hardaway, a rookie out of Michigan, is the lone bright spot on a roster full of red marks. He's shot the ball well and played inspired basketball, which is something that can't really be said for the rest of the roster.
Everyone else has struggled.
Especially J.R. Smith, who is averaging 10.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game while shooting a vomit-inducing 33.6 percent from the field. The reigning Sixth Man of the Year is the best example of the overall woes, as he can't get anything going but won't change his style of play.
At some point, the players have to be blamed.
They're making bad decisions. They're failing to hustle and constantly getting beaten back down the court. They're failing to execute basic offensive sets, devolving into street-ball players and failing to hang with lackluster competition.
The front office did a poor job assembling talent and Woodson has done a poorer job coaching it, but this roster shouldn't be struggling to such an extent.
I've tried to defend Carmelo Anthony all season, but I can't do it any longer.
When the criticisms were pouring in, focusing on his poor shooting percentages and ball-hog tendencies, I rebutted by pointing out that he was making a concerted effort to pass the ball, but his teammates were missing shots and passing it right back to him. He was essentially being forced into hero ball.
He also began the season trying on defense, and he's been a force on the glass throughout the year.
But 'Melo is now beyond defense (both on the court and off it), just like the rest of the N.Y. organization.
Where is the accountability? Where is the leadership?
Fair or not, it's the responsibility of a team's best player to step up and become a positive voice of influence. That's a role that 'Melo has steadfastly avoided, and this season has been no different. When he has made his voice heard, he's called the Knicks a laughingstock. He's refused to help his coach out after a failure to call a timeout that left both of them to blame.
Remember in November when he told ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk that "We ain't playing worth a s--- right now?"
Do these sound like quotes that come from the mouth of a leader?
'Melo is the best player on this Knicks roster, and it isn't even close. Although it's imperative for him to start shooting the ball better, pulling the 45.1 percent shooting from the field and 33.7 percent mark from downtown up to more respectable clips, it's even more important that he takes responsibility and becomes a leader.
New York desperately needs one.