The good ship U.S.S. Knicks has smashed headlong into the iceberg, and now it's every man for himself.
Following Wednesday's 123-94 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in front of a captive national audience, some Knicks took to airing their dirty laundry in public. Third-string point guard Beno Udrih—thrust into the starting role due to injuries to both starter Raymond Felton and backup Pablo Prigioni—was particularly vocal in his criticisms.
Per the New York Daily News' Roger Rubin:
It’s easy to point fingers when the team loses. But it comes down to we are a team, we lose together. No matter who makes a mistake or who doesn’t, it’s still a team loss. So I think all of this stuff should be kept out of the media and not call certain people out.
Such discord has become par for the course during the latter days of the Mike Woodson era. The embattled Knicks head coach has made quite a habit of scapegoating role players and youngsters—Iman Shumpert in particular—while putting little to no accountability on the big-name, high-priced players.
For what it's worth, one such star player, Tyson Chandler, came to Woodson's defense.
Chandler says talk concerning Woodson's job security is "unwarranted."— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 26, 2013
Per the Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring.
The latter idea—that the players should take accountability for their play—is spot-on. But that first part seems to indicate that Chandler is blaming injuries for the team's poor play.
While the Knicks have indeed been plagued by injuries, last season's team suffered injuries to Felton, Chandler and Carmelo Anthony as well. That team was different from this current edition in two key ways: It didn't use injuries as an excuse, and it won.
The Woodson Knicks have become the embodiment of owner James Dolan's misguided vision. They have plenty of big names and big contracts. They have three scorers in Anthony, Andrea Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire.
But only Anthony and Chandler (when healthy) are playing up to their contracts, and Anthony could depart as a free agent in the offseason.
The Knicks have spent every conceivable asset in acquiring these players, and it seems likely that last year's second-round playoff exit was the pinnacle of this team.
So what does that mean for the future? The Knicks are pointing fingers at each other and looking as dysfunctional as ever. How will that affect the team's pursuit of future success?
Melo Takes the Blame (Without Taking the Blame)
Even before he came to New York in a 2011 deadline deal, Carmelo Anthony has been the primary focus of this current generation of Knicks. He was considered the top consolation prize after LeBron James signed with Miami, and acquiring him became Dolan's obsession.
In 2012-13, he realized much of his potential, winning the scoring title for a 54-28 Knicks team that won their first Atlantic Division title since 1994.
His impending free agency has hovered over the team ever since he announced in an interview with the New York Observer that he planned to explore free agency.
In an interview with NBA TV last week, Melo gave fans a glimpse into his thoughts on the Knicks' development.
When I first got to New York, I always told myself it would be a three- to three-and-a-half-year plan just to rebuild. I knew we took a step backward as an organization for me to get here. So we had to rebuild.
"I knew we took a step backward as an organization for me to get here." That is a fascinating assessment from Melo.
The Knicks gave up Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Timofey Mozgov to get Melo. They also parted with a 2014 first-round draft pick—which could have been used to acquire another player. With the Knicks near the bottom of the NBA, and Melo a potential free agent, the value of that pick in a loaded 2014 draft probably outweighs Melo's value to the team at the moment.
So Melo admits the team took a step back to acquire him. What he fails to mention is that they could have acquired him without taking a step back. He was set to be a free agent at the end of the 2010-11 season. The Knicks could have acquired him without sacrificing players and picks.
But Melo was more focused on getting his three-year, $65 million extension under the expiring collective bargaining agreement than he was in his new team taking a step back to acquire him, so he forced a trade. And Dolan was more interested in acquiring Melo as soon as possible than he was in maintaining a strong roster around him, so he surrendered far too much for a player who wanted to come anyway.
Now Melo acknowledges that the team was forced into a rebuild by acquiring him, and Dolan is reportedly sensitive to criticisms that former Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri fleeced him in the Melo deal according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. But are either of them ready to accept blame for the mistakes of the past? It certainly doesn't seem so.
And that doesn't bode well for the future.
When Will the Knicks Learn?
The Miami blueprint was enticing to the shortsighted, impatient Dolan, who expected to build a similar team without learning the key lessons of those Miami teams.
Yes, the Heat assembled much of their roster through free agency, but they also drafted and developed Dwyane Wade, who had already won a championship in Miami. They had a legitimate franchise architect in Pat Riley, who, ironically enough, led the Knicks to Game 7 of the NBA Finals in the years before Dolan's tenure.
LeBron didn't come to Miami because of South Beach or the cachet of playing for the Heat; he came to Miami to play with a team with a winning pedigree and an owner willing to spend but not interfere with the basketball brain trust.
New York might be a bigger market than Miami, but in most ways the Knicks organization is the exact opposite of the Heat.
Rumors of Dolan's meddling in the Anthony trade were so widespread that then-GM Donnie Walsh had to go on the record to refute them. Since that time, the Knicks have had three general managers—Walsh and Glen Grunwald were "reassigned" under suspicious circumstances. The Knicks' front office is the source of constant leaks, which may have led Dolan to nix a trade for point guard Kyle Lowry. And the coach has feuded with both Udrih and Shumpert.
And through it all, the Knicks are trying to delude themselves into believing Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo will force a trade to New York, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst. A smarter team wouldn't need Rondo to force a trade; it could simply deal directly with the Celtics, trading assets the Knicks usually waste.
The question remains, why would Rondo (or any star player) force a trade to New York?
The Knicks are a madhouse at the moment. The bad old days of the Dolan regime have returned, and until the dysfunction and blame-laying is fixed, the Knicks will struggle to build a winner.
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