Who would’ve thought five years ago that a 14-20 record would garner a team serious consideration for the playoffs?
As bizarre as it is, the Eastern Conference has become that weak, and with that very record, the Knicks are one game out of the seventh and eighth seeds of the East.
At the beginning of the season, the Knicks were predicted to have another lottery selection type season. However, Coach D’Antoni has guided this team of otherwise role players and vagabonds into playoff contention, finally instilling a winning mentality.
While many were quick to criticize the Knicks for not yet getting a star player (let’s revisit this in the summer), D’Antoni saw no reason why the right combination of players could not win.
The problem, however, has been finding that right combination, and it’s safe to say D’Antoni has alienated some of his players in the process.
The more the Knicks have begun to win, the smaller D’Antoni’s rotation becomes, and that leaves the door wide open to his doghouse.
So far, Eddy Curry, Darko Milicic, Larry Hughes, and Nate Robinson have rotated in and out of the doghouse. Stephon Marbury was a well known mainstay there last season.
Curry has been the farthest down on the bench, having to combat injuries and being out of shape while never really winning over D’Antoni.
Milicic, who was pursued by D’Antoni himself and acquired for Quentin Richardson (a D’Antoni favorite) to aid the Knicks’ defensive woes, did not fit in well and was soon relegated to the end of the bench as well. A former No. 2 pick overall in the 2003 draft, Milicic has become frustrated by his struggles, making clear his plans to return to Europe next season.
Hughes was benched the first two games of the season before D’Antoni gave him a chance in the rotation, where he became a part time starter/sixth man.
Robinson has now become the reason for Hughes falling out of favor once again. After being benched for over a month, Robinson has crawled back into the rotation at Hughes’ expense.
All four have publicly expressed frustration and criticized D’Antoni (Robinson did this through his agent and was subsequently fined by the NBA for a public trade request).
Well, guys, have an issue? Go get yourselves a tissue.
When asked by reporters if Hughes “understood” the latest rotation shift, D’Antoni responded “What is there to understand? That’s the way life is.”
Not everyone gets to play night in and night out. It’s a simple concept. Does everyone win in this scenario?
No, but it’s something that needs to be accepted by what has now become about a third of the Knicks team—aka the “disgruntled players list,” as coined by Newsday.
Not only is dealing with it part of the process, but also accepting part of the blame is certainly a step.
Each and every one of the players in D’Antoni’s doghouse has done something to put themselves there. Robinson let his emotions get the better of him on the court, Hughes has been inconsistent and outplayed, Curry has never quite been “in shape” during his Knicks career, and Darko…well, let’s just say Darko being Darko has proven enough to keep him out of just about any rotation long enough.
As Hughes and Robinson have come to experience, not many are particularly safe in the rotation, so if someone else were to step up their game, the opportunity is there to break back in.
That and the fact that the Knicks are finally starting to look like a winning ball club should be enough motivation for just about any of those players to want back into the rotation, especially Curry, who has seen his share of losing with the Knicks and Bulls.
While developing Jonathan Bender appears to remain a priority for the Knicks, Curry is a bulkier body, and, if he could keep himself healthy for more than a week at a time, could challenge him for minutes.
Instead of complaining to reporters, if Hughes spent more time in the gym (a la Al Harrington on Christmas Day) he could challenge Harrington for some minutes off the bench.
Robinson needs to stay level-headed to keep up a consistent positive standard of play in order to maintain his spot, or Hughes could steal it right back.
For all intents and purposes, Milicic should just start looking to book a flight back to Europe right now.
As it stands, the Knicks have begun to win and are looking like a team riding positive momentum. No one can blame D’Antoni for choices now, as they have all paid off thus far. Making choices like who plays and who doesn’t is a daily task for a coach, and, if the team continues to win, then the coach is doing his job correctly.
It’s the players who need to shape up and realize it’s D’Antoni’s way or the highway. If they cannot adapt, they won’t play, and the only time they’ll be getting is with the reporters, as the complaining continues.