Some decades ago when I was in grade school, we students were obligated to read a designated editorial in the local newspaper. After reading the assignment, we were then to proceed to make two lists, one of all facts and the other of all opinions in the article. The whole class became quite proficient in this exercise.
Recently, I have found myself unconsciously applying these long ago learned skills to the New York Knicks present personnel problem. There is something about this situation that strikes me like the crash of a garbage can top during a New York Philharmonic performance. Something here just does not ring true.
The motivations in this saga, and most professional sports, are: Ego, money, winning, and future money. These are listed in order of importance, though these values differ with the age of the participant and number of titles previously won.
The beginning: Coach D’Antoni comes to New York with a chip on his shoulder from the way his stay in Phoenix ended. I can assume that he harbors a desire to succeed at least to the level of perennial conference contender.
He needs to find the guys that will play the way he desires. There is also the need to get rid of some salary for future development (money).
This is where the general manager makes his appearance. It would be inconceivable that the GM would not consult the coach concerning future team development.
Ideally, they would work hand in hand especially since D’Antoni presumably left Phoenix in part because of disagreements on personnel decisions. Donnie Walsh, the New York GM, would know this and endeavor to keep communications open with the coach he had recently hired.
The Process: After viewing the players during the preseason, coach D’Antoni makes his decisions based on present ability and future needs. There were players that were subsequently traded to other teams shortly, but for reasons as yet to be discerned the coach tells his star guard that “the team will be going in another direction.”
This is interpreted by most people as, “you will not be playing because we are going to trade you or release you.”
The Ulterior Motive: Trading or releasing a player happens; very few on either side of management get upset with this process.
However, with Stephon Marbury there is no movement. The Knicks did finally trade Zach Randolph and Mardy Collins. Why not Marbury for somebody somewhere?
My speculation based on known motivation of, money and future money, is that the size of his remaining contract was a problem. If he sits for a while the value of the product (Marbury himself) becomes questionable because new contracts rely heavily on recent performance.
This in turn would facilitate a lower buy out because of the pressure on Marbury to salvage some monetary value rather than sit all season.
Result: We have a well respected player sitting in full view of the nation in street clothes because the coach has deemed him redundant. Most people, who have worked as hard as he is acknowledged to have worked in the offseason, would expect a little more respect.
This does not mean playing time. The way the Lakers treated former starter Luke Walton is a good example. While he gets almost no playing time now, it was made public that this development was a direct result of too many good players at the same position.
The Knicks decided to leave Marbury and everyone else in the dark about his present and future. The result of this, lack of communication, is that he looks like a fool on national television, simply by the disrespect he has been shown by his own organization.
In other words, they make him look like “Willie Phoo Phoo” of no consequence as a person or a player plus he is rapidly jeopardizing “future money."
Unforeseen Consequences: Injuries always happen, but last week it was critical. Two guards are injured and new players were not yet cleared to play. This left the Knicks short handed.
Now the coach has already committed to a strategy of driving down the value of his unwanted guard and has taken a public stance. How does he save face and ask this man, whom he has been attempting to undercut financially, to play for him?
Solution, he doesn’t ask. He tells his player that if he chooses to play he would be allowed to do so. This makes it the players decision and D’Antoni does not have to eat “crow” in front of his team. The player declines to make a decision, but is given the same opportunity a few days later, when he again declines to make a decision.
Here is why I believe this above scenario to be the correct version. Insubordination is an actionable offense in any corporation or organization. I am positive that if this (insubordination) was the case we would be looking at more than a one day suspension.
This type of infraction would also partially achieve the goal of lowering Marbury’s value for buyout. Because of the tepid reaction by the Knicks front office, I am sure that he (Marbury) violated no policy.
We also have Walsh, saying that he had no idea of the past or present problems between D’Antoni and Marbury. Is it possible to imagine a coach at any level of sports that would not be asked by someone of a higher authority why his star player has not played all season. Especially one to whom we have a $20-plus million commitment. This would make Walsh either incompetent or less than candid, take your pick.
Conclusion: All this preparation for management; education, whether practical or formal, working with several teams as asst. coach, coach, then GM or some combination thereof and they still do something this stupid? How do I apply for this job? This is not rocket science, its people skills, something every normal child understands by the age of six months.
I do believe Marbury never refused a directive to play. It was obvious by the third game of the season that he was never intended to play and only hardship caused the need for him to do so.
But the coach, unable to save face any other way, did not tell him to play, but asked him if he desired to do so. This allowed the coach to avoid embarrassment as a consequence of his earlier decisions. Marbury, feeling publicly humiliated and angry, pretty much said to himself, “If you want me to play, you are going to have to direct me or publicly apologize, otherwise stew in your own mess," (a manifestation of ego by both player and coach).
How difficult is that to understand? Walsh and D’Antoni, need to “Man Up” and accept responsibility for their purposeful creation of a situation that backfired. I could respect that, passing the buck to a subordinate is reprehensible to me, but I acknowledge acceptability by corporate mores.