The Knicks and Nets were both at a crossroads. At the separating point was a box that resembled a coffin and reflected the dormant, decaying possibility of success for both teams this season.
On Thursday night both NY teams—colossal failures so far—were put inside that Barclay Center box to throw hands. One team would prevail and in the process buy their coach some time to keep masterminding the pine to turn the season around.
The loser would be squandering NY bragging rights and pushing its head coach towards a fiery plank, hovering over an ocean of starving, disgruntled and embarrassed fans.
Prior to the Knicks 113-83 thrashing of a Brooklyn Nets team that is losing steam quicker than blood gushing from a lacerated vein, all hell had broken loose in NY. The Knicks were in the midst of a brutal and befuddling nine-game losing streak, and after winning the Atlantic Division just a year ago, had become, as Carmelo Anthony said in the Daily News on Wednesday, “laughing stocks” of the NBA. TNT’s Charles Barkley called them dysfunctional and perfect subjects for Dr. Phil.
“We do [stink],” said Anthony, before he played one of his most unselfish games of his career against Brooklyn. "For us, we’ve just got to figure it out and try to change it around ASAP.”
With the New York’s doormat duo hovering at the bottom of the Eastern Division standings, rumors and pessimism began to engulf media and fans. News reports suggested that this one game—number 18 (17 for the Knicks) of an 82-game season—was a do-or-die game for Woodson and rookie coach Jason Kidd. Some even suggested that the losing coach’s bags would be packed and sitting at a bus stop on Atlantic Ave to take him to the nearest NY coach dumping ground. There’s a gang of former coaches NY has chewed up and spit out over the years there. They sure wouldn’t be lonely.
Nothing has worked out for NY’s much-hyped NBA teams, who were supposed to dominate the East along with Miami and Indiana this season. It’s hard to determine which team has been the biggest disappointment, as neither has performed close to expectations.
In an offseason attempt to steal headlines from their crosstown rivals, Brooklyn traded for veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, added some depth and expected Deron Williams to return to Top-3 point guard form. In reality it was a pipe dream. These cats are older than the Golden Girls.
Still, the preseason hype machine was cranking at a Wiz Khalifa-high level. Magic Johnson tweeted in early November that “The Brooklyn Nets probably have the most talent and could possibly win an NBA championship.”
Some analysts were lauding the Nets as Miami’s biggest challenger. Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is known for throwing his money around like George Steinbrenner after a losing season. Ever since the 6-foot-8 Russian billionaire came to NY, put a huge Brooklyn Nets billboard in midtown Manhattan and referred to Knicks owner James Dolan as “that little man, ” he was trying to make a splash and establish his team’s immediate presence in the concrete jungle. Prokhorov nabbed a big-name rookie coach with no prior head coaching experience in Kidd and named Kidd’s buddy and former coach Lawrence Frank, as the assistant.
Frank, who was personally recruited by Kidd, was given six-year, $6 million contract and expected to help Kidd in his transition as a head coach. Eventually Frank would slide into front office duties.
Nearly 20 games later, Kidd looks as disoriented on the sidelines as an eight-year old who just rode the legendary Cyclone rollercoaster at Coney Island. On Tuesday, a few hours before getting laced by the Denver Nuggets, Kidd flipped the script and reassigned Frank to a reduced role . Frank would no longer sit on the bench as Kidd's lead assistant coach. As ESPN’s Skip Bayliss put it, he “banished him to the Siberia that is video coordinating…and this smells of early-season desperation.”
Multiple league sources say there was "friction" and philosophical differences between Kidd and Frank. Sources say Frank was too vocal and his authoritative interaction with players undermined Kidd.
According to Yahoo! Sports, the relationship was further damaged by a blowup between the two at the team facility after Kidd returned from his early-season suspension. Frank doesn’t seem to like his new deal and is in the process of retaining “high-powered” legal counsel, presumably to settle a buyout and bounce .
It’s like one big soap opera in Brooklyn. The worst of possibilities have been realized by this highly-touted Brooklyn squad. Coaching problems, injuries to key stars and a measly five wins. For a businessman like Prokhorov, the silver lining is that Brooklyn is getting mad burn on the back pages of the sports section. It might not be favorable press, but in the corporate world, any visibility is marketability.
The fact that the Knicks are equally as rotten eases the pain a bit. Earlier in the season, The Shadow League reported that Melo had his sights set on free agency, possibly to ball with Kobe and the Lakers. We felt that he might be setting the stage for an exit because the season hadn’t even jumped off yet. Stephen A Smith threw credibility to the rumors this week on his radio show by suggesting that it’s a strong possibility Melo won’t be back, especially if the Knicks continue to stink it up. “Melo’s not sticking around for this,” he said.
While Melo has been the only Knicks player who’s flourished this season, the pressure is still on him to show the fans more. We know losing Tyson Chandler was a blow to the gut that's taking the Knicks a while to adjust to.
It’s unfortunate that Knicks ownership has been so inept at providing Melo with a strong supporting cast. Still, there's another mental level Melo can take it to. Despite his scoring prowess and recent rebounding boost, Melo needs to finally make other players better before he jumps ship. With the season being an early disaster, and with Woodson’s seat getting hotter by the minute, it’s crazy that the Knicks are only 2.5 games out of first place. The Nets are in the same boat.
There’s no way Melo is a Top 5 NBA baller and lets his squad hover around 4-13, in last place in a hogwash division like the Atlantic. His performance against Brooklyn was a glimpse into what he needs to do to inspire his teammates and win more games. With a smoky cloud of desperation swirling throughout the arena like exhaust from an old city truck, Melo immediately came out passing the rock and trying to get others involved—and this time they responded. Melo shot an efficient 8-of-12 from the floor and had 19 points. Formerly invisible cats like Iman Shumpert (17 points, 5-of-seven from the arc) and Amare Stoudemire (11 points) were able to get in a flow and gain confidence, as Melo only took “necessary” shots and worked the boards.
The contest was over early. When the Knicks are raining threes Tsunami-style like they did against Brooklyn (hitting 16 of 27 ), they usually win. That’s an aspect of their game that has been missing this season. Actually, the Knicks haven’t been getting blown out in games, as Woodson noted prior to Thursday's win. But they have faltered in every facet of the game.
Is it possible that something clicked and the Knicks will begin to claw back into the mix? They even exhibited some of that '90s grit with Andrea Bargnani getting two techs, an ejection and mixing it up with KG. It's amazing how one win changes the scope of everything. Now Knicks fans are acknowledging that it's more than possible that Toronto or Philly loses three games in a row and the Knicks win three straight. Guess who would be in first place if that occurred? That awful band of orange and blue ballers perpetrating an NBA team from the Mecca of basketball.
The Nets on the other hand seem further away from turning the corner. Their kitchen is a little dirtier. Age is a huge factor, and with age comes injury. This could be a lost season for Brooklyn and a damaging blow to the basketball moral of the borough. Every loss is like a pin deflating the balloon-sized heads Nets fans had entering the season. The numbers say both teams still have a shot, but only one team is going to come out of that box alive. So far, it’s the Knicks.