Friday, October 31, 2008

Marbury Inactive Against the 76ers

Well, that happened. Marbury will be in street clothes when the Knicks tip off shortly in Philadelphia - home of no-longer long suffering but still insufferable sports fans. During the pre-game broadcast Gus Johnson relayed the news in somber tones and Walt Frazier admitted that he was "disappointed."

D'Antoni told reporters that Steph has done everything right and that this move has to do with his respect for him. Um. Ok. Marbury told reporters that he isn't frustrated and can only worry about the things he can control. They both said the right things and they'll both be wearing suits tonight.

At first blush, I think the past few days have been D'Antoni's "welcome to the Big Apple" moment. The Marbury-benching took on a life of its own and I think he realized that he needed to deactivate Marbury so that every one wouldn't spend the entire game wondering if he was going to play. I also don't think this would have been his first choice since he didn't choose it before the first game.

Now, is when the rubbers will hit the road. It's one thing not to put Marbury into a game when points are being scored freely. But what happens when the Knicks play a better team (sort of like Philadelphia) with a non-rookie point guard (sort of like Philadelphia) and the sailing isn't so smooth? What then?

Keeping Marbury inactive after a few games when Duhon and Collins are overmatched at the point is going to be difficult as the season goes along. D'Antoni's best bet is hoping Nate Robinson is able to play larger minutes at the point or in tandem with Crawford, with them sharing PG duties.

This will be interesting.


Stephon Marbury Rides Pine In Knicks Opener

He wasn't released during the offseason. Quite the opposite, he told everyone he was in the best shape of his life. He wasn't bought out of his contract during training camp. He played more than 20 minutes in four of the seven preseason games and in the mid-to-high teens in the other three. He wasn't publicly banished from the rotation like Eddy Curry as the season opener crept closer. And, then he didn't see one second of action during the season-opening win over the Miami Heat on Wednesday night.

Two days later and all we are doing is talking about Marbury and the DNP-CD in the box score next to his name. Marbury did not play against the Heat. And it was most definitely the coach's decision. Marbury was healthy. And even saying mostly the right things about coming off the bench leading up to the game. He was willing and able. Just not asked to play.

Fans and reporters have already taken sides on the issue. Some love that Marbury was benched. Others consider it ridiculous to give minutes to Mardy Collins while a player as talented as Marbury is at your disposal. MSG play-by-play star Gus Johnson reiterated his belief that Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni sat the two-time All-Star as a way to send a message to his locker room and to the city that supports the guys in it. Message received.

We Want Steph?
Even if whatever message Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni was sending on Wednesday was received I don't think he was ready for the message he heard in response. Once the Knickerbockers took control of the game in the third quarter (but before they lost control of the game in fourth), chants of "We Want Steph" reverberated through the World's Most Famous Arena. It was audible enough, even on television, that MSG announcers Gus Johnson and Walt Frazier were forced to address it. The papers claim that boos could also be heard from non-Steph partisans but you couldn't hear that on TV. Either way, the pro-Steph chant was chanted. Marbury sat stonefaced at the end of the bench, on the far side of street-clothed Anthony Roberson. Until he started smiling.

Real Genius, Redux
Last week I credited D'Antoni and Walsh with Lazlo-level genius for their clandestine rehabilitation of Zach Randolph's reputation around the league, knowing that they need to raise his profile and his value before moving him. The plan that I have, perhaps mistakenly, credited to these two continued to work in game one as Randolph looked dangerous. He hit from the outside and after getting warmed up (or scolded at the sideline) he attacked the rim en route to 20 points and nine rebounds. By benching Marbury to start the season, though, D'Antoni may have done something even more incredible.

The last time that Marbury played in a regular season game was on January 11, 2008 at the Garden. The Knicks lost to the Raptors. As had become standard practice, Marbury was booed (with a smattering of applause) during introductions. Fast-forward the better part of a calendar year and Marbury has yet to play another minute. He was, however, serenaded by fans at the Garden with the aforementioned chants of "We Want Steph." Without actually coaching him through one meaningful play D'Antoni has turned Marbury, at least in the minds and mouths of some, from overpaid pariah to underdog home-town charity case. Fans were actually chanting for him to play. Think about that. And think about the fan-Marbury relationship last season. And, for a guy who is notoriously fragile emotionally you just have to think that getting the Garden crowd back on his side would provide a huge lift for Marbury if/when he gets back on the floor. And, that will happen. The crowd being on his side, I mean. I'm not sure if Steph will get back on that floor for the home team, but If Steph head's to the scorer's table at MSG some time next week or next month the place is going to erupt. By leaving him on the bench D'Antoni has re-connected Marbury to the rest of us who watch the game from a seat in the Garden.

Is this what D'Antoni intended when he left Marbury out on Wednesday night? Probably not. But I do think that he did intend something. I do think that the move was more about sending messages, like Gus Johnson said, than about Xs and Os. After all, if the game were about Xs and Os then Danilo Gallinari doesn't step on the floor before Marbury. Gallo hasn't played since the Vegas Summer League. Whereas Marbury started against the Celtics last week. D'Antoni's message could have been meant for Steph. It could have been meant for his teammates. Or it could have been meant for me.

I'd like to think that message was about giving in. I'd like to think that D'Antoni wants to break down Marbury (or build up his teammates) so that he can extract whatever greatness he still has in him. Because, in spite of all that has transpired, I still think Marbury has some good games left in those legs. And, if the Knicks are paying him then I'd like to be able to watch a few of those good games. Even if just to get his value up enough so that maybe we could trade him to a contender at the February trading deadline for a spare draft pick or usable young player.

A twenty-minute-a-night Marbury playing for his next contract would be a great guy to have on this team. He's the only one on the roster with the potential to put this team into the playoff hunt all by himself. And, I know that this season isn't about this season, but it's still going to be a stepping stone towards next season and the one after that.

So, what next? I'd think that Marbury continues to be a peripheral figure around the club for another week or two on game days. I'd hope that he busts his tail in practice. I'd hope that D'Antoni breaks him in whatever way he is hoping to do so. And, then, I hope that Marbury does come off the bench in a game the Knicks are losing and scores some points going hard at the rim in that way that only him and a few others are really capable of doing.

Friday's Starting Five

PG: Chris Paul. Apparently not discouraged after being totally shafted in the 2007-2008 MVP balloting, CP3 is picking up right where he left off. He scored 20, dished 10 and corralled 8 (which, for those of you less gifted at arithmetic than me, is two rebounds shy of a tripe double) as the Hornets outlasted Steve Nash and the Suns in Phoenix, just one night after outlasting the Warriors, who were surprisingly feisty sans the Bearded One and Monta "Knievel" Ellis.

SG: Mo Peterson. The Hornets two-guard led the team in scoring last night with 21 points on 7 of 10 shooting from the field, including 3 of 4 from behind the arc. That's efficiency. That's playing next to Chris Paul who gets his teammates the ball in great shooting situations.

SF: Ron Artest. This Rockets team may be his team by the end of the month. Which is 12 hours from now. The Queensbridge-born street fighting man dominated down the stretch of Houston's intra-state win over Dallas last night. He was driving to the lane. He was hitting threes. And he showed that he is capable of defending any position on the floor. Artest was the beating (pun intended) heart of a 16-2 streak by the Rockets late in the 4th to take the game. He scored 7 points during the run and defended Josh Howard, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry at different points as well. He also received a technical foul while ostensibly trying to break up a potential scuffle between Yao and Howard. Seriously, re-read that last sentence. Artest was the peacekeeper. Of course, his reputation still got him smacked with the technical but that's beside the point. Two nights into his first season in Houston and he's jumping into a fray to protect Yao. And, where was Tracy McGrady during all of this? On the bench. It's a Yao-sized IF, but IF this team stays healthy then they are going to make lots of noise in the playoffs. Maybe even, like, championship parade noise.

PF:Dirk Nowitzki. It's true that the Hasselhoff-loving German is listed as a power forward. This much is true. Last night, however, Ron Artest made him look like a small forward when it mattered most. If you know what I mean. In the fourth quarter all Dirk had to show for himself was one made technical free throw. That being said, Dirk had a huge first three quarters in the Texas two-step with Houston, leading all scorers with 36 points on 10-22 shooting.

C: Yao. Alright, before I start ordering my commemorative Ron Artest 2008-2009 NBA MVP apparel, it is important to note that the 7-foot, 6-inch gentleman who starts at center for Houston is a decent player as well. I still think that healthy Yao can be the most dominant force in the game these days. I think he's more dominant than Dwight Howard. I argued/debated this just the other night. Yao's offensive game is much more refined than Howard's and his defensive presence is at least as large on the court even if it is not as frenetic on television. Because that dude is SEVEN AND HALF FEET TALL. He didn't do anything last night to dissuade me from this belief. He put up 30 and pulled down 13 against the Mavericks.

Benched: Jason Kidd. The Rockets and Mavs were tied, 92-92, with eight minutes left to play last night. At this point the Rockets tethered McGrady to the bench and loosed Ron Artest upon the city of Dallas. The Rockets went on a 6-1 run that was halted by a Dallas timeout. This where Jason Kidd should have steadied the ship for his ballclub. He did not. He tallied one missed shot and one assist on Jason Terry jumper the rest of the way. Bearing in mind his late-game impotence, I feel like the biggest indictment of Kidd from the game was the fact that Dampier/Diop/Bass combined for 12 points. Of course, Dirk, Howard and Terry all scored plenty of points. But those three score without any help from Kidd. They can each create their own shot and don't need anything from a point guard other than the ball. Those Bigs, though, should benefit from playing with a "top-flight" point guard like Kidd is alleged to still be. Those three should be getting easy looks after Kidd unlocks the D. But Kidd is not even half the man he used to be. He is old and has a hard enough time unlocking his bowels let alone an NBA-caliber defense.