Let me preface all that is to follow by saying that I do think Stephon Marbury is a pair of pants that never came with an Inspected By.. sticker and needs to be removed from the Knicks roster.
Stephon Marbury who has been banished by the Knicks - meaning that he is barred from attending practices or games as a member of the team - turned up courtside in Los Angeles last night as the Knicks took on the Lakers. He bought his own ticket for the game. And, I thought it was a shrewd and funny move. In fact, I am totally for him showing up at last night's @Lakers game in plainclothes and buying a ticket along celebrity row (near the Lakers Girls) at the Staples Center. Good for him. Marbury, who has been out on the Left Coast working out and getting himself into shape for his eventual acquisition by another team, has fallen from the back pages since Plaxico shot himself in the leg and both football teams went into parallel tailspins.
When Plax shot himself he didn't only derail the Giants run to the Super Bowl. He also derailed the buyout process for Steph. With unlicensed firearms far more alluring then any team's "new direction" or healthy but unwanted players, the buyout drama was lost deep inside the tabloids. The Knicks banished Steph, Plax forever changed a well-worn metaphor and all of sudden no one was clamoring for a resolution. Marbury was out of sight and out of mind.
Well, that's not fair and not helpful for anyone involved. We need to get this buyout done. Steph needs to be allowed to play elsewhere and the Knicks need to be allowed to turn the page. Frustratingly, the Knicks are dragging their feet and haggling over money when they have already ceded the high ground. Which is a near impossible thing to do when you're fighting a land war against Starbury. I believe Vizini said that. But the Knicks managed to pull it off. Which is nice.
Looking back, it's clear that Walsh and D'Antoni (and Dolan) should have cut their ties with him before training camp opened. Because since then he's done everything right and made them look like reactionary hacks. And to top it off, they decided to add "cheap" to the list of adjectives used to describe them. Marbury was willing to hand back $1 million if they bought him out but the club balked. They said that he needed to hand back $3 million. And, for what? For being healthy and eager and not shot? They want him gone so they need to eat the money. He showed on Opening Night ready to play and they decided that they weren't going to play him. Ever. This is actually fairly simple.
And, still the Knicks did their best to ignore this fact. They want to make it shady and complicated. Last night the MSG network never even sent anyone over to interview Marbury (on the radio Gus Johnson did relay bits of his pregame conversation with Steph). MSG showed images of the scrum of reporters (featuring a very Grimace-like Marc Berman) around Marbury during hafltime but didn't think it was important enough to get one of their guys/gals over their to ask a question or get a soundbite.
My desire for this to be over soonest rather than later is not based in any deep-seated sympathy for the Coney Island product. I don't feel great about him getting all of this money for nothing while most people I know are struggling. But the contract is signed and he didn't draw it up. So, I just want the Knicks to free up that roster spot, which seems destined for Patrick Ewing Jr. (presuming that Mobley's spot goes to a shooting guard). Although I do enjoy D'Antoni's Seven Players Or Less philosophy I would like to get some more live bodies on the bench. If the team is going to stay close to .500 through the winter then they're going to need bodies warmer than Anthony Roberson and Jerome James.
Until this buyout gets done I hope that Steph just keeps showing up at every road game. Maybe that will force the hand that feeds him to send him packing. We know Steph can afford the tickets.
1. Kobe Bryant. Even his jump shots have a chip on their shoulders. He elevates so quickly and fires these line drive daggers at the back iron with such velocity that they're through before you can even say out loud how unconnected that shot was to whatever the Lakers seemed to be doing on offense. Or, how full of hate they seemed. Bryant's MVP persona, the one that passes the ball often in the first half, is still a mystery to me. He's an enigma wrapped in a rapist. He played a game-high 41 minutes against the Knicks but you really didn't notice him until the fourth quarter. And, he didn't score consecutive field goals for the Lakers until he tied the game with a three (following a two-pointer on the last LA possession) with 5:50 to play in the fourth. Vintage Kobe would sprinkle such scoring binges throughout each and every game he played. Of course, last night he did score 9 of his 28 in the fourth and those two back-to-back hoops did tilt the game in the Lakers favor. I guess, what it comes down to, is that I'm still not sold on "unselfish" Kobe. I think he actually does more harm than good. He needs to embrace his true nature. The 20-3 Lakers almost lost a home game to the 11-13 Knicks and that shouldn't happen when Kobe Bryant plays 41 minutes. He has been subjected to too many Jedi mind tricks by Phil Jackson and now wants to try to pull off some of his own (which did seem to work on the weak-minded MVP voters). But, he can't only attempt four free throws. He's got to be aggressive. We all know that's how he really likes it.
2. Mike D'Antoni. I'm drinking the kool-aid. And so is everyone on the Knicks roster. Even after losses, these Knicks are upbeat and forward thinking. Me too. I felt great at the end of that loss to Lakers. They believe in the brand of basketball that they are playing. They believe in each other. And they believe that each day is step in the right direction regardless of the results.
3. D.J. Augustin. I've never been the guy. Not at anything. I've been pretty good at some things. And decent at a handful of others. But I've never been the one against whom others were or ever will be measured. Which means I had far more in common with Augustin than with Derrick Rose when the two matched up in Charlotte. Rose is the measuring stick. But Augustin took the wood to him, dominating the highly touted point guard from Memphis, getting off for 29 points and 7 assists. And, his team won the game in OT. Bobcats coach Larry Brown is molding this kid and reminding us that, in spite of his cutthroat nomadism, he still knows how to coach 'em up.
4. Zach Randolph. If a science-type person looks at a map of the cosmos and sees a ring of stars surrounding one focal point then the science sort can infer that something occupies that central space, even if they can't directly observe it with their own eyes or the instruments that they have at hand. They can infer certain qualities about the central point just by observing the effects that it has on the stars around it. This is the same manner in which I can learn things about Zach Randolph. I can't really see his "skills" when I look at a Clippers game (or when I used to look at a Knicks game) but I can observe the ways in which he effects the box score and infer certain things about his unobservable skill set. Last night the stat sheet read 22 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 win.
5. Albert Haynesworth's Agent. The gargantuan defensive tackle for the Tennessee Titans was selected to participate in the Pro Bowl. This was no surprise. Haynesworth has been indomitable this season. He's a monster truck. What did make some news, though, was that the selection activated a clause in his contract that allows him to become a free agent at the end of this season. Haynesworth's agent Chad Speck negotiated a clause stating that his client became a free agent if he was selected to two straight Pro Bowls. He went last year. And, he's been selected again. The 27-year-old should earn a fortune. Well played, Mr. Speck.
At the end of the 82-game regular season, it's all about wins and losses. It's about the standings, the playoff seedings and the draft lottery. It's about comparing this year's results to last year's results. But that's not how you judge last night. Or the night before. After being so bad for so long, for these Knicks a positive effort can still be a reward in itself. The Knicks fell two points shy of the Lakers last night in the City of Angels, playing before a star-studded crowd that included exiled point guard Stephon Marbury. The Knicks lost in front of that crowd. Yet managed to be the more impressive team. In my opinion. I know that I felt much better at the end of the game than the Lakers fan sitting next me. He was spent and more relieved than elated and went to bed legitimately worried about a team with a 21-3 record. On the other hand, I was energized and irrationally optimistic about a team that has lost two straight and is three games from even breaking even. Such is the circadian rhythm of regular-season basketball in the dawn of the Mike D'Antoni Era of Good Feelings. It's not always about wins and losses. Sometimes it's about how you play the game.
And, last night, the Knicks played the game pretty darn well. They never had any doubt in their game and took the floor at the Staples Center with as much confidence as the Celtics will on Christmas Day. Such confidence seemed baseless and merely a testament to D'Antoni's Svengali-like skills as a motivator. At least, the confidence seemed baseless until Nate Robinson hit two free throws to put the Knicks up 11 points by the end of the first quarter, 37-26.
After going a mind-numbing 5 of 37 from behind the arc against Phoenix on Monday night, the Knicks found their shooting touch last night, making 5 in the first quarter alone. The team was moving the ball around with seasonal generosity and scoring at will, even though Al "Buckets" Harrington scored just 4 of the team's first 40 points. It didn't matter, though. Q had one of his good first quarters (which usually are followed by more anonymous than usual quarters) and Nate picked up right where he left off in Phoenix. In just 24 minutes of play, the Knicks hung 65 on the best of the West. The Knicks were up 65-50 at halftime. And the Lakers walked towards their lockerooms for orange slices and energy drinks as boos cascaded from the botoxed lips of the sell-out crowd.
The 20-3 Lakers were being booed. At the half. Because the Knicks were housing them.
That being said I didn't expect the lead to hold. The Lakers fan watching the game with me still felt (and this sounded more logical than arrogant) the Lakers to win. I told him that his team would certainly take the lead at some point in the second half. And, this things, more or less, happened.
Random Notes/Thoughts -Wilson Chandler did as good a job as one can defending Kobe last night (who still led the Lakers with 28, including a crucial burst of laser-beam jumpers in the fourth). Chandler's ascension to Kobe-stopper is one more nail in the coffin for Quentin Richardson's Knicks career. Q would have gotten that assignment a few weeks ago. I think he's gone sooner rather than later. -David Lee can average 15 and 15 for the season in D'Antoni's system and someone (but probably not Donnie Walsh) is going to offer him the sun and the moon when he becomes a restricted free agent after the season. As much as I might choose otherwise, I see this story ending with a lot of disappointed white people in the suburbs around Manhattan. -Nate the Great is a revelation. He's quickestsilver out there and can score the ball in so many ways: From three, off the dribble and with the pass. He is so strong that he rarely looks overmatched in spite of his tremendous height disadvantage. He is a unique player with unique talents and (I think) has to be retained as we try to build a team towards 2010. He cannot be replaced. Because there is really no one else who can do what he does. Whatever that is. -Watching Phil Jackson coach is always interesting. He seems to approach quarters 1 through 3 as a learning experience. And each fourth quarter as a pop quiz. What do we do when we're down?