Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Brown and Out
By Ben Valentine

There seems to be a new sport developing in the Big Apple. It’s one that is of questionable morality because of its ease and the fact the prey is on the endangered species list. Despite that, it’s become quite popular on the streets, in the papers, on television and even here at Sportszilla.

The sport I’m referring to is killing Isiah Thomas for just about anything. Seriously, blame him for everything that goes wrong. Stub your toe? It’s Isiah’s fault. Girlfriend cheat on you? Damn that Isiah! War in Iraq dragging on? Isiah didn’t have a sound plan. And of course, the Knicks are a 22 win team? Isiah’s the culprit for that too.

However, despite his mistakes and shortcomings as the team’s general manager, Isiah does not deserve the majority of the blame for this debacle. That load of bricks deserves to be dropped at the feet of the head man, Larry Brown.

That’s right, the 10 million dollar man, the savior, the hall of fame coach, is the primary reason the Knicks are basketball’s biggest disgrace.

There is no denying the Knicks are a poorly constructed team. Three high priced players at a position where you can only play one and overpaid centers who are soft, flabby, useless or all of the above do not make for championship basketball. And with their cap situation, it is not something that is going to be rectified easily, especially since the potential #1 pick now belongs to the Bulls in exchange for Eddie Curry.

However, remember something about this year’s Knicks and last year’s version. Every flaw that is so apparent with this squad was there last year. Stephon Marbury and Jamaal Crawford still played the same position. Tim Thomas was a marginal offensive player while being a complete sieve on the defensive end. Kurt Thomas and Michael Sweetney battled, but were almost always overmatched. This was a team last year that had Bruno Sundov see the floor at times.

This Knicks to start this year added Eddie Curry, Channing Frye, Nate Robinson, David Lee and Quentin Richardson while subtracting Tim Thomas, Sweetney and Kurt Thomas. They’ve added Jalen Rose and Steve Francis to the mix mid season.

So how did this team suddenly drop from a 33 win team to a 22 win team when the talent increased? The answer has to be Brown.

I’ve said for years that Brown is an overrated coach. His one championship had more to do with Jason Kidd playing on one knee than it had to do with him getting the Pistons to the next level. So while the media and Knick fans bought into the hype surrounding their new Hall of Fame coach, I said otherwise. They said Brown would be able to get that Knicks team from last year to at least 40 wins and the playoffs. A 7-10 game difference could be expected.

Well they were right. It just so happened it went in the other direction.

The Knicks have no team chemistry. You say that’s Isiah’s fault for having too many players at the same position, but it’s the coach’s job to get the most out of his team by finding a way to make it work. Brown has done the exact opposite. The two headed monster of Lenny Wilkins and Herb Williams got 33 wins out of an undersized team that had too many point guards and no players who could defend. So how come Larry Brown is getting a free pass when with more talent the Knicks are going to be roughly 10 games worse than they were last year? Why is it Isiah’s fault that Brown alienated his whole roster and constantly fought with the organization’s star player? And what does it show to your players for your coach to not bother to show up for the final games of the season? Brown has been cleared to coach by doctors. The fact he won’t reflects poorly on him, especially given his track record of leaving teams high and dry and just a year after flirting with the Cleveland Cavaliers while coaching the Pistons in the postseason!

It appears the Knicks made a deal with the devil when they brought Brown in here. Unfortunately for the organization and its fans, the only pleasure it brought them was the giddiness at the press conference where Brown was unveiled.

Let’s compare talent levels for a moment. What starting five would you rather have; Marbury, Crawford, Tim Thomas, Sweetney, Kurt Thomas or Marbury, Crawford, Richardson, Frye and Curry? And that was the five to start the year. How about the five mid way through the season? When you can take out Crawford and put in Jalen Rose, who also netted the Knicks a first round pick, the lineup gets better.

There simply is no excuse for any of the latter lineups to be worse than the former. Say what you want about Richardson or Curry; they are bonafide NBA starters. Kurt Thomas is a good back up and Tim Thomas is an absolute stiff. How on earth can you possibly say Isiah didn’t improve his lineup from last year to this?

Thus the problem is Brown. I mean come on, Nate McMillan managed to get some minutes out of Jerome James last season.

Zach and I were debating this today and he correctly brought up the fact a large part of this team’s chemistry problem has to do with Brown attempting to impose his will, or style of play, on the Knicks. It’s a defensive style the players have not bought into. It might be because they’re selfish or it might be because they’re not capable of it. Just because Chauncey Billups became a good defender doesn’t mean Stephon Marbury can be. It also helps that Billups has a former NBA defensive player of the year on the inside and a 6-10 small forward with arms as long as the distance between here and Detroit, but I digress. Whatever the reason, the Knicks have not and will not buy into Brown’s philosophy. But instead of adjusting to his talent, he instead has stubbornly stuck to his guns, benching key players and refusing to give some of his promising guys minutes.

The problem is that Brown can’t get rid of these players. Sure, maybe the Knicks can find a taker for Marbury; he still has talent and with three years left on his deal there are plenty of worse contracts they can take back in a trade. But can they also find new homes for Crawford, Francis and Richardson? What about James or Curry? Don’t bet on it. And if those guys are clogging up the cap space, then you can also forget bringing in any good players to fit Brown’s system through free agency. So the only way things are going to change at the Garden is through the draft.

Here’s the ironic part for Knick fans; the man they want gone the most in fact has the best track record in that category. Isiah turned three first round picks into serviceable players in Frye, Robertson and Lee. Last year he got something out of a second round pick; Trevor Ariza. Think back to the years of Scott Layden. Sweetney was the only serviceable player he ever drafted for the Knicks in his time in NY. Meanwhile, Larry Brown is just about the worst coach you can have for young players. He messed with Darko’s head and failed to develop any good young players in Detroit or Philly or Indiana, his last three stops. Guys like Jermaine O’Neal became good players when Isiah coached the Pacers.

Here’s what the Knicks need to do. Tell Brown to go retire to the Hamptons. Then James Dolan has to inform Isiah the time has come to stop taking back bad contracts. No more deals for other team’s cap killers. That way, you keep Isiah from bringing in the problems and let him do what he does best; build a solid team through the draft.

In the meantime, let this team play. It won’t be very good; but with the match up problems Francis and Marbury could cause, the Knicks should be able to be mediocre. And heck in the Eastern Conference, where multiple sub .500 teams make the playoffs, that just might be good enough.

Will it be pretty? Nope. Will it be fun? Probably not. But at least the Knicks will have a plan. If the reverse happens and Isiah is the one shown the door, plan instead on having a directionless team fighting with its head coach for another year or two until Brown gets tired of it and leaves, like he always does. Then the Knicks will have no coach and no young players to build around.

Cause if you think this is bad, if that does happen, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Knicks stopping their time-honored practice of taking on disasterous contracts is an obvious step forward, but Dolan is never, ever going to be the one to do it. Blaming Brown is fun, trashing Isiah always works, but Dolan has been killing us ever since the Ewing trade to Seattle, pushing for losers like Anderson, Harrington, Eisley, and 'Spoon. Expecting Dolan to figure it out and do anything positive means that you haven't been paying attention.

Also, you must not have watched the Knicks enough this season to see what Francis is doing with the ball. He is a Mo Taylor-like black hole on offense, and is a huge liability on defense. Marbury has the two-man game down, but honestly here: you have a career loser vs. a Hall of Fame (if overrated) coach. Who do you think it makes sense to support here? Unless Larry is telling Franchise to play as poorly as possible, you can't blame him for Stevie's play in New York. And a good analysis of what's wrong might have included a photo essay of Suitbury's "scowl towel" during every game in which he is marginally unhappy with how things are going. Those losers will NEVER be the answer in New York.

5:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I still find it incredible that some people are giving Larry Brown a pass. His resume is certainly that of a HOF coach, but somehow fans see that players can underperform in certain situations, have bad years, get worse as they age, mail it in with a big contracts, etc but its impossible for a coach to do the same thing? Think again.

By every barometer you can possibly measure a coach LB has failed miserably this year. Or do I even have have to mention the new league leader in different starting lineups. (yeah, that doesnt hurt a teams chemistry....)

Whats more, Marbury may not be a "winner", but he has taken 3 different teams to the playoffs(Timberwolves, Suns, Knicks). QRich, Francis, Curry, and Rose have all been BIG PLAYERS on playoff teams before, with Rose arguably the best player on the Pacers team that went to the Finals. Yet, this collection of players somehow manages to yield the WORST RECORD in the weak Eastern Conference? 4 of the 5 aformentioned players are still in their PRIME, how is this possible?

Isn't it ironic that the Pistons got better this year w/o Brown. Or that Team USA wouldnt have even recieved the Bronze in the Olympics if the aforementioned Marbury didnt play out of his mind against Spain. Meanwhile LeBron and Carmelo were sitting on the bench most of the olympics. LeBron (potential MVP) still wont talk about it, and you wonder why....

If there's one thing that is ENTIRELY to blame on Isiah, its hiring Brown in the first place.

7:44 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Dolan is the biggest reason the Knicks stink because he's behind Isaiah and Larry, and ultimately brought together a coach and G.M. who want to play completely different styles of basketball. But he's going nowhere.

If all things were even, then yes, it would make sense to support the coach over the player. But in this case, things are not even. The Knicks can't trade this whole team and will be lucky to deal one of the most mishapen parts (Marbury, Francis, Crawford) Thus, the Knicks would be better off finding a coach that will coach to his players rather than sticking with a guy who refuses to.

You might be right about them never being the answer, but like I've said, the Knicks are stuck with them. Might as well try to make the best of a bad situation.

I'm not sure Isaiah wanted Larry Brown here. They don't seem to be on the same page and frankly, Brown is a threat to his job. I get the feeling Dolan just wanted the big name to get hype and sell tickets. Hey, it worked for the first few weeks.

11:39 PM  

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