Tuesday, May 16, 2006

One and Done?
By Ben Valentine

In sports it is a rare sight to see a team willing to admit it made a colossal mistake in the year or so following the move. After all, how many times have we heard of “potential” when being used to describe a multi- million dollar failure who keeps getting opportunity after opportunity with the same team. In this case, “potential” roughly translates into “we know we messed up, but we’re going to hope against hope that if we give this guy fifty chances to justify our move, there’s an off chance he just might do it.” The Mets had refused to fess up to their idiotic trade of Scott Kazmir until Victor Zambrano’s elbow did it for them. The Niners could have erased the mistake that is Alex Smith, but passed on Matt Leinart for Vernon Davis.

That is why it is so surprising to see the Knicks of all teams seemingly on the verge of correcting their biggest mistake of the 2005 offseason; bringing in Larry Brown to coach the team.

Since the Knicks are on the hook for another 40 million of Brown’s contract, it was deemed the least likely scenario. Most people thought if anyone would go, it would be Isiah Thomas. But instead the opposite looks to be happening. Thomas would be going nowhere except to the sidelines, where he would take up the dual role as coach and general manager. And for all the flak this move might get, Jim Dolan deserves credit. It’s the right decision.

Larry Brown isn’t a fit for these players. They can’t play defense. They won’t play defense. And even if Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis and Jamal Crawford wanted to, two of them will be at a severe disadvantage, since only one can play point guard. The other two will be matched up on shooting guards and small forwards who can post them up till the cows come home. Good luck with that.

The Knicks can’t defend, but they certainly should be able to score. They could hypothetically be a poor man’s version of the Phoenix Suns; a team that has very little size but tons of athleticism. They also play next to no defense. If there is a point guard in the NBA who’s a worse defender than Marbury, it’s Steve Nash. With Crawford’s streaky but potentially deadly shooting and Marbury and Francis’ quickness off the dribble, the Knicks could put real pressure on a team defensively if they were able to get out and run. Heck, with those two back there, they could probably put pressure on in the half court. They won’t defend but they could play close to .500 ball if they just tried to outscore their opponents every night.

The problem, as I alluded to about a month back, is that Brown refused to adapt his coaching style to his personnel. He tried to institute a defensive scheme that his players were not capable of executing and rather than change that scheme to fit them, he complained about the players. Unfortunately for Brown, Dolan must have realized that even if Marbury is successfully dumped on another team, Crawford and Francis will still be here.

Also add in the fact Dolan admitted the Knicks are in a rebuilding mode towards the end of the season. Brown has very poor track record as of late with young players (Jermaine O’Neal and Tayshaun Prince both developed under other coaches and Darko looks like another person in Orlando), and it all spelled out to a very bad situation. There is no way Brown should be put anywhere near a team like that, since he juggles lineups and will not stick with players. A lot of times the best way for a player to develop is to throw them into the fire and let them learn through their mistakes. That isn’t happening under Brown. Too many nights Channing Frye or David Lee were the Knicks’ best players only to be reward with diminished minutes the following game. The Knickerbockers need a coach who will be willing to suffer through the growing pains for the reward at the end of the line.

And for all the criticism he gets, Isiah Thomas is the perfect man for the job.

He was instrumental in the development of the Pacers team that was one of the Eastern Conference’s best in the last four years. Players like the afformentioned O’Neal, Jamal Tinsley, even Ron Artest all improved their games greatly under Thomas. He isn’t the coach to take a team to a championship, which is why the Pacers were wise to go with Rick Carlisle. But for right now, the Knicks can’t be dreaming of championships. They need to be dreaming of approaching .500 first.

The Knicks need a change. They need someone who will embrace this mess rather than fight against it, because let’s face it; the mess isn’t going away anytime soon. So who better to see if it is at all salvageable than the man who created it? Besides, I think one thing can be said for certain.

If Isiah is indeed the Knicks’ coach in 2006-2007, there’s no possible way he can be as inept at the helm as Larry Brown was last season.

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