Everybody knows where the Nets are going -- Brooklyn. But where exactly are the Knicks going? There is no construction permit, no road map, no flight plan for these hapless vagabonds.
The franchise with a present beat the franchise with a past, 96-83, at the Meadowlands on Wednesday night. The Knicks have lost seven straight games, while the Nets have won 13 straight games at the home they will vacate in 2009-2010. The Nets may be moving, but at least they still have talent and hope, unlike the Knicks.
Since their first season of 1946-1947, the Knicks have actually had four worse records than their current percentage of .292, but in aesthetic ways, it has never been this bad.
This failure is a reflection of everybody at Madison Square Garden, most notably James L. Dolan of Cablevision, but also Isiah Thomas, the Knicks' president, who put together this amorphous collection. Under Larry Brown, the players mill about, unsure of their roles. As Antonio Davis noted the other day after his escape to Toronto, it is impossible to tell if the Knicks are running a youth movement or a seniors team.
Brown addressed this anarchy before Wednesday night's game, saying that Thomas had asked him to write down his assessment of this team. He said a written evaluation was normal for teams around midseason.
"If it gets to the point where we're not winning games, the younger players will play more," Brown said. "We're trying to build something here."
It has, in fact, gotten to this point. Part of Brown's problem is the new league rule that allows 15 players on a squad, 12 of them suiting up per game. Coaches have enough trouble satisfying their 10th, 11th and 12th players, but now they have to tell players to keep that David Stern-mandated jacket and tie on and sit at the far end of the bench and look enthusiastic. Brown has used 15 different starting players so far, which is not a tribute to depth or versatility as much as an indication of desperation.
"Everybody's commenting on the lineups, but I go into the locker room and I don't know who's going to play," Brown said, before Stephon Marbury's sore shoulder kept him from playing against Jason Kidd on Wednesday.
There is no continuity. Thomas brought in Jalen Rose last week for his scoring touch and experience, and Brown used Rose for 40 minutes 58 seconds Tuesday night, which might have contributed to Rose's gaffe in the closing seconds.
At 33, Rose had been averaging 26.8 minutes in Toronto, which is about right. When he drove to the basket in the fourth quarter, Rose seemed a little gassed. Tired legs lead to tired brain cells.
Taking the ball out of bounds, Rose watched four strangers wearing the identical uniform who did not have the wit to break loose to receive an inbounds pass. In any kind of stable franchise, this is the kind of chemistry that comes from training camp and the first half of a season. The player with the ball recognizes a look in his teammate's eye that says, "Now!" -- and he knows to release the ball.
With no timeouts available, and no teammates open, Rose let the maximum five seconds tick away. The Knicks had to give up the ball and their last hope.
"You feel terrible," Brown said Wednesday night. "I put these guys in a bad situation."
Brown often blames himself, a professed humility that should not deter from the reality that chaos is usually the coach's fault.
Brown also said that Elton Brand of the Clippers had clutched Channing Frye on the inbounds play, and that the referees were not about to call a foul on a veteran for victimizing a rookie. Brown is right. By now, the Knicks ought to have nine or 10 regulars who are game sharp. It still looks like October training camp.
Brown insists that he and Thomas were on the same page.
"I talk to him all the time, but sometimes coaches are not objective," Brown said. "They didn't tell me it would be easy."
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