Jan. 15th The honeymoon's over, Isiah

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The honeymoon's over, Isiah
By Chad Ford
NBA Insider
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Updated: January 15
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Is it just me, or have the Knicks been on a really, really long road trip?

I know there's a basketball team wearing Knicks' jerseys shooting around in the Garden, but I'm still not convinced they're the good old Knicks, whom you either love or hate, depending on your persuasion.

"The MSG Circus" I'd buy. "Jerry Springer on Ice" I'd believe.

But the Knicks? That team with the long, proud history that Isiah Thomas promised to meticulously restore? They were better off with Scott Layden pacing the hallways mumbling "We like our team" under his breath.

Thomas has been president of the Knicks for roughly three weeks. In that time he's made as many moves as Layden made in three years. If you think that's a good thing, Knicks fans, be careful what you wish for.

The Clarence Weatherspoon-for-Moochie Norris deal has been a mild success.

Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway for Antonio McDyess, Howard Eisley and the entire future of the Knicks was bold enough. Only time will tell whether Marbury's leadership skills will ever catch up to his talent.

The last 10 days have been less impressive.


There's a reason Lenny Wilkens was available to coach the Knicks.

Thomas tried and failed to land Rasheed Wallace, Darius Miles and Marcus Camby.
He started bringing in cronies to mentor players without first asking his coaches how they felt about it.
He took over as Marbury's personal tutor only after he made sure the cameras were rolling.
He decided to fire coach Don Chaney days ago, joked about Chaney's status with David Letterman, but somehow forget to tell Chaney until just minutes before a press conference on Wednesday.
He debated privately between three washed up coaching candidates -- Lenny Wilkens, Mike Fratello and himself -- before concluding Wilkens was the best choice. Of the three, I probably have to agree with him. Fratello is a terrible fit for the Knicks and Thomas would be a disaster. But there's another 10 candidates I'd put in front all of them.
What's next? Hiring Dennis Rodman to help bolster morale and good friend Michael Jackson to help with public relations? I can see the press release now. "Dennis and Michael have been successful in every endeavor they've ever undertaken, despite overwhelming odds."

At first glance, it's not unreasonable to conclude that Isiah' quick trigger finger on Wilkens is a result of a panic attack -- an act of desperation just three week into his job as savior of the Knicks. Moochie didn't get done. Starbury hasn't meshed with his teammates. Maybe Lenny's the answer. What's Zeke going to do if the crowd starts chanting "Fi-re Tho-mas!"?

Wilkens is a terrible choice to replace Chaney. Several of Thomas' closest advisers tried to talk him out of pulling the trigger, to no avail. On style and substance, Chaney and Wilkens are mirror images of each other. Both are laid back, let players play the game their way and hope player happiness and chemistry translate into wins. Wilkens flamed out royally in the last two places he coached. He completely lost his team in Toronto, and the suggestions from players there were that the game had passed him by.

That is, of course, no concern to Isiah.

"You never thought you would be able to get a Hall of Fame coach to be able to coach a team," he said at the press conference Wednesday. "Having the opportunity to have the winningest coach in basketball, we pride ourselves on being the best and having the opportunity to select the best. I just think he's a perfect fit. And I think he's the perfect fit for Stephon."

Wilkens the best? Wilkens unattainable? There's a reason he didn't get one of the 20 coaching jobs that were open this summer, Isiah. Tim Floyd, the losingest coach in the history of the NBA, heard his name called before Wilkens. In a league where guys get recycled by the hour, that means something.

In Isiah's world the past is more important than the present or the future. Stature and image trump substance and reality -- it's how Isiah continues to make himself relevant in the face of mounting evidence that his glory days ended in the late '80s. Wilkens is a Hall of Fame coach who owns the most career wins (and losses) of anyone who has ever coached the game. That his team was 24-58 in his last season in Toronto and 28-54 in his last season in Atlanta is irrelevant to Thomas. So is the fact that he has coached in the conference finals just once in the past 25 years (with the '91 Cavs). Wilkens is a name and names mean something to Isiah.

Wilkens will coddle Marbury, who is now on his ninth coach in eight seasons in the NBA. He will toe the company line. He will, I assume, stay out of Isiah's way (something Fratello apparently was unwilling to do). And, most importantly, he'll pave the way for Isiah to take over on the bench once Thomas is convinced he has the pieces in place to make a run at the NBA title.

What Wilkens is not is Hubie Brown, as Isiah tried to insinuate Wednesday. Wilkens does not have the demeanor nor the temperament to take this team and drill down to the basics, the fundamentals the Knicks so sorely lack. He is not bold enough to force Marbury to play the right way, like Brown did with Jason Williams in Memphis. Wilkens is a name. A whisper of a bygone era. A 14-carat placeholder.

Barring more trades and more high-profile hires, the Knicks are essentially the same team Layden "liked," just with fancier names, more hype and much higher expectations.

The honeymoon's over, Isiah. Unless Wilkens transports back to 1977, Marbury turns into Jason Kidd, Allan Houston morphs into Kobe Bryant and Keith Van Horn starts resembling Larry Bird, it's going to be a rocky marriage.

Around the League


Did Isiah botch Chaney's firing? Adding to the circus atmosphere in the Garden was the way Don Chaney was let go on Wednesday. The New York Daily News on Wednesday morning reported that Chaney would be fired and replaced by Mike Fratello after the Knicks game versus the Magic on Wednesday.
Despite the report, Thomas failed to communicate anything to Chaney, and Chaney was forced to run the Knicks shoot around Wednesday morning knowing that he was coaching his last game. Chaney described his "horrible working conditions" and told reporters during shoot around that he felt he was being disrespected by Thomas.

"Without hearing anything one way or the other is a sign of disrespect to a degree, yeah," Chaney said. "If that's the case. I don't know if that's the case yet. If that's the case, I think management should at least communicate with me, just out of respect."

Chaney and his staff finally got word around 5 p.m., less than an hour before the Knicks held a press conference to announce that they'd hired Lenny Wilkens to replace him. Thomas had gone through a similar firing in Indiana, and folks around the league thought Isiah would be more sensitive to Chaney's plight.

Thomas claims he was.

"I think I've been very respectful and supportive of Don since the time I've been here," Thomas said. "I didn't feel it was appropriate to give a 24-hour status update of what was going on. I didn't feel it was appropriate for me to go in every day and say to him, everything's O.K., because I was still in the process of evaluating the whole situation. I never wanted to lead anyone on or give any false intentions. I wanted to be completely honest."

Assistant coach Lon Kruger, who was also fired Wednesday, disagrees. He told reporters Wednesday that he told Thomas he felt he botched the firing.

"There should have been better communication," Kruger said. "I'm disappointed for Don. My emotions are tied to Don."


Nelson off the hot seat in Big D, for now: Don Chaney wasn't the only coaching Don in hot water on Wednesday. Speculation that Mark Cuban was inching toward firing coach Don Nelson was running rampant in Dallas on Wednesday after several newspaper reports claimed that Nelson's relationship with Cuban had grown cold and that Cuban was eyeing former Heat coach Pat Riley to take over.
Cuban and Nelson called a press conference on Wednesday to clear the air.

"Nobody's getting fired," Cuban told reporters. "I'm not going to let Nellie sit in Hawaii and play golf and get a suntan if I can't get one. He's got to stay here and work this thing out and get it to the next level. I wasn't going to do the old vote of confidence thing because that's a kiss of death. I wanted to tell him that, with all the [expletive] going on, you ain't going anywhere"

"I have no plans to make a change this year," he added. "It would have to be something that I don't foresee. . . I'm not planning on firing him. Period. I want Nellie to be here until the end of his contract. I want Nellie to earn his money."

By qualifying his statement with "this year" Cuban understandably left the door open to axe Nellie this summer. For his part Nelson seemed to understand that Cuban's endorsement meant very little if he can't get this team turned around.

"He told me he's not firing me -- he didn't say when," said Nelson. "Don't throw me in that briar patch. We're all hired to be fired. We're in the sports business. Very few guys retire. Usually, you get fired. Hopefully, I'm here a long time. But if I'm not, then that's the way of the business."

Nelson admitted that he and Cuban haven't spoken much this season and they do have differences of opinion on the direction of the team.

"Mark and I both want the same thing," Nelson said. "The difference of opinion might be on how to get there and how long it will take. We both want to win. This team isn't winning enough."

All and all it was a bizarre press conference. At one point Cuban called Nelson a "drama queen" and denied he had ever met Pat Riley.

Trouble in Big D? Let's just say that you don't have press conferences like these when everything is going great. The Mavs are 22-16 (not too shabby) but their 5-13 record on the road and their league-leading 100.5 points allowed per game are major issues.

"Everybody is cranky right now," Cuban said . "There's nothing different there."


Wallace to Dallas, again? Mark Cuban also spoke about possibly acquiring Rasheed Wallace (a guy earlier in the week who he claimed he hadn't been pursuing) at the press conference on Wednesday.
Rasheed Wallace
Small Forward
Portland Trail Blazers
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
33 16.8 6.6 2.7 .430 .726



"I'm not knocking Rasheed. For the right deal, I wouldn't say no to Rasheed. That's not the issue. But we're not out there shopping. We're not looking to break things up."

That slight change in stance coincides with yet more rumors in Portland that a deal of Wallace for Antawn Jamison, Tony Delk and Eduardo Najera was imminent.

Blazers GM John Nash did little to quash them on Wednesday.

"As we get closer to the trading deadline, I'm going to speak less of trades, because it really is unsettling to the players to continue to hear their names mentioned," Nash told the Oregonian. "We're trying to conduct business behind closed doors. When you have trade discussions, somehow or another they occasionally leak out, but we don't want to be the source of those leaks.

"It's safe to say we've talked to every team in the league, and we'll continue to do so, if there is reason to talk. But to identify the teams, that's not fair, because it's easy enough to then pinpoint what players match up with what players."

Blazers head coach Maurice Cheeks actually seems to be endorsing a major trade. Can you blame him?

"Sometimes, I think you can be in a situation like we are in now where I think you get a little stagnant and maybe something changes it up," Cheeks said. "Maybe it's a trade. Maybe that would change it up."


Will Bender's return force the Pacers' hand? Speculation that the Pacers' frontcourt is too crowded and that a trade of one of their young bigs was imminent has been quieted all season by the absence of forward Jonathan Bender.
Al Harrington
Small Forward
Indiana Pacers
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
39 13.1 6.6 1.9 .451 .760



Bender's return to the lineup on Wednesday should also usher in the return of the Al Harrington trade rumors. The Pacers have made no secret that they believe that Bender will be a big part of their future, but someone is going to have to give up some serious playing time for Bender to see the minutes he needs. Bender played 14 minutes on Wednesday, but Harrington sat out the game with a bruised right leg.

The Pacers still maintain that they have no intention of trading Harrington, but if Bender begins to blow up, things could change. Bender went 0-for-5 from the field on Wednesday, but he looked like a different, more aggressive player. He got a few touches in the low post, grabbed five boards and took it strong to the rim on two separate occasions.

"That's how I'm playing nowadays -- I'm coming out and taking it straight to them," Bender told the Indianapolis Star. "It's time to show people the player that I am.

"We'll just have to see over the next few games. I'll try to work myself in (to the playing rotation) and then we'll see what happens."


Medvedenko the little Aristotle? Maybe the Lakers don't need Shaquille O'Neal after all. (That's a joke for folks who take these type of things way too seriously.) The way Stanislav Medvedenko is playing the last three games, the Lakers look like they've found a guy who can, at the very least, give Shaq a breather now and then. Medvedenko is averaging 19.6 ppg and 9.3 rpg on 56 percent shooting.
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elindholm

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He took over as Marbury's personal tutor only after he made sure the cameras were rolling.

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Joe Mama

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After this season and the summer draft I will wish nothing but good things for Stephon Marbury. I would like to see it succeed. I can't stand Isaiah Thomas though. I think he is going to be a complete failure as a GM, and I'm happy we are already seen some harsh criticism.

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