10-02-2006, 09:40 PM
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10-03-2006, 01:12 AM
I still think the Knicks will make the post season.
10-03-2006, 07:56 AM
For Isiah, the end appears nearBy Chris Sheridan
GREENBURGH, New York -- Isiah Thomas walked to the podium with such a weary hop to his step, he looked like Eddy Curry going for a rebound.
Or like Jerome James walking to the vegetable stand. Or Nate Robinson stepping into a Big and Tall Store. Or Quentin Richardson dropping by a Brandy concert. Or Jalen Rose checking into an Overearners Anonymous meeting.
No, Isiah didn't look all that comfortable or confident standing all alone at the podium Monday, top Madison Square Garden honchos nowhere in sight but P.R. functionaries and other upholders of Cablevision media policy showing up in abundance, monitoring player interviews and keeping their eagle eyes affixed on Thomas as he rehashed the lines he used over the summer, including the one about how growing up as a youngster in Chicago was a life and death struggle every day, which makes the pressure he's under now pale by comparison.
I, for one, don't buy it. This is it for Isiah, his one last chance, and he knows it.
I don't blame him if he's scared. He has good reason to be.
If Thomas loses this job, he'll never get another one like it. His résumé was already poor, and his deals over the past three years have caused hundreds of millions of dollars in expenses to Cablevision's bottom line, and the hiring Larry Brown will likely go down eventually as his $50 million-dollar mistake, not Dolan's.
Will Stevie Franchise and Starbury both need a ball to be happy?
"This is his team. He made this bed," Dolan said in July.
It's now three months later, and if anyone needed any indication that ownership will not be perpetuating the mistakes of recent years by dealing expiring contracts for longer ones, Dolan sent such a message unmistakably Friday by jettisoning Maurice Taylor and his $9.9 million contract through a buyout.
It would seem the days of Thomas using an expiring contract as a bargaining chip are over -- bad news for those hoping to see Jalen Rose wearing another uniform after the trade deadline. Rose said there had been no buyout talks between his reps and the Knicks, but he's so much a part of the problem rather than the solution that it's hard to see him lasting 82 games with his mouth shut. When Thomas looks for someone to lash out at, don't be surprised if it's Jalen.
But do be surprised if it hasn't happened by mid-November when the Knicks get back from a road trip to Denver, Houston and San Antonio following their first four games at Memphis, at Atlanta, then home for Indiana and San Antonio. Can you say 1-6?
"The first part of our schedule is extremely hard, so we've got to be tough-minded enough that if we do find ourselves in the hole because of the schedule, that we're strong enough to fight out of it," Thomas said.
We'd accuse him of lowering expectations, but we did that a year ago, too, when Brown was saying similar things. This time, we'll just chalk it up to what seems to be the Knicks' theme for the new season: They won't be as bad as last year, and they might even be good enough to keep Isiah around another year. Doesn't exactly sell season tickets, does it?
"We were the laughingstock of the league last year, you know?" Jamal Crawford said. "I think that alone motivated guys to come back better."
Thomas knows his reputation around the league and his legacy outside of it are at stake, and he's smart enough to recognize that ownership's support for him is only slightly ahead of the dwindling regard they held for previous big cheeses in the dying days of the regimes and mini-regimes of Dave Checketts, Jeff Van Gundy, Scott Layden, Don Chaney, Lenny Wilkens and then Brown.
The cycle of despair at Madison Square Garden has now lasted a half-decade, the Knicks' place in the local sports consciousness having dwindled so deep it's below the disinterested stage. Even the crosstown rival Nets are taking advantage of the dynamic, draping their advertising on billboards in Times Square.
"When you're down, people kick you in this league. Nobody gives you a hand," said Thomas, who at times looked so apprehensive Monday it was almost like having Layden or Wilkens back in town. "My job, and this is the way I approach it, is to win every single game, and I want us at the end of the year to max out in becoming the best team we can possibly be."
Thomas' problem is that he's coaching a team of guys playing for paychecks, most long since sapped of the desire and enthusiasm that earned them the big bucks back when they were young and hungry. Malik Rose noted to reporters that he still has three years left on his deal, and immediately the jokes started about whether they'll be serving hemlock in the press room by 2008-09.
Media day drew a fairly small crowd, and at one point Steve Francis sat ignored by all but a single reporter from a small local cable channel. Nearby, Stephon Marbury held court and showed off the $14.98 sneakers he unveiled recently (Marbury joked that other NBA players have come up to him and said: "Thanks, m-----------, you just shut the sneaker thing down.") and plans to wear in games this season.
"We never got an opportunity, me and Steph. We played like 15 minutes together, total," Francis said. "But this year we're looking to lead our team, and I don't think you could ask for a better situation."
We could go wise guy on Steve here and point out that Orlando might be a better situation, but there will probably be plenty of time later this season to pile on. That was merely the optimist in Francis talking, drowning out the internal pessimist who no doubt understands that in the competition for minutes between himself, Richardson and Jamal Crawford, one of them will be out of the mix -- and it might just be him, another guy whose mistaken acquisition can be written off as one of Brown's ideas.
Another optimist in the room was Jerome James, who said he might weigh in below 280 pounds after a summer of cardio work supervised by strength and conditioning coach Greg Brittenham. After reporting to camp a year ago at 317, that's almost 40 pounds less of the good-natured James we'll have to poke fun at.
But aside from Jerome's brief interlude of hopefulness, there was little that left Insider all that inspired or bemused after the NBA's highest-paid team (payroll: $121 million) mostly steered clear of all matters concerning Brown. In fact, Larry would have been proud of them: They ignored him the right way.
One other positive piece of news came when Thomas learned he would not be required to remain back in New York for Day 2 of the Brown contract arbitration hearing, sparing the Knicks the embarrassing ordeal of having last season's dead duck keep this season's lame duck from conducting the first day of practice.
But it was a discomforting day, too, a day when you looked around the room and realized you were likely seeing a 25-to-29 win team in its infancy, no one trying too hard to fool themselves into believing they'll be any better than so-so.
Maybe we're all wrong here and Thomas has got a motivational miracle up his sleeve. But that seems like a long shot, this figures to be Isiah's last gasp in New York -- and maybe his last as a big shot in the NBA -- and the morose look on his face and his timid steps to the podium left me with one overriding impression. That is a man who realizes his end is near. We'd call him Dead Man Walking, except Brown already used that line about himself a couple months ago. Seems unfair to reassign it so soon.
Insider's prediction: Isiah is out sometime late in the regular season (we'll set the over/under as March 30), and we'll let the readers ponder the odds of who will be presiding from the podium at Media Day a year from now: Patrick Ewing, Herb Williams, Jerry West, or all of the above.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.
Sheridan: Sky Blue, Water ... Wet!
Sheridan: Sky Blue, Water ... Wet!
Yeah, I agree - what else is new?
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