http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/ba...ke_says_i.html

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Reggie Miller calls Knicks a joke, says Isiah Thomas has 'playoff-caliber' team

BY FRANK ISOLA
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER

Wednesday, November 28th 2007, 4:00 AM

The Knick teams that Reggie Miller remembers facing were physically and mentally tough. He knew that a trip to Madison Square Garden meant getting a John Starks elbow in the ribs and an earful from the crowd.

But these days the perception of the Knicks is much different.

"Right now, they are a league-wide joke," Miller said. "It's sad because they are an historic and iconic franchise. But people think they are late night comedy jokes."

Miller, the legendary former Indiana Pacers guard and renowned Knicks villain, will call tomorrow's Knicks-Celtics game for TNT. His broadcasting partners include Hall of Fame announcer Marv Albert, who was unceremoniously dumped by the Garden, and Mike Fratello, who had a handshake agreement with Isiah Thomas to coach the Knicks before Thomas decided to hire Lenny Wilkens.

Miller, of course, has a connection to Thomas. Besides playing against each other, Thomas was Miller's coach for three seasons at Indiana. Although the Pacers never advanced past the first round under Thomas, Indiana did reach the playoffs all three years under him.

Miller believes that considering the state of the Eastern Conference and the Knicks' talent base, Thomas should be able to get his team to crack the top eight.

"All I know is that Isiah has the talent to make them a playoff-caliber team," Miller said yesterday over the telephone. "With the talent New York has, they should easily be in the top six. Only Orlando and Boston are running away with the conference. New York is not out of it. All they need is a four- or five-game winning streak and they've already won two of them."

Miller added that it is important for Thomas and Stephon Marbury to be on the same page. When Miller played under Thomas, there were times when Miller, one of the game's greatest clutch players, was not on the floor in the fourth quarter of playoff games. Thomas was moving toward developing younger players and Miller didn't fit into those plans. But to his credit, Miller never voiced any opposition to Thomas' decisions and still won't. When Marbury disagreed with Thomas' choice of starters, he skipped town for 24 hours.

"It's disappointing," Miller added. "You always want your best player, which is Stephon Marbury, and head coach to get along. When Steph steps on the court, they've got to get on the same page. They've got to right the ship. It's disturbing. He flies home, flies back to L.A. The team votes (for him) not to play. Those are things that can destroy a team. You've got to make an example, but he plays him 40 minutes. What is that saying?"

Because of the Knicks' 4-9 record and the daily questions about Thomas' job security, Miller believes Thomas is facing the toughest challenge of his career.

"But this is what this nation is built on, comebacks and success stories," he said. "If he can turn this around and get them headed in the right direction.... People like to see success stories. And in the East, it is definitely possible."