"Heat" Is On Brown, Thomas To Solve Knicks Turmoil
NEW YORK -On the eve of the coach's 61st birthday, his players gift-wrapped the NBA's Southeast Division. But, the guaranteed playoff berth was nothing new to either Pat Riley or the Miami Heat. After torching the New York Knicks, 111-100, last Sunday, Miami [45-21] departed Madison Square Garden with victories in 15 of their last 16. They have become Showtime East, a modern day version of the championship Laker teams that Riley choreographed two decades ago.
Still, the buzz surrounding this nationally-televised contest was initiated more by the week-long feud between Larry Brown, a Hall-of-Fame coach, and Stephon Marbury, a Hall-of-Fame talent. That this event became a media circus -in spite of their unfathomable place in the standings, and in spite of how meaningless their once-promising season has become- should not surprise anyone.
But, Riley could not be baited into the trap that only one not-so-innocent question can set. "We can't fall for the extra-curricular activity," said the former New York coach who preferred to focus more on a game with meaning than a sideshow with little substance. "It's none of my business. So, I'm not going to comment on it."
Shandon Anderson, who signed with the Heat as a free agent in 2004, had witnessed his share of controversy during his three seasons with the Knicks.
"I got here right after 9/11. Then, everything was changin'," he said quietly. "There was a lot of confusion on the team. We had a few injuries -Allan Houston, for one-, and that hurt us. And, coaching changes, too [he played for Jeff Van Gundy, Don Chaney and Lenny Wilkens in his brief stint]. There were changes going on within the city, and within the team."
He appeared disillusioned as to what had happened in the opposing lockerroom. "I think it's on both of them [Brown and Marbury], but I don't know what the guys there are feeling.
"On this team, however, everything stays in-house. Around the league, that's standard." A shift to the Garden floor produced more responsive answers.
"It's more on the coach," declared Stephen A. Smith, a one-time basketball writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, who now hosts ESPN's "Quite Frankly". "I don't think there's any way to deny that. The coach is the leader of any team, particularly a coach of Larry Brown's magnitude. He's the $50 million dollar man. Whether he's right or wrong, he must do everything he can to derail the momentum of any controversy. Otherwise, he will be held accountable -because, in this situation, he is the franchise.
Greg Anthony, who played with New York from 1991-95 and is currently an ESPN Basketball Analyst, concurred -to a point. "When something gets out to the public, it becomes the responsibility of the coach to squash it. And not feed into it. Other than that, the responsibility is always equal.
"Anytime a basketball team underachieves -that is having the season the Knicks are-, this scenario will play out. The disappointment and frustration are there because the losing is there. The hope is that they'll both grow from it. And that the team can function." Or, play well in spite of themselves -as New York showed, in beating the Eastern Conference-leading Detroit Pistons on St. Patrick's Day.
"It can, potentially, divide a team," Smith added. "Ultimately, people will be forced to take sides. They will be asked who favors who. Unless the players have no feelings or opinions whatsoever -which is rarely the case-, that will assist in dividing the lockerroom. And, that's never good."
"This is, pure and simple, about the New York Knicks [and not what happened between the coach and player throughout the 2004 Olympics]," Anthony noted. "There were high expectations -because a Hall of Fame coach was brought in- and the team had a lot of youth and energy and excitement. Then, this transpires, and has brought out the worst in everybody."
Smith, too, wouldn't use the tenuous history between Brown and Marbury as an alibi. "This could not have been foreseen. It wouldn't have happened had the team not been playing as bad as it is. The fact that they have played so bad has everything to do with the friction. Otherwise, Larry wouldn't be moody and upset, and the players wouldn't be moody and upset. Everyone would be dealing with one another accordingly, because there wouldn't be as much to complain about."
He cited a specific experience to back his claim.
"I was in Philly, covering the 76ers, all six years that Larry was there [1997/98-2002/03]. I know, for a fact, that he had this same controversy with Allen Iverson. The difference was that Allen led his team to the playoffs." "Now," Anthony warned, "it's about what happens afterward -from the front office to the head coach to the players who have to deal with it."