2006-04-21 / Sports

For Beleaguered Knicks, Nowhere To Go But Sideways

By John J. Buro

It looks miserable for the New York Knicks. There's no denying that. For openers, there is the questionable health of their 65 year-old coach. Statistically, they are staring at a 59-loss season, with one game remaining; a loss in the final game, against the Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey Nets would ensure the organization's first 60-loss season.

New York has employed 42 different starting line-ups and their 59 losses represent the most since another Brown -Hubie- coached here twenty years ago. The immediate future doesn't include a No. 1 pick because it was surrendered in the Eddy Curry deal.

This is what the Knicks have received for a $123.6 million investment [note: the NBA salary cap for 2005-06 was projected to be $49.5 million]. Larry Brown has just completed the first of a five-year, $50 million contract. He also received $6 million as part of a negotiated settlement with the Detroit Pistons. So, financially, it was a terrific year.

But, continuous health issues -most recently a bout with acid reflux-, a less-than-cohesive team, and friction with Stephon Marbury, the team's best talent, have cemented Brown's worst season on the bench guiding the 1988-89 San Antonio Spurs to a 21-61 mark.

If payroll is any measure of a team, then the Charlotte Bobcats are expected to languish. Sadly, in this league $33.3 million will not buy a whole lot.

An hour before their final home game of this wretched 2005-06 campaign -and three hours before a 98-91 loss to the aforementioned, but not-quite-as-awful Bobcats, Herb Williams faced the media. The interim coach -who has bridged the gap between Lenny Wilkens and Brown- was honest and open, and quite relaxed.

"After this season," he said, "there should be a lot of regret. We started the year with the hope of making the playoffs. When that didn't happen, we were disappointed. And, if we weren't, then we're in the wrong game and should be doing something else."

Such a thought may not be a bad idea. At the very least, part of the roster should be playing somewhere else.

Too many things remain to be seen. For instance, whether or not Brown returns. Insiders claim he will, and even Marbury, his nemesis, insists, "I think that he's coming back. I don't see why he wouldn't. He is going to get evaluated and, if he's healthy enough, get ready for next year.

"I spoke to Coach, sent him my condolences, and let him know that my family and I are praying for him. This is a tough situation for him and his family, and everyone is worried about him. So, I made sure to talk to him.

"With him and me, it was never personal. It was always business."

The business of Brown's health aside, it is time for a new strategy. A salary dump, which was favored by the New York Rangers two years ago, is something that could, and should, be considered. There are just too many players who make too much money and not produce enough to be part of next year's version. Terms such as "too many" and "too much" become very noticeable on an 11-man roster.Perhaps, such an issue is overlooked on a winning team. After all, winning is a cure-all.

However, the Knicks do not have such a luxury. They cannot win consistently in front of their home crowd; they cannot win consistently on the road. There are, simply, no more venues to opt from.

They can't get much worse. But, they can get better -a whole lot better. For now, however, mediocrity would be a great start.

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