The Knicks and Nets will squareoff atBarclays this Friday in a battle of disappointing squads. But when considering the state of each franchise going forward, it’sbeen the Knicks who have looked like a team starting to jell, while their Brooklyn counterpart appears rudderless.
New York(10-39) has won five of its last eightgames, and while that may not seem like anything monumental, the fact that half of their season win totalhas come in the last week, after ahistorically dreadful start (5-36), is reason for some optimism. Brooklyn (19-28), meanwhile, is on a 3-7 skid in itslast 10 contests, including a four-game losing streak at the end of January.
Although their improved play in recent games won’t mean much for this season and the overall big picture, it’s been encouraging forneophyte head coach Derek Fisher to see guys scrapping — even if it means they likely won’t even be on the roster come next season.As team president Phil Jackson loads up with cap space for the next two summers, he and Fisher will likely spend the rest of the season evaluating what pieces to keeparound superstar forward Carmelo Anthony.
The All-Star forward has admitted many times how “frustrating” this season has been,but at least he’s seeing some semblance of consistency that was bereft earlier in the year.
“Any time you can have some consistency you start to learn each other, you start to get comfortable with guys out there on the basketball court [and]you start to learn and figure out what each person can do, how they can do it,” Anthony said. “That builds trust among everybody else and also chemistry.”
Fisher has noticed the improved chemistry hasenabled the team toplay much harder than at any other time this season. The Knicks have seemed like a more cohesive unit since the trade of J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to the Cleveland Cavaliers, last month. It’s almost been addition by subtraction — something the Detroit Pistons happily experienced when they jettisoned the problematic Josh Smith. In the Knicks’ case, getting rid of their Smith has proved to be a blessing, as they rid themselves of the mercurial shooting guard who often broke the Triangle offense on a whim, and never seemed to buy intoFisher’s philosophies. Remember, Smith is the same guy who noted upon his arrival in Cleveland that when in doubt he’ll just shoot.
Fisher reasoned that the current locker room is much more accountable as well.
“No one person can take the blame. We all have to take responsibility where we are. I think leaders aren’t afraid to step out in front of anything,” Fisher said.”Hopefully we’ll have more guys in the locker room saying it stops with them …eventually we’re all owning to what’s going on.”
By riddingthe environment of anyresistance, Fisher now has more pep in his step and seems to be enjoying the role of teacher in this lost season.
“If you don’t enjoy it [teaching], maybe this isn’t where you want to be,” he said. “I’m enjoying that aspect of it. That’s where the relationships with your players are truly built, in the teaching and in helping guys evolve and see the game a certain way.”
The players that are no longer on the roster were the antithesis of that thinking, which is whyJackson wasitching to rid them of his locker room.Instead of placating to the likes of guys like Smith, who was never a great fit for Jackson’s Triangle,Anthony has been surrounded withhungry upstarts like D-League call-up Langston Galloway, Lance Thomas,Quincy Acy,and journeyman big Jason Smith, as well aswily vets who know how to share the load andmake smart choices in Lou Amundson andJose Calderon.
The Knicks certainly aren’t going anywhere this year, but at least there seems to be hope — and lots of spending money — on the horizon. The same can’t be said about a Nets squad that is heading in the wrong direction, cash-strapped,injury prone, and old — not to mention whispers of already wanting to rid themselves of first-year coach Lionel Hollins.
But at least Brooklyn will host the NBA All-Star festivities, next weekend, to distract their fans from this albatross of a season– so they have that going for them.