Commentary

These Knicks don't have a clue

No toughness, no D, no faith in one another. Can D'Antoni fix it? He'd better, and fast.

Updated: March 24, 2011, 9:30 AM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Monday night started with the New York Knicks introducing the Boston Celtics to a team we hadn't seen since the days of Pat Riley, Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason.

It continued with blood splattered on the Madison Square Garden floor, punctuated with near fisticuffs from Amare Stoudemire -- and teammates surprisingly eager to come to his aid. But once the final buzzer sounded and it was time to exhale, seconds removed from evident demoralization of a 96-86 defeat, it was clear these latest representatives of Gotham City didn't warrant any comparisons at all.

Just pity!

There are no Oakleys or Masons, just Ronny Turiaf and Jared Jeffries. There isn't a Riley on the bench, just Mike D'Antoni, who appears to detest everything Riley represented when he was with the Knicks -- meaning rigidity and toughness. By now we've also learned, excruciatingly, that there is no defense, very little toughness or offensive efficiency, no team in any sense that really matters. Just a collection of NBA-caliber talent paid to wear blue-and-orange uniforms.

Point guard Chauncey Billups wasn't shy about saying, "We're struggling right now, ain't no doubt about it," and his candor should be appreciated. Considering the misfit squad that keeps diminishing our hopes and expectations for the 2010-11 season with each passing game, it is good that we can't call the players liars as well.

A season is not made in a week or two any more than a stellar game epitomizes greatness. But if what we've witnessed in the past nine days symbolizes anything, it is that the Knicks are falling apart before our very eyes.

They've lost to sub-.500 teams. They've made marginal opposing players look like All-Stars. They've appeared disoriented in running plays, at getting to key spots on the floor and forcing misses, transforming themselves into laughingstocks. Privately, as a result, they have lost faith in one another.

But especially in their coach.

"We panicked," D'Antoni said after the Knicks were outscored 23-4 in the game's final 7:26, with the Celtics holding them to 1-for-11 shooting from the field, including three turnovers in that span. "We didn't play the way we're capable of playing. Obviously, we're getting to the point where we've got to figure something out."

It would really, really behoove D'Antoni to do so. Because things just ain't pretty for him right now.

There's a reason Carmelo Anthony hasn't been interested in speaking to the media lately. Check Grandma's old adage to figure out why: When you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. Since you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who'll say something nice about D'Antoni these days, it all makes sense.

"I love Coach," Stoudemire told me recently. "He knows what he's doing. We just need to make adjustments, that's all."

Actually, that's not all.

The Knicks religiously have been in the league's bottom five defensively since D'Antoni arrived in 2008. Recently, Anthony has echoed the need for defensive schemes and principles. And he's not alone, with a bevy of other Knicks feeling that way, creating a divisive atmosphere that's bound to implode.

After their loss to the Celtics, Billups, Stoudemire, Anthony, Jeffries and others were experts in evasive measures. "We sense the momentum -- we're not stupid," one Knick told me. "We can feel the heat coming in [D'Antoni's] direction. We're staying clear of that mess."

Publicly, that is!

Privately, the Knicks question whether they should just run up and down the floor jacking up shots. They've wondered somewhat aloud whether the game should be slowed to let Stoudemire and Anthony operate in a more structured offense. Defensively, they're offended by the notion of that word and their team being mentioned in the same breath. They don't like being laughed at. And tension is elevating because of it.

Down the hall, away from players, reporters are whispering about hearing assistant coaches worry that Anthony is going to get them fired. Anthony's mood and demeanor say he wouldn't mind that at all. Nobody's taking Stoudemire's compliments seriously because D'Antoni is connected to that $100 million check he's cashing.

"It's bad over there," one Celtic, who's tight with several of the Knicks, told me after the game. "Right or wrong, they're not feeling [D'Antoni]. They just ain't."

Neither is the rest of New York. Not when the Knicks are 7-9 since Anthony arrived, having lost two games to Cleveland and two more to the Indiana Pacers, not to mention Friday's game in Detroit when the Knicks couldn't get any stops in the fourth quarter. And then there was that abysmal first quarter of their very next game in Milwaukee, in which they trailed 32-9 and emerged with another loss.

"Tough moments happen sometimes," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who had his share of scary moments on Monday night, watching Ray Allen lie bloodied on the floor in the third quarter after a nasty collision, then later witnessing Kevin Garnett sprawled on the floor after diving for a loose ball. "What folks may not realize is that you stay the course. You do what you do. You don't deviate from what's worked for you in the past."

It depends on the definition of "worked." For Rivers, it translates to championships. For D'Antoni, "contention" would do just fine.

Surrendering 33 points in the fourth quarter on 70 percent shooting and relegating oneself to a No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference doesn't qualify as contending. Not now. Now with this roster. Not if you're the no-defense-playing Knicks, surrendering six dunks on seven shots in the post during crunch time.

"We just need time together, to practice somewhere other than in the middle of games," Billups deadpanned.

He should have plenty of time come April, from the looks of things.

D'Antoni? Perhaps a little more than that, if things don't change quickly, fast and in a hurry.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, a co-host on First Take" and a regular on "SportsCenter."

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