You can always count on humorist Brad Dickson to find a way to merge current events in the sports world with current events in the world at large. Here is one of his Tweets from yesterday:
“Biden’s really getting tough with Putin. He just threatened to send Juwan Howard to the front lines.”
Last season, the New York Knicks made the playoffs finishing 4th in the Eastern Conference; Julius Randle was named the Most Improved Player in the league and coach Tom Thibodeau was named Coach of the Year in his first season on the Knicks’ bench. It was quite a turnaround for the Knicks. In the two previous seasons combined, the team won a total of 38 games; last year the team record was 41-31. That sort of performance would generate excitement almost anywhere, but things tend to be magnified in NYC so expectations for this season were sky high.
Let me be kind and say that the Knicks have not quite delivered on those lofty expectations to date this season. As of this morning the Knicks record is 25-34; they are in 12th place in the Eastern Conference and are 3.5 games below the line that would earn them a play-in shot at the playoffs. Julius Randle has not “continued to improve” his stats year over year as should be expected for a player that won the Most Improved label last season; the phenomenon of regression to the mean is very real even in situations where fans may not wish for it to be. Randle’s season has not been disaster; that would be far too harsh a judgment, but the reality is:
- Points per game – – down 4.6
- FG %-age – – down 3.5%
- 3 Pt FG %-age – – down 10.5%
Randle has taken a lot of heat for those numbers but nothing quite like the heat felt by Coach Thibodeau. Reports in the NY press have it that folks in the Knicks’ Front Office want to pin the blame for the unsatisfactory season on Thibodeau and want him fired for it. In my mind, that is ridiculous. One of the main reasons that the Knicks surprised folks last year was a healthy Derrick Rose; might it not be remotely possible that the Knicks’ misfortunes this year could be tied to the fact that Derrick Rose has been injured since early December and has missed 33 games this year?
The NBA Coach of the Year is decided by a vote of sportswriters from all around the league; Thibodeau has won the award twice in his career. That process is clearly subjective, but it does represent the thinking and the observations of people outside the Knicks’ organization. Those people thought that Thibodeau did the best coaching job in the league last year. Now, there are supposedly folks “upstairs” in the Knicks’ organization who think that Thibodeau lost a bunch of his “basketball-IQ points” over the offseason and that he should be jettisoned. Seriously …?
The New York Knicks have won exactly one playoff series since the 2000-2001 season. Jeff Van Gundy left the Knicks in mid-season in 2001 and since then the Knicks have had 14 head coaches in the intervening 21 years.
- Maybe – just throwing this out as a hypothesis – the Knicks Front Office and the team owner do not know what to look for when they go out on the market to hire a head coach?
If that hypothesis has any validity, why should anyone in NYC who is a Knicks’ fan think that firing a two-time winner of the Red Auerbach Trophy will result in a coaching upgrade on the Knicks’ bench next season?
Meanwhile out in LA – another city where expectations and fan reaction are magnified – the Lakers are almost as disappointing as the Knicks. The Lakers’ record this morning is 27-31; they are in that part of the Western Conference standings where they would get to play themselves into the playoffs. However, LeBron James has had some nagging injury woes tis season; Russell Westbrook has simply not fit in with the team and has even been benched for critical times in games this season and Anthony Davis is hurt yet again. Notwithstanding that sort of player performance/availability issues, there are rumblings that Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel will not be back next season.
Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times assessed the Lakers’ situation this way:
“A cargo ship packed with luxury cars caught fire and is aimlessly adrift in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
“Sort of the nautical equivalent of the L.A. Lakers.”
The “problem” in NY and in LA is the same “problem”. The roster is not well constructed. In NY, Tom Thibodeau wants his team to play solid defense and win games by limiting how many points the other guys score. When the Knicks’ Front Office chose to acquire Kemba Walker in the last off-season they gave Thibodeau a player who cannot play the way Thibodeau wants his team to play. Walker’s calling card in the NBA is as a scorer; his defense is best described as “accidental” because that is more polite than saying even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while. Kemba Walker is not a bad player; the “problem” is that he cannot do what he is asked to do for the Knicks.
In LA, the roster is composed of three superstars and a bunch of guys. Moreover, the three superstars do not bring different skill sets to the court. None of them are shut-down defenders; all of them love to shoot three-point shots and unless Russell Westbrook can dominate the ball, his effectiveness as a scorer is limited. And none of that should be counted as debits on Frank Vogel’s coaching ledger.
Finally, I found this item in Gregg Drinnan’s blog, Taking Note, recently:
“Mike Lupica, in the New York Daily News: ‘Dr. Oz vs. Dr. Phil in an old-time steel cage match — no way to root, right?’”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………