If indeed Mike Woodson’s job was at stake Thursday night as the Knicks entered Brooklyn on a nine-game losing streak — looking nothing like the 54-win team from a year ago that reached the Eastern Conference semifinals — then his players exemplified their passion for their coach with an impressive 30-point win.
The Knicks resembled that playoff team draining 3-pointers from all spots on the floor, whipping the ball to each other with vigor, and offering assistance to leading scorer CarmeloAnthony, turning him into a better all-around player as he approached a triple-double.
All was well for one night in New York, but this team still has a plethora of issues as the organization attempts to determine its long-term future. Firstly, Anthony has already said he will opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent this summer, putting his Knicks’ status in limbo.
Secondly, the Knicks are devoid of draft picks, meaning they have little to offer teams in trades, besides inconsistent Iman Shumpert. The rumor that the Knicks approached the Celtics about Rajon Rondo and offered Shumpert caused laughter among the Boston brass because the Celtics want first-round picks, especially if they are to deal with a division rival.
The Knicks traded their 2014 first-round pick to Denver in the Anthony deal, agreed to potentially swap picks with the Nuggets in 2016, and if they do get Denver’s pick in ’16, it goes to Toronto in the Andrea Bargnani deal.
And even if the Knicks lose Anthony after the season, they still have $68 million in committed salaries for 2014-15, a combined $50 million to Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, and Bargnani. So, the Knicks are at a crossroads. They were built to compete now but no one expected Stoudemire would be clipped by knee injuries.
What’s more, he spent pregame Thursday with large inflatable bags on each of his legs, laying on the floor watching game video on a laptop. He then played 20 minutes and contributed 11 points and four rebounds in the victory.
To compete in the Eastern Conference, the Knicks desperately needed a capable Stoudemire. He has scored in double figures just three times this season but the ever-optimistic veteran said he will return to vintage form.
“It’s going to come back,” he said. “The more I play, the more I get into a rhythm. The more active, then the better it becomes. It’s just a matter of will, determination, and hard work.”
There isn’t much the Knicks can do this season because their roster is so flawed. They relied on J.R. Smith to continue the momentum he generated in last year’s Sixth Man of the Year campaign. He entered Saturday shooting 35 percent from the field. Bargnani has the ability to take centers on the perimeter and shoot from outside, but his defense is suspect and his rebounding is lacking.
Raymond Felton, who scorched the Celtics in the first-round playoff series last season, is shooting 41 percent from the field and 29 percent from the 3-point line. Woodson has taken the brunt of the blame for the 5-13 start, and his job could be on the line if they continue to struggle before Christmas.
“We’ve been playing better, we just haven’t been able to close,” Woodson said. “That’s an area we’ve got to get better at. Every game, we’re in. We haven’t been blown out of many games. Just a matter of getting it done down the stretch.
“I know going through this stretch has been tough on all of us. But they still come to work. The last couple of days have been high-energy practices. That’s how it’s got to be. We’ve got to work our way out of the hole that we’ve dug.”
The speculation on Anthony’s status is beginning to percolate. There are those who believe he will leave New York regardless, and the Knicks should offer him to a competing team by February in order to prevent him from walking away with no compensation.
There are others who feel he’s attempting to recruit free agents to come to New York for the challenge of bringing the Knicks back to prosperity. The Knicks have done a poor job of surrounding Anthony with capable complements, but he also hasn’t played like a franchise cornerstone.
Anthony scored less on Thursday but contributed more because he actually passed the ball and his teammates were hitting shots.
“It was like night and day,” he said of his 19-point, 10-rebound, 6-assist performance. “That’s the way I know we can play, making shots. Defensively, we stepped up to the plate. Guys stepped up big time. The guys allowed me to just lead them tonight by doing their part.”
Anthony had been more vocal of late about the losing streak and how much blame he accepts for the collapse. Because his playing style is perceived as scoring-centric and selfish, Anthony is considered the central figure in the Knicks’ inability to compete with the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. The best New York has fared with Anthony is the conference semifinals, which is considered a failure for what the Knicks invested to acquire him.
“Everybody had that feeling like we were tired of losing,” he said. “It showed from the tipoff. Any time you’re losing, guys are going to laugh at you. When you’re doing bad, guys laugh at you. When you’re doing good, guys pat you on the back, that’s just society. We’ve been losing, guys were laughing at us.”
What has occurred in New York is not entirely Woodson’s or Anthony’s fault. Stoudemire turned old quickly. The Knicks made a grave mistake relying too heavily on Smith and gave away all their draft picks and sacrificed cap space trying to compete immediately when LeBron James spurned them. All parties involved are at fault, but the best way to rectify the issue long term for the Knicks is by trades, reacquiring draft picks, and building for the future. But the add-Carmelo-and-compete plan has failed miserably.
Rose believes he’ll rise to top of the class again
Derrick Rose took the cautious approach with another injury to a knee. This one was to the right knee, where he tore the meniscus in a loss two weeks ago at Portland and decided to have surgery to reattach the cartilage to the knee instead of shaving it off. The latter approach sidelines players for about six weeks to two months.
Rose is expected to miss the rest of the regular season but said that if the Bulls rallied to make the postseason and he was healthy enough, he would return. That’s a lofty goal, but Rose appears better adjusted to this knee ailment than his torn left anterior cruciate ligament that cost him a full season in 2012-13.
“This shouldn’t be hard for me at all; I don’t have anything to complain about,” he said. “Me having this time off just to think and grow as a man, grow as a businessman. Basketball, I’m not worried about that. If anything, this should even me out. It was kind of like a freak accident. If this was to happen 10 more times, I’d be able to deal with it.”
Chicago was expected to be an Eastern Conference title contender with Rose back but he started slowly in recovering from the torn ACL. When he began to get into game shape and felt comfortable with his left leg, he tore the meniscus in his right on a non-contact injury. He refuses to believe he’s cursed, but there are those who are speculating that Rose may never be the same impact player because his game relied so much on speed, sudden moves, and athleticism.
“You can be a fool if you want to [and give up on me], but I know I will be all right,” he said. “The only thing that I am missing is a championship. My career is going to be judged by championships. You can keep all the individual stuff.
“That’s what’s heartbreaking. I think I put two good games together, the way that I performed, I was coming back to myself. I think it was a matter of time that I was going to catch my rhythm. It’s super-hard just being out there with those guys — like training camp you have so many goals you want to achieve as a team, you go through so many hard practices with your teammates — and you can’t be a part of it anymore. Going through the wars with them, being on the court, talking basketball with them, it’s over. I could complain and pout about it but that’s not going to do anything. I’ve got a long time before I come back, so I would rather smile than be sad.”
With Rose and Rajon Rondo out with knee injuries, the NBA has been deprived of two of its top point guards. Rondo is expected to return within a month but Rose will attempt to resurrect his career in 2014-15 after missing nearly two full seasons, which is Bernard King territory. It’s nearly impossible for athletes to regain their previous prowess after missing nearly two full years. Rose said he is an exceptional case.
“I believe that I’m a special player; I think people love the way that I play,” he said. “I’ve just got a feel for the game and I know my story is far from done. I know it is. He’s just preparing me for something big. This is something that just happened but I’m never going to stop. I could tear it 10 more times, I’m never going to stop.”
UNIQUE ROOTING INTEREST
Hawks, not Nets, hold key to draft for Celtics
While the Celtics received three first-round draft picks in the deal that sent Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets — 2014, 2016, 2018 — Boston does not necessarily receive Brooklyn’s pick in this June’s draft, making for an interesting scenario.
The Nets made a blockbuster deal with the Atlanta Hawks in the summer of 2012, acquiring JoeJohnson for a slew of draft picks and giving the Hawks the right to swap picks in 2014. Because the Nets are so putrid, that pick could now land high in the lottery, but because of the Johnson deal, the Hawks have the right to swap for it.
If the Hawks do swap picks with Brooklyn, the Celtics get the pick the Nets would receive in return from the Hawks. Meaning, Celtics fans should root harder for the Hawks to lose than the Nets because if Brooklyn finishes with a high lottery pick, it goes to Atlanta. The Hawks have begun the season a surprising 11-10 and would pick 18th if the season ended today.
Having their own pick and Atlanta’s pick would still be a gold mine considering the depth of this draft, but that Johnson deal eliminates the possibility of the Celtics having full ownership of Brooklyn’s pick. As for future first-round picks, the Celtics own the Clippers’ pick in 2015, the Nets’ pick in 2016, have the right to swap picks with the Nets in 2017, and own the Nets’ pick in 2018.
The Pierce-Garnett deal will become the gift that keeps on giving.
Kidd’s choice to coach impacted pair of teams
Jason Kidd abruptly retired in June to become coach of the Nets, a development that was shocking considering he had never been a coach at any level. Mike Woodson said he was almost certain Kidd would return for another year with the Knicks as a player. Kidd was a shell of himself during the New York playoff run but Woodson wanted him to return to back up Raymond Felton and also play a leadership role.
Former Celtics coach Doc Rivers raved about Kidd’s intelligence and his ability to play great defense because of his anticipation skills despite declining physical skills. Woodson was stunned when Kidd retired.
“Absolutely, I thought he was coming back,” Woodson said. “I did. I was surprised, but again, Jason has spent a long time in this league and he has a right to retire and move on. He had something else going, to be [in Brooklyn] as a head coach. But we would have loved to have him back. That just wasn’t the case.”
Kidd said he was flattered by the perception that he had an impact on the Knicks’ younger players, especially J.R. Smith, who has struggled this season without Kidd on the roster.
“I enjoyed those guys. I had a great time, we had a great run,” Kidd said of his season in New York. “We all in that locker room felt it probably ended a little earlier than it should have, but we lost to a talented team in Indiana.
“J.R. is a very talented player. I hope I helped him. He’s a great kid. But those guys in that locker room were all talented and they all know how to play.”
The cancellation of the Spurs-Timberwolves game Wednesday in Mexico City because of smoke in the arena caused by a generator malfunction was a small blow to commissioner David Stern’s quest to play additional games in other countries. While games in London have gone off without a glitch, an NBA regular-season game in Mexico City was risky from the start and the Spurs and Timberwolves must now reschedule the game for Minneapolis, much to the chagrin of San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. Both teams wasted valuable travel time to get to Mexico City, so the league is obviously going to think twice about returning there. Deputy commissioner Adam Silver, who will assume Stern’s duties in February, told the Globe last month the league plans to play more games in other countries but a potential expansion team in Europe may be years away . . . The Hawks took German point guard DennisSchroeder to perhaps serve as a backup to JeffTeague but he lost his spot to former Butler University standout Shelvin Mack and now has been sent to Bakersfield of the NBADL for more seasoning. Schroeder has been compared to Rajon Rondo because of his passing skills and unorthodox game but likely will make his impact in future years . . . While Ben McLemore was named Western Conference Rookie of the Month for November, he didn’t have much competition. McLemore, who leads Western rookies in points (9.8) and minutes (23.4) per game, edged out Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams (4.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg) for the honor. Meanwhile, the Thunder sent first-round pick Andre Roberson, who was expected to make an immediate impact, to the NBADL for more playing time. He has played in just six games. The 76ers’ Michael Carter-Williams is a near cinch for Rookie of the Year through the first month, averaging 17.7 points per game . . . NBA TV picked up and then dropped Friday’s Lakers-Kings matchup (when Kobe Bryant announced he wasn’t making his season debut) and picked up Saturday’s Clippers-Cavaliers game . . . The NBA will return to Sirius Radio with its own 24-hour channel beginning Monday. Hosts will include Kenny Smith, Steve Kerr, NancyLieberman, Lionel Hollins, Sam Mitchell, and Mike Dunleavy. Celtics coach Brad Stevens, rookie forward/center Kelly Olynyk, and forward Brandon Bass will be guests during the opening week . . . According to Vivid Seats, the Celtics are the league’s 11th-best road draw this year. As expected, the Miami Heat are the top road draw, increasing face ticket prices by 141.6 percent, followed by the Los Angeles Lakers (86.6), Oklahoma City Thunder (42.8), Chicago Bulls (37.2) and New York Knicks (33).