The Knicks are not just bad. The Knicks are bad and boring, and coach Don Chaney, tall, lean, bearded and helpless, is the unfortunate overseer of this mess. Whereas once a Knicks-Lakers game would have been worthy of the hype of a Sunday afternoon broadcast on NBC, this time it was barely worth the effort to flick your remote control. Last weekend, the Lakers came into a hushed Madison Square Garden and coasted to a 16-point victory, in an atmosphere so devoid of passion that it seemed almost ghostly.
Shaquille O’Neal poured in an easy thirty points, taunted the Knicks’ undersized front line, and then marveled at the relative silence of the Garden. Kobe Bryant, who wasn’t yet nine years old the last time the Knicks failed to make the playoffs, noted the Garden’s lack of “electricity". Phil Jackson, the Lakers coach and former Knick, expressed sentiments that bordered on sympathy for his opponent. And Chaney, the Knicks’ beleaguered coach, stayed in his office for twenty minutes – ten minutes more than the league-mandated cooling-off period – before finally meeting with reporters.
Chaney is, by all accounts, an optimistic man, a player’s coach. He is less intense than his predecessor, Jeff Van Gundy, who will forever be remembered for his ferocious leglock on Alonzo Mourning during the 1998 playoffs. But even for a man like Chaney, there is little to be optimistic about with the Knicks, who have blown leads and embarrassed themselves on a regular basis ever since he took over from Van Gundy 19 games into this season. The Knicks were 10-9 under Van Gundy. Since then, there has been not much life, and there has not been much hope. Their 111-68 loss to the Hornets on Martin Luther King Jr. Day was one of the darkest moments in the team history. The Knicks’ playoff prospects are virtually non-existent, which is an unwelcome situation for a franchise that has made the playoffs every year since the 1986-87 season.
The easy scapegoat is the coach, who, despite his respected background, may not last until the end of the season. Chaney has two NBA Championship rings and won NBA coach of the year honors while with the Rockets in 1991. “Synonymous with Success,"declares the headline of Chaney’s bio on the Knicks’ website. But not here, and not now. Van Gundy lost four straight games only once in his six seasons as coach; Chaney’s team has lost five in a row twice this season.
There is a good chance that Chaney will become the scapegoat for this failure. “Chaney must go now,’’ wrote Marc Berman in the New York Post after the disgrace against Charlotte. But no one is innocent. Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston have been inconsistent, Kurt Thomas has been in constant foul trouble, and as a team, the Knicks have not played good defense. The symptoms were there under Van Gundy, who had cut practice short the day before his resignation because of a lack of intensity, and who used the phrase “mailing it in" to describe the team’s early-season efforts. It’s enough to make you wonder whether Van Gundy saw this coming. And whether Chaney was merely unfortunate enough to inherit the mess.
“I think I’m a better coach now,’’ Chaney said in his bio. “One thing that I know I do now that I didn’t do then is that you have to find out the strength of your team early.’’
By now, it’s likely Chaney knows his team’s strengths. The problem with these Knicks is that even their strengths have wilted into something barely recognizable.
Michael Weinreb is a freelance writer based in New York and a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com
Tell us what you think about this article. E-mail us at HoopsHype@HoopsHype.com