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Basketball notes

Ongoing court drama in NY

By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / December 7, 2008
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New Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni truly understands now why it's been sung time and time again that if you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere.

The 58-year-old D'Antoni has coached in Italy, had a short stint with the Denver Nuggets, and had a lot of success with the Phoenix Suns. But in all of those 14 previous coaching seasons combined, there probably isn't enough drama to compete with what he has dealt with in his first month coaching the Knicks.

"I've seen different episodes happen at different times," said D'Antoni. "But I haven't seen it happen at one time. That's always a possibility. You hope it doesn't happen.

"The trade that hasn't been quite completed. The injuries and Stephon . . . I've been privy to everything, but not all at one time."

Unquestionably, the biggest issue for D'Antoni in November was the Stephon Marbury soap opera, which is ongoing.

D'Antoni and Knicks president Donnie Walsh decided before training camp that Marbury wasn't in their plans. Considering the firing of Larry Brown as coach, the firing of Isiah Thomas as coach and general manager, and the sexual harassment lawsuit that they lost, the last thing the Knicks needed was more drama.

But instead of doing preventative maintenance by buying Marbury out of the final year of his contract (worth $21 million), the Knicks let the drama become a media monster.

Marbury responded by ripping D'Antoni in the New York Post repeatedly. There was a Marbury suspension and a he said-he said about whether or not Marbury declined D'Antoni's request that he play. The Knicks finally had enough last Monday, telling Marbury he was banished. A buyout has yet to be worked out.

"I recognized from the very beginning that it was a tough situation for him," said D'Antoni. "It's not a situation that anyone would care to be in. But you have to make the best of it.

"It didn't work out real well. But there are no hard feelings. You try to move on and you do what you do."

The Knicks made two major trades, dealing their top two scorers in Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph while acquiring Al Harrington, Tim Thomas, and ex-Rhode Island star Cuttino Mobley. Because of a heart ailment that has been likened by The New York Times to the one that led to Reggie Lewis's death, it's uncertain whether Mobley will ever play again.

"He's getting tests this week," said D'Antoni, "and then after that the doctors will sit down and evaluate everything and come to a conclusion."

The Knicks have been riddled with injuries. Forward Jared Jeffries missed November with a broken leg. Heralded rookie forward Danilo Gallinari has been sidelined for most of the season with a back issue. Center Eddy Curry has been out with a bacterial infection and sore right knee. Others have been in and out.

There is some good news. With the trades, the Knicks have enough salary cap space to make a strong run in the 2010 LeBron James sweepstakes. When the Cavaliers came to Madison Square Garden recently, a media circus - and a blowout of the Knicks - followed.

Oh yeah, the Knicks won only eight of their first 18 games and are on pace to miss the playoffs for the fifth straight year.

So has the dust finally settled, Mike?

"A little bit," D'Antoni said.

Said ex-Knicks star Allan Houston, "New York is the type of place where it's extreme. If you do something good, it's the best thing that ever happened. If you do something wrong, it's the worst thing and it's going to be talked about for several days, where in other places it just goes away."

Not too early for Star-gazing
The first All-Star voting results will be released Thursday, with a potential issue at the forefront. Second-year New Jersey forward Yi Jianlian could be aided strongly by votes from his native China as he competes for one of the two starting Eastern Conference forward spots with superstars Kevin Garnett and LeBron James.

If Yi is not voted in as an All-Star, the budding big man has no chance of the East coaches voting him in as a reserve. But when the reserves are revealed for the Feb. 15 game in Phoenix, there could be a lot of new blood.

Boston guard Rajon Rondo, Indiana forward Danny Granger, New Jersey guard Devin Harris, Chicago rookie point guard Derrick Rose, Orlando forward Hedo Turkoglu, and Atlanta guard Mike Bibby all could make a run for their first All-Star appearance.

While Utah point guard Deron Williams should be picked as a reserve for what would be his first appearance, the long list of talented big men in the West will make it tough for the Lakers' Andrew Bynum, Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge, Denver's Nene, Golden State's Andris Biedrins, and Minnesota's Al Jefferson to break in for the first time, unless there is an injury.

Granger, who is averaging 23.3 points, believes the amount of success the Pacers have will determine his All-Star fate.

"If you're on a winning team, you are always going to get more recognition than when you are on a losing team," said Granger.

"If we win, I won't have to worry about being an All-Star."

Etc.
Spurs are on the rise Longtime San Antonio public address announcer Stan Kelly was known for exclaiming, "Here come the Spurs." Well, after some early-season struggles and injuries, the Western Conference had better beware, because here come the Spurs. The Spurs were stymied by not having guard Manu Ginobili (ankle surgery) for the first 12 games. Moreover, point guard Tony Parker also missed nine games with an ankle injury. But with their version of "The Big Three" - Parker, Ginobili, and Tim Duncan - all healthy and with the kinks worked out, the Spurs made a statement by routing the hot Nuggets, 108-91, in Denver last Thursday. The Spurs started 10-8, but there is a lot of time to turn things around if they stay healthy. "We are just trying to right our ship right now," Duncan said after the Denver game. "It doesn't matter if we play the last-place team or the first-place team, we are trying to get ourselves right." If there was a silver lining during the absence of Ginobili and Parker, it was that rookie point guard George Hill got valuable playing time, showed flashes of greatness, and gained confidence. Hill, taken with the 26th overall pick out of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, could be the Spurs' latest draft steal. Through 16 games (six starts), the 6-foot-2-inch, 190-pounder averaged 10.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 3.0 assists in 22.7 minutes. "He is ahead of schedule, mostly because we've learned he has a great demeanor," said coach Gregg Popovich. "He has a good mental toughness. He doesn't get too enamored over a good play or depressed when something goes wrong."

Free throws Although the Thunder are struggling to win, they have a lot of intriguing veteran players with tradeable contracts who could help contending teams: Nick Collison, Desmond Mason, Joe Smith, Earl Watson, Chris Wilcox, and Damien Wilkins. But unless the Thunder can get a talented young player or veteran who fits their rebuilding plan, expect them to stand pat since they seem to like most of their vets . . . Blazers young big men Greg Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge both expressed interest in taking part in a development camp for USA Basketball's Select Team next summer. That would improve their chances of eventually being added to the senior team.

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com

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