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Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Knicks' family feud: Fight or flight?

By Ian Begley

Anthony
Yeah, we know. It's bad out there.
Anyone who has watched a highlight show or looked at a box score over the past two weeks knows the New York Knicks are struggling.

They haven't won a game since Nov. 13, a few days after owner James Dolan guaranteed that they would. Since then, the Knicks have lost nine straight to fall to 3-13 going into Thursday night's game against the Brooklyn Nets. They have also dropped seven in a row at home.

You don't need a master's in sports psychology to conclude that the losses have taken a toll on the players. But ugly things happen below the surface when you lose like the Knicks have been losing.

Public flare-ups, private infighting, unchecked tempers. The Knicks have experienced all of the above over the past few weeks.

In the hours before Sunday's game against the New Orleans Pelicans, Kenyon Martin and Metta World Peace -- two proud veterans -- got into a heated exchange during a closed practice.

The source of the dispute is unclear, though Martin and World Peace, according to sources, smoothed things over before the start of Sunday's game.

But the Knicks' family feud continued later that night. MSG Network cameras showed Iman Shumpert yelling at Carmelo Anthony during a Knicks huddle in the third quarter of their latest dispiriting defeat. Shumpert appeared to be upset with Anthony after Ryan Anderson, Anthony's man, hit an open 3-pointer. Shumpert's outburst earned him a seat on the bench for the rest of the game.

You can draw two wildly different conclusions from these incidents.

A cynic would say that the infighting is a sign that the Knicks are coming apart at the hinges. Others might surmise that the squabbles are a sign that the Knicks are finally starting to show some fight.

Players aren't the only members of the organization who seem to be affected by the losing. The front office, as you may have heard, has been shopping Shumpert for weeks. It certainly isn't an ideal time to trade Shumpert. The third-year guard has struggled to produce during long stretches this season. His Player Efficiency Rating (a measure of a player's per-minute production) is at a career low.

So the front office, naturally, has been doing its best to increase Shumpert's trade value in its discussions with potential suitors. It has played up the fact that he's young, on a cheap contract and a two-way player.

According to league sources with knowledge of the team's talks with potential trade partners, president/GM Steve Mills' management team has also cited Mike Woodson's coaching as one reason for Shumpert's poor play.

"They're saying that Shumpert's a better player [than he's shown] but Woodson isn't using him right," one league source said.

This isn't the only means by which the Knicks front office has tried to sell Shumpert. And it's not all that out of the ordinary in the NBA to take this tactic. Heck, plenty of Knicks fans may agree with what the front office is saying about Woodson's use of Shumpert.

But it doesn't bode well for team unity when the front office is speaking ill of the head coach -- particularly when the team last won a home game on the day before Halloween.

For the record, Woodson angrily denied any suggestion that he had a rift with Shumpert last week.

"If I didn't like him, I don't think he'd be averaging 30 minutes on my ballclub," Woodson told reporters. "You got to look at that. I like everybody on our team. So that perception is bulls--- if you ask me."

Now, where the Knicks go from here is unclear. You can make the argument that the infighting among players shows that they have a pulse, that they're tired of getting embarrassed on the court.

But if things don't go in the other direction for the Knicks, and quickly, it would be easy to draw another conclusion: All the losing is tearing this team apart.

You can follow Ian Begley on Twitter.