Commentary

Blame Knicks players, not D'Antoni

Melo, Amare need to step up and prove they're worth the money

Updated: January 20, 2012, 2:15 PM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Prancing into the Macy's on 34th Street right before a game on Wednesday night, a fan wearing a New York Knicks cap proudly looked at his friend, chronicled the team's roster, then stuck out his chest and asked in I-dare-you fashion, "How good do you think they're going to be this season?" The friend, clearly a contrarian, responded by saying: "I have no idea. When they start playing, I'll be sure to let you know."

It is 14 games into this truncated 2011-12 season, and to say basketball league-wide has been pathetic would be kind. From city to city across the NBA landscape, there's no place where quality basketball is being played. Yet everybody else seems to be playing better ball than the Knicks right now.

Where are you, Carmelo Anthony?

Amare Stoudemire! Nobody's forgotten about you, either.

[+] EnlargeCarmelo Anthony
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIRemind us: Who are you?

We all understand that Anthony's left wrist has been hurting, that he's far from healthy. But when you shoot 5-of-22 from the field like Melo did in Wednesday's 91-88 loss to the Phoenix Suns, when you're shooting 35-for-102 over the last five games -- and you're getting no help of consequence from the other forward with $80 million owed to him over the next four years -- the time for assuming things will get better must be usurped by WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?

The Knicks stink, ladies and gentlemen! We all know it. Even with an improved defense, with more effort being displayed, they simply just stink.

You are awful when you shoot 37.2 percent from the field, like the Knicks did Wednesday night. You're horrible when you've spent each of the past seven games shooting no better than 41.7 percent. And once factoring in the reality that coach Mike D'Antoni is supposed to be an offensive guru, yet even he's acknowledging "we're in a little bit of a crisis," what else is there to say? Especially with the Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers all having better records than the Knickerbockers.

There may be a time to call for D'Antoni's ouster, but it's not now. Those were open shots the Knicks were caroming off the rim in the loss to the Suns. D'Antoni has a few faults to be sure, but not having Steve Nash (26 points, 11 assists) isn't one of them.

"That's one part that should be the easiest," D'Antoni deadpanned Wednesday evening, alluding to scoring. "I'm not understanding how we can score [just] 88 points ... "

Neither can the rest of us.

Taking into account one player's proclamation, "Don't blame Coach. It ain't him," we're inevitably led toward Anthony and Stoudemire. Certainly, they were not brought to New York to improve the team's defensive stature.

In Los Angeles on Monday night, noted TNT commentator and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley took the liberty of reminding me, "The Knicks can't play. Melo and Amare are stars, but they ain't superstars," and one has to admit he definitely has a point today.

The next time we see Stoudemire post up someone with his back to the basket on the block will be the first time we've seen it this season. The same could be said about any post moves he has in his arsenal; we haven't seen one since last season.

Despite claiming his back is healthy, as well as his knees, Stoudemire's penchant for jumpers seems to say he's trying to emulate Boston sharpshooter Ray Allen as opposed to the man-child power forward Gotham City thought it was getting in the summer of 2010. Now all we're hearing is that he's struggling to mesh and vibe with Melo.

"It's not fun right now," Stoudemire said. "I've been a winner my whole career and losing is definitely not fun."

Forgive the candor. But what is Stoudemire talking about?

It's time someone reminded Stoudemire, in his 10th season, that he's never played in an NBA Finals, let alone won an NBA title. Not only can the same be said about Anthony, but he's visited the conference finals once (2009 postseason) in his entire nine-year career.

Ironically, the two times (2005 and 2010 postseasons) Stoudemire went to the conference finals was when Nash took him there. And the one time Melo went to a conference finals was the season he played in Denver with Chauncey Billups, the former Knicks point guard exiled to make room for Tyson Chandler. And who was it who hit the game-winning 3-point shot for the Los Angeles Clippers to beat the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night?

The expectation is for the Knicks to put up points. To score. With two stars resembling stars as often as possible, teasing us into believing they could rival dudes with names like LeBron and D-Wade, especially since both have the talent to do so.

The expectation is to be of such quality that inevitable losses will come at the hands of the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls or Orlando Magic. Not the Charlotte Bobcats, Toronto Raptors or a 5-9 virtual no-name crew from Phoenix.

"I don't think I have it in my vocabulary," D'Antoni said, when asked to explain what's going on with his offense. And that's a good thing, because the rest of us are flummoxed, too.

For now, that is. That won't be the case in the days and weeks to come, as we begin giving the Knicks the attention they deserve.

The Honeymoon is over. The clock starts now. And contrary to popular belief, it's not just ticking for D'Antoni.

It's a players' league, right? So they should be held accountable, too.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, a co-host on First Take" and a regular on "SportsCenter."

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