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Needing Leaders

October 13, 2002|Greg Logan | Newsday

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Latrell Sprewell is on the outs with management because of repeated failures to fulfill his professional obligations off the court. Allan Houston is a responsible captain, but when it comes to forceful leadership, he hasn't really grabbed the bull by the horns.

From where Don Chaney sits, it looks as if there's a void in his locker room and on the court. The New York Knick coach said last week that he needs more consistency from Sprewell and Houston. Wednesday after practice, he reinforced that demand with an indictment of their leadership skills.

"There's a definite hunger for leadership on this team," Chaney said. "There's no question about that. I've seen a lot of teams. This team here definitely needs a leader."

Asked who provided leadership last season, when the Knicks spiraled to a 30-52 record and missed the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, Chaney didn't mince words.

"We didn't have any leaders on this team," he said. "We've got to have people stepping up and being leaders."

There's no need to put a want ad in the newspaper for a replacement for retired Larry Johnson, who was identified by Chaney as the best leader in his seven seasons with the Knicks. There is a preferred candidate.

Antonio McDyess, who scored 17 points and had 17 rebounds in the exhibition opener against Boston on Tuesday night and made his Madison Square Garden debut as a Knick last week, has what it takes in Chaney's estimation.

"Whether he believes it or not, I think he would be an ideal leader," Chaney said. "I don't know if he's ever been called upon to lead, but I've already mentioned to him about his leadership skills. Some people lead by example, and some lead vocally. I think he can do both."

Although he achieved All-Star status in Denver, McDyess wasn't known as a vocal leader. But if that's what Chaney wants, he's willing. "Yeah, I'll speak out in the locker room," McDyess said. "It's no problem with me doing that.... It seemed like when I was doing it in Denver, it went in one ear and out the other. I feel this team wants to win, and by me doing that, I think they're looking for me."

When McDyess arrived in New York in a draft-night trade, some wondered if the down-home kid from rural Mississippi could survive with such a laid-back demeanor. Chaney bristles whenever the "laid-back" label is applied to his own coaching style, and he warned it would be a mistake to judge McDyess by the smiley face on his cover.

On the first day of training camp, the coach said the newcomer was the only one who spoke when the team came together in the huddle. Even when McDyess was working with the second unit, his voice was the one providing constant encouragement.

Chaney declined to address the question of Sprewell's credibility after his recent $250,000 fine and indefinite banishment from the team for failing to report his hand injury in a timely manner.

But Chaney defined a leader as a person who consistently is there for his teammates, which Sprewell wasn't last season when he blew off a shootaround in Miami and let his performance slide toward the end.

"To be a leader is a sacrifice, on and off the court," Chaney said. "You've got to want to do it. You can't just say, 'I'm a leader.' You've got to show on a consistent basis that you're capable of leading the team."

Asked if he must prod Houston to be more assertive, Chaney said:

"I don't think you should have to continually encourage a guy to be a leader. You've got to want to be it; you've got to enjoy being it; you can't be afraid to be it. When you're a leader, it's not so popular at times because you may say something player doesn't like. You've got to be able to deal with all of that, and that's a big step."

Call it a leap of faith, but Chaney believes it's a step McDyess can take.

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