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The Inside Track | COMMENTARY

Marbury Needs to Take Brown's Coaching to Heart

November 20, 2005|Johnette Howard | Newsday

In time, the pessimists circling the Knicks like buzzards may be absolutely right. Coach Larry Brown and team president Isiah Thomas ultimately can't get along. Point guard Stephon Marbury can't change, and won't summon the will to run Brown's more structured system. This clumsy union will end badly, very badly, with one or two -- or, hell, why not all three of them, given their well-traveled histories -- leaving town amid criticism and controversy.

Some people are so sure they know this story's ending, they're working backward from there, and scouring for events that fit.

Since the Knicks departed on their six-game West Coast trip that concluded Friday night in Denver, headlines have read "Knicks Put Marbury on Trading Block" -- which Thomas denied.

Then, Thursday, it was "Brown Sits Down Marbury" for the last minutes of a five-point loss to the Lakers on Wednesday night, the team Marbury scored 45 points against a year ago.

If you notice, Marbury's name is almost always at the center of every tempest. He constantly is portrayed as the wedge that will cleave Brown and Thomas apart. Thursday, he bit back in the most foolish way possible, saying, among other things, that if changing his game to suit Brown is "what it's going to take to win, I'm down for it. But if we lose, I'm not going to be happy."

Marbury's problem never has been that he doesn't try hard or doesn't care. He just doesn't have a nuanced grasp of how to win. He doesn't seem to "get" things, even when everyone around him is spelling it out for him. The only thing he hates more than losing is being blamed.

This should be the best time of Marbury's career. He's made his money. He's the only NBA player other than Oscar Robertson to average at least 20 points and eight assists a game for his career. The only thing Marbury, 28, has left to prove is that he can win.

And in the off-season, who fell out of the sky and onto the Knicks' bench next to him but Brown, not just the best coach in the business but a guy who has turned oft-maligned point guards into winners.

Yet just when you're tempted to say "give Marbury some slack," he speaks as he did Thursday. In a recent interview on Stephen A. Smith's ESPN show "Quite Frankly," Marbury made even more damning remarks that demonstrate what he really thinks.

When Smith asked Marbury to respond to the criticism that he isn't a point guard who makes players around him better, Marbury was defiant.

"When you look at the game of basketball, first of all, if you and I are on the team, I can't make you do nothing," Marbury scoffed. "You have to be accountable for something. So when we step on the basketball court, all this about 'he made him better' and 'he made him do this' and 'he made him do that.' You can't make nobody do nothing on the basketball court."

Marbury's contention merely flies against, oh ... maybe 100 years of basketball wisdom.

Thomas, Magic Johnson and great point guards dating to Bob Cousy certainly didn't believe what Marbury does.

Still, Thomas thinks he understands Marbury. In a conversation Thomas and I had recently, he said he sees in Marbury a man who has been so scalded by criticism at every NBA stop he's made that he's become overly sensitive, even defiant.

"He is sensitive -- and angry," Thomas said. "There's a certain amount of anger and intensity you need to play with when you're 6-foot-1 or 6-foot-2, like he is, to average 20 points a night, to dominate the game, to run the show, do all of that -- and do it at his size. Because the people you're competing against are almost all bigger and stronger than you. And that energy has to be drawn from somewhere.

"So yeah, there's a chip on his shoulder," Thomas said, "and that chip needs to stay there. Because if that chip ever leaves, he'll be down to 12 points and four assists a night. Just another regular 6-foot-2 guy. And those guys are a dime a dozen."

If Marbury doesn't succeed under Brown, it won't be because he lacks talent. It will be because he has a tin ear.

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