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MARK HEISLER ON THE NBA

Bad season is the capper for Mike D'Antoni's New York Knicks

Team is biding its time (and losing a lot) until summer, when it hopes to lure LeBron James and another free agent -- only its salary-cap room isn't as 'maximum' as it thought. At least coach still has a sense of humor.

November 25, 2009|Mark Heisler
  • Knicks Coach Mike D'Antoni smiles as a call goes against his team against the Indiana Pacers last week. New York is 3-11 after losing to the Lakers, 100-90, on Tuesday night.
Knicks Coach Mike D'Antoni smiles as a call goes against his team against… (Michael Conroy / Associated…)

There is a time for the New York Knicks -- at least in theory -- but this isn't it.

Currently saving salary-cap room in the hope of having two maximum slots to offer next summer's free agents, that leaves the matter of the present, which was inconvenient, indeed, Tuesday night when they faced the Lakers, who already have stars in their max slots.

The Lakers also have many tall players, while the Knicks started 6-foot-9 David Lee at center. Tuesday's game, which the Lakers won, 100-90, was like watching the storks play the fish in a swamp, or bend down to eat them.

The Knicks are now 3-11 and, of course, a little concerned.

"You mean every day, every morning, every hour?" said Coach Mike D'Antoni.

"It's like everybody else, you wake up in the morning, look at it and say, 'Whoops! That's not good.' "

If saving cap room was the thing to do -- Spike Lee once wrote an open letter, begging management to do it -- no one is exactly congratulating the Knicks for it.

Of course, by now their credibility is like the man in "Wall Street," of whom Gordon Gekko sneers:

"If this guy had a funeral parlor no one would die."

What other organization ever had adventures like the Larry Brown firing in 2005, which took six weeks, when the press corps was evicted from the practice facility, which it had staked out, hoping for a comment from anybody.

And Brown, driving by, stopped by the roadside where the press corps had retreated and held an impromptu news conference.

Meanwhile, owner James Dolan, who got his team the old-fashioned way -- from his father, Charles, the Cablevision boss -- refused all comment, although he did appear at a New York club with his amateur blues band. The press corps attended, hoping for a comment. The New York Daily News' Frank Isola wrote that if Brown wanted his situation clarified, all he needed was a $5 cover charge.

Of course, the Lakers are a lot like the Knicks, just with more titles.

Before Tuesday's game, there was the nightly Q-and-A with Coach Phil Jackson about the latest Lakers appearance on TV, in this case Ron Artest's on Jimmy Kimmel's show, wearing boxer shorts.

Alex Rodriguez sat courtside, as did Stevie Wonder, one game after Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas, sitting courtside, took the microphone and sang an impromptu version of "I Gotta Feeling."

At this point, the only question is whether the Lakers are a show-biz adjunct, or show biz is a Lakers adjunct.

In any case, it hasn't stopped the Lakers from paying attention to business.

After leading Chicago by 24 in a 15-point win in Pau Gasol's return, and Oklahoma City by 27 in a 16-point win in his second game, they led the Knicks by 25 in this one, before putting it on cruise control.

The mere sight of Gasol is painful for D'Antoni, who was coaching Phoenix when the Lakers got Gasol from Memphis, changing the balance of power in the Pacific Division, and numbering D'Antoni's days in it.

Or, as D'Antoni remembered, laughing, Tuesday: "Y'all got him for nothing. It was like, 'Here, let us put one of the better players in the league on the team for nothing.' "

D'Antoni's new gig . . . well, let's just say it's challenging.

These are dark days for the Knicks, who had saved two full $16.5-million slots to offer, say, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, then saw the cap's projected decline cut it to one maximum slot and half of a second . . . enough to offer James and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Then there's the Brandon Jennings fiasco, passing up this season's spectacular rookie in the draft, although they were dying for a point guard, and had him in for a workout.

On the other hand, they're still fighting.

"We did have this down as a sure win," D'Antoni said, sardonically. "It was kind of up in the air."

That's exactly where it was, but keep that sense of humor. You'll need it.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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