Off-Broadway drama unfolding with Robinson
The excitement generated by Nate Robinson at Madison Square Garden last Monday - when he scored 27 points off the bench in a win over the Pistons - is nothing new to those who have followed his career. What Robinson may lack in height (5 feet 9 inches), he makes up for in athleticism, skill, and a flair for the dramatic.
New York would seem a perfect place for Robinson, but Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni has frowned on Robinson’s act: high-fiving with Will Ferrell; shooting at the wrong basket; the maddening inconsistency.
The same Robinson who dropped 41 points on the Hawks New Year’s Day managed 6 two days later against the Pacers.
The Knicks waited until the end of the summer to bring Robinson back on a one-year, $4 million deal, despite his 17.2-point average. Now Robinson, a free agent at season’s end, is generating trade interest, and he has always been a favorite of Celtics president Danny Ainge.
At his best, Robinson is an energy player who can score in bunches off the bench. He’s Eddie House with more explosiveness. He’s fearless going to the basket. He’s not afraid to take the big shot.
At his worst, Robinson shoots without thinking, gets caught up in the emotion of the game, and slacks on defense.
The upside is so tempting that Robinson could be a major topic of conversation leading up to the trade deadline. His trade value soared with that 41-point outburst against Atlanta in his return from a 14-game exile.
“Like I told Coach, I am going to go in and play when my number is called,’’ said Robinson. “If it’s another 14 games, I am going to have to wait until my number is called again.
“It was a humble experience, and you have to work through it. There’s a lot of people in the NBA that don’t play who think they deserve a chance to play. That goes for everybody sitting on the bench.’’
Of course, the Knicks are preparing to throw money at LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, or Chris Bosh in the offseason, and most of their 2009-10 roster will be gone. But D’Antoni isn’t earning any endorsements from current Knicks players for his style. Veteran Larry Hughes was the latest to complain about playing time and D’Antoni’s rotations, calling them “a joke’’ (he has played in one game this month).
Hughes said he doesn’t want to be a distraction, but free agents can’t be impressed with the way D’Antoni is clashing with nearly every player on his roster.
“I think we’re making too much of this,’’ D’Antoni said. “Guys are going to squawk if they don’t play or if they don’t feel their role is really good. We’ve got other problems.
“This is an easy place to get lost in the little sidelights. There’s a lot of things we have to go through. It’s a little bit of a hot situation the last two years and we’ll go through it and guys will squawk.
“If you win 60 games, they will squawk. If the shrimp cocktail is not right on the plane, they will squawk. Most places, it just goes over people’s head; here it becomes a national story.
“I always can get better; that’s the beauty about working hard and taking every game one game at a time and let things happen instead of trying to make things happen. Just be patient.’’
He doesn’t exactly sound like a player’s coach, and he may have committed the cardinal sin by mentioning salaries, a topic that annoys most players.
“We pay everybody a lot of money to be ready to do whatever they have to do,’’ said D’Antoni. “That’s how you treat everybody. You don’t punish them. You don’t yell and scream at them.
“You expect everybody to be professional and be ready to go and play. Some people do. Some people don’t. You make decisions on that. Every case is exactly the same. Some people like it. Some people won’t. That doesn’t change how you do your business.’’
That mentality fosters distractions, and Robinson realizes he won’t be a Knick much longer.
“However they look at me, they know, whatever team, that’s where I want to be,’’ he said. “They know I am going to play hard and do everything I can to help the team win and that’s what type of player I am.’’
So where does that leave the major holdovers from the team’s recent past, Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince?
Hamilton, a few weeks away from his 32d birthday, has been limited to 14 games because of a right ankle sprain. He remains an effective scorer but may not fit in the Pistons’ long-term rebuilding plan. He makes a manageable $12.6 million per season, but his contract lasts through 2013.
Pistons officials want to build the current team much like the 2004 title team, a roster of talented players without major star power. Hamilton blended into that mix perfectly, but the length of his contract may hinder Detroit’s chances of rebuilding with youth. The Pistons already have dumped more than $80 million on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva - players offensively similar to Hamilton - so if he remains in Detroit, his role may have to change.
Prince is more attractive because his contract expires after next season and he is two years younger than Hamilton. After an impressive stretch of six straight seasons without missing a game, Prince has sat out all but 10 games this season because of knee and back ailments.
The injuries hurt Prince’s trade value, but the consensus around the league is that he is still in his prime and can help a contending team with his defensive prowess and versatility. Prince has heard the trade rumors and realizes anyone could be next to go.
Prince has always been the younger guy on a veteran team but being the injured veteran among youngsters is causing him some anxiety.
“This has been kind of a culture shock for me, not in the sense that I am one of the leaders and one of the veterans on the team, but this is the first time I have experienced not playing,’’ he said. “That’s the most bothersome. Obviously if we were at full throttle, things would have been different this season, but this is one of those woulda, shoulda, coulda situations.’’
That near-disaster has generated conversation as to whether All-Star starters should be chosen strictly by the fans. Celtics guard Ray Allen suggested a vote among players, fans, and media.
Since the NBA has opened voting to international fans over the Internet, there has been an increasing amount of situations in which popular but undeserving players are voted in. Allen Iverson made the cut this year and will start for the Eastern Conference team, bumping either Rajon Rondo, Allen, Joe Johnson, or Derrick Rose out of a starting slot.
“I like the fact that the fans get the opportunity to vote and pick who they’d like to see in the All-Star Game, but I don’t think it should be 100 percent,’’ Allen said. “Tracy, if he played, I’m sure he’d play well enough to be an All-Star player, because he’s done that in his career.
“But again, that’s taking away from another player in the Western Conference that’s having a great year, that’s been playing, that deserves to be in there.’’
The NBA prefers to leave the power in the hands of the fans because that’s who pays the bills. Regardless of the vote, someone worthy is going to be left off.
But there should be a split vote, and the players should have a say because they know best who are All-Stars.
The fans deserve a say, but it’s apparent that the international vote has allowed players such as Yao Ming and McGrady an advantage because of their popularity in China. The NBA relishes that attention but should not put so much power in the hands of international voters.
As for media members, the vote should be limited to a small percentage because they tend to favor players they cover on a nightly basis.
Here is how the pie should be sliced: Fans get 65 percent of the vote, players 25 percent, media 10 percent.
And if the NBA wants to have an online vote for the final reserve spot - taking a page from Major League Baseball - then that would allow the fans to become even more involved.
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.