The sign of a great player is not how much he scored, but how much he lifted his team's performance. -- Red Holzman

Perhaps Dan Klores has a new documentary subject in the making.

We knew this was coming. In fact, it was the very first story we penned this season: "Can Knicks with expiring contracts put team ahead of stats?"

The answer is a definitive NO.

You only need to read the boxscore from Saturday's 113-93 loss to the lowly Nets -- "As bad as it can get" Mike D'Antoni said, as Anthony Rieber wrote in Sunday's Newsday -- to see the facts behind one of the ugliest nights of the season: 0-for-18 from three-point range.

I had to search the clips for any reference to the Knicks' futile shooting performance, which turns out is an NBA record. That's correct, no team has ever shot as many as 18 threes in a game and missed every single one of them.

The Nets, meanwhile, drilled 14 of 24 from downtown. So they outscored the Knicks 42-0 just from beyond the arc. It's a wonder they kept the deficit to 20.

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That's sarcasm.

Want a bright side? How about that the Cavaliers proved they're barely a playoff team without LeBron James.

Yeah, even that's just not gonna cut it anymore.

But what we have here in New York -- aside from a coach who is a shell of the confident, dynamic leader he was in Phoenix (and confoundingly continues to give Eddie House minutes over rookie Toney Douglas) -- is an exercise in sports psychology.

Exhibit A is that you can't put together a roster of players with expiring contracts and believe they will sacrifice for the good of the team, especially if the prevailing belief is that they are on this team mainly to hold space until the summer, when the team can go out and get better players.

Exhibit B is that as that team starts to lose, the will to compete plummets into the negatives (literally and figuratively).

This is what the stat geeks at Bill Simmons' "Dorkapalooza" -- clearly my LIU education isn't extensive enough to run with that MIT crowd -- don't need to quantify statistically.

It is the Power of One. For when it comes down to bare facts, a veteran player who is in a contract year will always first be concerned with his own numbers. It's human nature, it's the survivalist instinct (and that's a condition that is rampant around this franchise, not just in the locker room).

The 1-9 start set the tone, for sure. Already down eight games in the loss column, legit hope was eradicated. Had the Knicks started out 9-1, heck, even 5-5, perhaps the attitude is a little different at first. No one would want to be labeled as the selfish player that sandbagged the team.

Then again, there was Larry Hughes complaining about a lack of playing time after a 43-point win in January, which had the Knicks were surging and, at 14-20, were still very much in the playoff picture.

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But even with players such as Hughes gone, the will to quit comes easy when there's no personal stake in it for anyone. The Knicks were running and gunning in the first quarter against the Nets and jumped out to a 16-point lead. Then the baskets didn't come as easy as two players who had it going offensively, Danilo Gallinari and David Lee, got into early foul trouble. No one else could get untracked. The threes wouldn't go down. The Nets didn't stop playing. The game got hard.

And the only unifiying battlecry was, "Woe is us."

Tracy McGrady, the best player on the team even on dead legs, had about as much interest playing against the Nets as he did playing the Grizzlies and Cavaliers last week. Hard not to notice that when T-Mac is engaged, the Knicks are, at least, competitive. See the wins over Washington and Detroit and even the loss in Toronto, as an example.

And in the first quarter, McGrady had three blocked shots (clearly answering the criticism about interior defense) and was moving the ball. Once his legs went (second game of a back-to-back), he was pretty much done for the night.

But we all know McGrady is playing to a different agenda: his own. This is akin to preseason for McGrady, who is merely here to showcase himself as healthy and shake the rust off before free agency this summer. Sure he'd love to be back, so he'll do just enough to tantalize the organization -- and the fans -- into maintaining strong consideration to re-sign him.

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But winning? Raising the profile of the organization? Setting an example? Playing for pride?

C'mon man. The Knicks knew what they were getting here.

Same goes for others, such as Al Harrington. Why should he care about helping Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler develop? What's in it for him to make sure Gallo gets more shots?

Spare us the idealistic soapboxing about how Harrington, as a veteran, could make himself more valuable for leadership intangibles. Because what's at stake here is the very possible reality that Harrington, who makes $10M this season, will absolutely have to take a pay cut as a free agent this summer. Deep down he knows this and, therefore, knows the only thing he can control are his stats.

But even with gaudy numbers (18 points per game, 5.6 rebounds), you can't overlook the simple fact that over Harrington's career, his best numbers come on some of the NBA's worst teams. And as teams are getting more stingy with finances -- I'm curious to see how many of those teams with cap space this summer actually spend every penny, especially after the disasterous decisions the Pistons made last summer --there will be a greater emphasis put on bang for the buck...and players who are winners.

OK, so maybe this statistics thing does have some value. (Hey Henry Abbott, get me on the guest list next year. I'll bring the Rush discography. And will do my part to muzzle Simmons, who is seriously becoming like the hoop writers version of Nate Robinson).

With less than a quarter of the season left at this point, it's futile to point fingers, other than to identify the players who have made a serious case to not bring back next season. Even if, as some pundits are proclaiming, "no one will want to sign here," the Knicks at least know what players NOT to target in free agency.

But no one should be surprised with the results. It was predicatable in September, when training camp opened and everyone was seduced with fresh legs and idealism.

Truth be told, only one team has had success with a roster dedicated to Playing for Self. That would be Kansas.