Larry Hughes picked an odd time to complain about being replaced in the rotation by Nate Robinson. A game after Robinson scored 41 points in his first action after a month-long benching and moments after the Knicks rolled to a 43-point blowout win over the Pacers, Hughes spoke out about being dumped from the rotation and Mike D'Antoni's failure to communicate the move to him.
"Nothing was explained to me," Hughes said after he recorded his second straight DNP-CD.
He then said the changes to the rotation is "not a good way to play the season, I mean, going back and forth. This is my second or third time now, it's getting old."
I asked Hughes if he had any interested in playing during the fourth quarter, which was mostly garbage time in a game the Knicks led by as many as 48 points, just to get some run. Hughes was the only active player who did not get into the game.
"I'm here to play, this is something different for me, whatever's going on right now," he said. "Not really, man. I wasn't into it to get out there for 12 minutes, so let those guys finish up the game and move on to the next game."
D'Antoni had mentioned that Hughes groin injury, which caused him to miss three games in mid-December, had impacted his game somewhat, but Hughes said, "I'm fine, man. I'm 100 percent."
He said his noticable drop in production since the injury was due to a reduction in his playing time.
I wasn't playing much when I did come back," he said. "It's on paper, we can look at it . . . I feel like when I'm out there playing, I contribute to the team."
Here's what we found in the month of December, which represented the start of Robinson's benching and the team's turnaround:
Before Hughes missed three games (Dec. 17 at CHI, Dec. 18 vs LAC and Dec. 20 vs CHA), Hughes averaged 30.7 minutes per game in the first seven games of the month, and averaged 13.4 points per game, shot 37.5 percent from the field with 36 assists and 20 turnovers in 30.7 minutes per game. In the five games after his return, he averaged 2.2 points per game, shot 13.6 percent from the field (3-for-22) and had eight assists and eight turnovers in 14.4 minutes per game.
True, the playing time was down, but so was the production. Still, Hughes says he was demoted because of the injury. I asked him if he found the timing of his complaint somewhat questionable, considering how well the team played that night, Hughes replied,"Definitely" and then continued.
"We did start our winning streak when I was playing, so it kind of goes both ways. You never want to stop what your team is doing, you always want to contribute. But when you were part of the turnaround and the things that helped start winning games and now, since I've been injured, I'm not. That's an unwritten rule in our league, you never lose your spot coming back from injury. I feel like that's what happened."
Hughes pointed the finger directly at D'Antoni, though he never called him out by name. His gripe was not just about being pulled from the lineup, but that D'Antoni never went to him to explain the decision.
"I think it's easy to commiunicate," Hughes said. "We're grown men. It's a long season, you always want to have dialogue and talk things out."
When it was mentioned that Eddy Curry had a similar complaint about D'Antoni recently, Hughes said, "Like I said, I definitely want the dialogue. I think it helps. Guys know where they stand, you can voice opinions on both sides and there's nothing wrong with voicing opinions . . . Just to have communication, I think that goes a long way."
So I then reminded Larry that Al Harrington said sometimes it's up to the player to go to the coach to open up the lines of communication. Hughes said he already did that at the start of the season, when he was a DNP-CD in the first two games of the season.
Not even talking to Donnie Walsh about the situation seemed to be an option.
"I'm really over it, man," he said. "The mind-games and all that stuff, I'm getting up there in years. I'm over it."