Tracy McGrady has been nothing but great to deal with from a reporter's perspective. He's always willing to chat, always good for a quote and a direct opinion and has a self-assuredness that allows him to be unguarded when the scribes are around.
But while those three of us writers who are still traveling with the team at this point of the season surrounded McGrady's stall before Sunday's game against the Clippers in Los Angeles, when McGrady said he doesn't think LeBron James will come to the Knicks, he waved his hand at the three of us and said it won't be easy to attract top free agents this summer "because of you guys."
It echoed something Ron Artest said in November, as you can read here. Artest said NBA players are "scared of the fans and the media" in New York.
"You know how New York is," Artest said, "if you're not doing well, we don't like you."
Apparently NBA players prefer hero worship over raw honesty and unfettered opinion. They prefer the big fish/small pond ratio in smaller markets, where the coverage has the intensity of a street light. But that's not fair to say, because the NBA is loaded with good beat writers who do their job.
This goes back beyond this past decade of losing, where the franchise provided us with more than enough negative material, both on and off the court. The media should not apologize for holding accountable a wealthy team in the largest market with a passionate and omnipresent audience. This is New York. Greatness is demanded. The bar is set high. The unworthy are chewed up and spit out. That's just how it goes.
And that's why I laugh when the Patrick Ewing example is brought up when talking about the so-called harsh media. McGrady even made reference to it when he said how even Ewing was criticized in New York. There is no greater fan of the player and person than myself, but that doesn't stop me (and shouldn't stop anyone) from pointing out that he was the one who guaranteed championships and wins. No one put those words in his mouth.
He was often surrounded by the crush of reporters after games, but he was also respected as the voice of the team. And when Don Nelson tried to suggest Ewing should be traded, it was Don Nelson who was eliminated.
How should this team be covered at this point? Should we just shrug when Eddy Curry continually gets injured and yet still makes every single road trip, pocketing per diem and enjoying the free travel? (If this is about rehabilitation, can't one of this inordinantly large staff of trainers stay back in New York with the injured players?) Should it be ignored that Mike D'Antoni let go of the wheel early in the season, rather than grabbing hold with two hands and directing this ship of expiring contracts by using the only leverage he had: playing time? Should it be dismissed that David Lee's 10th assist was borderline enough to at least scrutinize a little?
I give David Lee credit here. After five years, he understands how it works. Same goes for guys like Al Harrington, Chris Duhon and those who were here before, such as Jared Jeffries, Malik Rose et al. There's a relationship that develops between writers and players and then there's the job. It's never personal. It can be uncomfortable at times and it can lead to bruised egos and loud disagreements. But in the end, you can't come away from the experience and believe you were treated unfairly.
I remember once when I covered the Islanders during a particularly ornery season, a group of players got together and made shirts that read "S.I.U.T.A", which stood for "Shove It Up Their A--". It was a response to critical media coverage. During one confrontation, a player said my negative coverage was to blame for the team's poor performance.
My response was simple. "So when I write positive stories and you win," I said, "I want my name on the Stanley Cup."
I can't speak for everybody in this business, but I can say there is not supposed to be agenda in any of this. It's merely unbiased observations from those closest to the team without being part of the team. Most of us ask questions not because we don't know the answers, we ask them because we DO know the answers.
And, yes, like Artest said, when you lose, you hear about it. Unfortunately, the Knicks have done a lot of losing over the last nine years. So they've heard a lot about it.
If you're a superstar player, a guy truly in it for a championship, wouldn't you want that kind of accountability to exist around your team? Or would you prefer people to accept the status quo, because that way everyone keeps their job?
I guarantee you nobody ever won a championship with that mentality.
* * *
* - Earl Barron made his Knicks debut in Sunday's 113-107 win over the Clippers and actually provided a nice lift off the bench with 10 points and 5 rebounds.
* - Mike D'Antoni said he started Chris Duhon over rookie Toney Douglas last night mainly because of matchups. He tried Danilo Gallinari on Baron Davis and wanted Duhon out there to guard the bigger Eric Gordon. Douglas still played the bulk of the minutes (30:12) and had 13 points (4-for-8), 4 assists and 0 turnovers. Sergio Rodriguez also had a good game off the bench with 10 assists in 22:26.
* - Steve Blake said before the game he'd be "thrilled" if the Knicks were interested in him this summer as a free agent, but he did little to impress in 19:44 off the bench (1-for-5 FGs, 1-for-4 3PT, four assists, one turnover). Still, expect him to be on the Knicks' calling list come July.
* - J.R. Giddens has really faded out of the picture in the rotation. Against the Clippers, he recorded his second DNP-CD of the five game trip. Giddens has physical talent, but it's hard to figure out where he fits in the grand scheme. He doesn't have a great shot, nor does he get it off quickly, and he's not really a scorer. And when he isn't running and attacking at full speed, he's a below-average player at this level. Watching him workout by himself at practice and during his pregame warmups, he looks very raw and somewhat lost as to what he needs to be working on to make himself a better player.
* - The Knicks snapped a 10-game road losing streak to the Clippers. In fact, it was the first time the Knicks ever beat the Clippers at Staples Center. Their last road win came March 25, 1998, in a 77-76 win at the LA Sports Arena. Allan Houston had 22 points to lead the Knicks that night.
* I was wondering where Clipper Darrell was last night during the game and then read on Twitter that he missed his first game in nine seasons (386 straight) because of chest pains. He was at an area hospital. All the best to him.