Allan Houston in the first half. (June. 23, 1999)

Allan Houston in the first half. (June. 23, 1999) Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams

This lockout-shortened Knicks season has some strong resemblances to the last one. The Knicks hope the ending is similar.

They made major roster changes in 1999 and were talented and deep. They didn't play well early, players were unhappy, and an internal rift led to the dismissal of general manager Ernie Grunfeld. But the Knicks came together late in that 50-game season and reached the NBA Finals.

The current Knicks have made major roster changes and are talented and deep. They haven't played well, players have been unhappy, and because of some personality and philosophical differences, Mike D'Antoni resigned last week. What remains to be seen is if the Knicks will come together now.

"We're in a similar situation," said Knicks assistant coach Herb Williams, who played for the 1999 team. "We struggled early and we ended up picking it up at the end of the season."

The Knicks haven't entirely picked it up yet.

In 1999, after acquiring Latrell Sprewell, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas, the Knicks were expected to be the tough out in the playoffs, the team no one wanted to face, and they proved to be just that. They could be that team again 13 years later if they can play together.

Paging Carmelo Anthony.

He's been depicted as the player most responsible for D'Antoni's departure. Anthony has defended himself all week, saying he "sacrificed" for D'Antoni's system, that they had a great relationship and that he supported him "100 percent." But some of his comments after the Knicks easily beat the Trail Blazers in Mike Woodson's debut Wednesday more than implied that Anthony didn't fully support D'Antoni.

Anthony said his mind is "clear" and talked about how "comfortable" everyone is, that "everybody was smiling and having fun."

The remedy for this is winning. If the Knicks win, most of this will be forgotten and Anthony will be viewed differently.

The Knicks need to not only make the playoffs but go deep in the postseason. If they don't, or if Jeremy Lin's game is affected and his role is diminished under Woodson, more fingers will be pointed at Anthony. Winning cures many things, as the 1999 team showed.

"It takes a while because you got to get the trust in your teammates," Williams said. "You've got to believe in each other and you play for one common goal -- just to win the game. You don't care what happens, who gets the notoriety, who gets the credit. It's just winning basketball games."

Some of these Knicks could learn from the 1999 team.

Woodson will hold players accountable

Two coaches who were very influential in Mike Woodson's career are Bob Knight and Larry Brown. No wonder Woodson has spoken many times about holding his players accountable, which is something the Knicks need.

Woodson proved true to his word late in Friday's blowout victory over the Pacers after J.R. Smith followed an alley-oop dunk with a technical for taunting. Woodson removed the volatile Smith from the game and talked to him as he walked off the court. Woodson wouldn't reveal what he said, though.

"That's kind of in-house," he said. "We're just trying to keep everybody on board and on the same page."

Smith was asked about it and said Woodson told him to just keep playing hard. Obviously, Smith didn't want to reveal what Woodson really said, either.

Woodson said he struggles with players "who don't play hard" and that he's going to hold the Knicks accountable "to play hard every night." Woodson also said he will expect the most from Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire.

"I'm just going to hold them more accountable for what goes on in our locker room, what happens on the floor, because they've been around, they know better, they know how it's done," Woodson said. "I think they're battle-tested, along with Tyson Chandler."

Orlando Magic win by not losing Dwight

The Orlando Magic was the winner at the trade deadline after Dwight Howard decided to "opt in" for next season. But it doesn't mean the franchise is in the clear.

Howard could decide after the season that he wants out again, and unless he signs an extension -- and even that might not matter -- he could be available again at next year's trade deadline or earlier.

By the way, Howard's indecision during all of this was worse than LeBron James' "Decision." It just didn't receive nearly the same attention.

That said, the Nets were the big loser at the deadline. By all indications, they were close to trading for Howard before the deadline and probably would have if Howard hadn't flip-flopped at the last minute. They ended up with Gerald Wallace.

The Nets have to hope Howard requests a trade -- again -- before the draft, means it this time and really pushes Orlando to do something. If the Nets can't acquire Howard by July 1, Deron Williams could bolt for the Mavericks.

The Nets got better by acquiring Wallace from Portland, but that can't be enough to keep Williams. It also was excessive to give up a lottery-protected first-round pick (1-through-3) for Wallace. But the Nets wanted someone who could help now rather than wait for a player who needs a few years to develop. Williams certainly wouldn't wait for that.

The Nets didn't trade Williams because they're not ready to rebuild yet. They want another shot this offseason at improving, another shot at Howard, at keeping Williams.

They maintained many of the assets it would have taken to get Howard in the first place -- Brook Lopez and multiple picks. It's something the Nets could and probably will pursue again. They have to do something to dramatically improve the roster by July 1 or Williams might go home to Dallas this summer.


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