12/22/2008 6:41 PM ET
Knicks Report Card: Dec. 22
A look at the Knicks' performances of the past week
By Rich Zuckerman / SNY.tv
Mike D'Antoni and the Knicks are hanging their heads low after going 0-4 in an emotionally draining week. (AP)

If you're a member of the New York Knicks, the holidays could not come at a better time, with the greatest gift of all clearly being rest.

The Knicks had an emotionally draining start to the week, featuring a West Coast trip in which Mike D'Antoni returned to Phoenix for the first time since leaving the Suns following last season and Stephon Marbury made an unexpected and unwelcome appearance in Los Angeles. The Knicks fell to both the Suns and Lakers, letting a 15-point lead over the West's kings slip away in the process.

They came back East to finish the week and seemed to come apart at the seams. They came out flat at Madison Square Garden Friday, suffering their third humiliating loss to Milwaukee of the season, then followed I-95 up to Boston, where they were picked apart by the defending NBA champions.

In some ways, the Knicks have benefited from D'Antoni's seven-man rotation, developing a close-knit bond on and off the court. More often than not they've provided spirited efforts on a nightly basis, looking like a team capable of beating any other NBA squad on any given night, as they almost did in Los Angeles.

However, D'Antoni's short bench is now taking its toll, and it's time for a change.

Chris Duhon, Wilson Chandler and Al Harrington, perhaps the team's three most important players, are starting to look sluggish. Duhon was inexplicably left on the court for a full 48 minutes against Boston in a game that had clearly gotten away from the Knicks. The only player with a true pep left in his step is Nate Robinson, who had the benefit of resting his legs for nearly three weeks while recovering from a groin injury.

The Knicks have as much as a $4.4 million injury exemption coming their way as a result of Cuttino Mobley's retirement. D'Antoni and team president Donnie Walsh are holding their ground in terms of adding fresh legs to the roster, waiting to see how the league rules on the injury exception and how buyout negotiations with Stephon Marbury shape up.

Right now, the Knicks sit at 11-16, but just two games behind Chicago for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. The ultimate goal for the Knicks is not to win this year, nor next year, but to mold a team that can contend every year from 2010 onward. Walsh has done an excellent job of putting the team in position to have an opportunity to do just that, but the Knicks have a real chance to take an enormous step forward right now. However, the longer Walsh stands pat and the longer D'Antoni continues to run a shorthanded, tired team into the ground, the more the Knicks' playoff hopes -- hopes that could lift a tortured city -- fade away.

As always, here's a look at the Knicks' performances of the past week. Be sure to check back every Monday for the latest Knicks Report Card.


C-It was a woeful week for Chandler, who averaged just nine points and a shade under five rebounds per game in the Knicks' four losses. He had a gutsy effort against Phoenix, scoring 15 points on 7-13 shooting before fouling out as the Knicks' undersized frontcourt tried to contain Shaquille O'Neal and Amare Stoudemire. He hit rock bottom against Boston though, playing just 24 minutes while notching two points on 1-7 shooting. The Knicks' short bench is perhaps proving most taxing on Chandler, who never played major NBA minutes before this season, never mind in a seven-man rotation.

FThe forgotten big man is reportedly getting closer to a return from the knee injury that's sidelined him all season, with D'Antoni saying that Curry could potentially return to the court in two-to-three weeks' time. D'Antoni is maintaining that there will be playing time for Curry if and when he does make it back. The Knicks desperately need some size in the middle -- as was made evident in Phoenix -- but any playing time Curry gets will primarily serve as an avenue to showcase the center prior the the February trading deadline.

BThe fatigue is really starting to show for Duhon, who is playing more minutes than he ever has in his career. He's still giving solid efforts every night, but his usually low turnover numbers are starting to rise, with five against Milwaukee and six against Boston. To underscore the Knicks' need for relief, Duhon was forced to play the full 48 minutes against Boston in a game the Knicks were never really in. D'Antoni is a notorious proponent of a short bench, but he did an awful job in this instance of preserving his most important player. There was no reason for Duhon, who has been battling a bad back, to still be on the floor in the fourth quarter of a blowout.

--Keep faith, Knicks fans, for this rooster may yet spread its wings. Gallinari has reportedly been raising the intensity of his workouts as he attempts to make his way back from the bulging disc that's made his back a mess since the summer, and could find his way back into active duty in January. Gallinari has had about as inauspicious a start to an NBA career as one can have, but his talent is real. If he can stay healthy, he'll be an important facilitator for the Knicks offense for years to come.

CIt was a horrid week for Harrington, who could not find the range in shooting a paltry 29.4 percent from the field. Harrington also arrived late to Friday night's loss to Milwaukee, perhaps throwing the team out of sync even before the opening tip. The week served as a reminder that, though Harrington can be a dangerous offensive weapon in a uptempo system, he cannot be relied on as a consistent offensive threat. Harrington will make a case to stay in New York beyond next season, but any continued late arrivals will not help his cause.

ALadies and gentlemen, I give you the new and improved, Jerome "Good for two games" James (yes, that is your winner in the first-ever Garden Party "Name-a-Knick" contest. Nicely done, Pete L.). What a run it's been for the big fella, seeing action for the second straight week as he notched four points on 2-5 shooting against Milwaukee. More importantly, though, Jerome has crossed an important threshold. He's moved from Charles Smith "run him out of town" territory, to the Chris Dudley "we'll pay just to see him on the floor" zone. There were honest, legitimate cheers for James throughout his six minutes of action Friday, as he racked up more garbage time shot attempts than any Knick since Lavor Postell. Let's hope it continues.

C-Just when the Knicks seemed to be getting a bit of depth, it was stricken from them when Jeffries re-injured his leg Monday against Phoenix. He sat out the subsequent three games, but the good news is that the injury does not appear serious and he plans to return to practice on Thursday and play Friday night against Minnesota. If all goes according to plan, the Knicks will have an actual eight-man rotation for a full 48 minutes. Unbelieveable, no?

BOn a team plagued by inconsistency, Lee's steadiness in the middle has been refreshing. He's recorded double-doubles in 16 of his past 18 games, leaving him in a tie for third in the NBA, two off Dwight Howard's league-leading pace. Troubling, however, are the trade rumors that continue to circle around Lee, most recently involving a deal with Charlotte that would reportedly send Lee and Curry to the Bobcats for Raja Bell and Boris Diaw, a pair of former D'Antoni disciples. It's been clear since D'Antoni came to New York that he does not view Lee as a great fit in his system, and that it would only be a matter of time before he found a way to move the fan-favorite. D'Antoni is a coach set in his ways, and he's been successful, but you'd hope he could see the wisdom in hanging onto a young player who demonstrates the hustle, tenacity and leadership that Lee does.

FIf only we could all be as fortunate as Stephon Marbury, earning paychecks for doing nothing and maintaining enough disposable income to purchase courtside seats to Knicks-Lakers games at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Marbury caused a minor stir with his presence during the Knicks' 116-114 loss to the Lakers, but to his "teammates" he was anything but. As archnemisis Quentin Richardson said, Marbury was "just another face in the crowd." Expect to see more serious buyout negotiations resume after Jan. 1.

C+Richardson was one of the Knicks' bright spots in an otherwise flat effort against Boston, posting 29 points on 10-19 shooting to go along with four assists and four rebounds. It does not appear that there will be a problem finding minutes for both Q and Nate Robinson as both have been effective scorers since the latter's return from a groin injury. As effective as Richardson can be on some nights, as he was against Boston, he does still need to be more consistent on a nightly basis. Performances like the ones he had against Phoenix (four points on 1-4 shooting in 25 minutes) and Milwaukee (two points on 1-10 shooting in 28 minutes) just won't cut it from a starting shooting guard.

FFor the second consecutive week Roberson's only playing time came at the end of a blowout, during which he was upstaged by garbage time hero Jerome James. He's averaging almost six points in 12.9 minutes per game on the season, which translates nicely for him on the per-40 minute scale, but as Charles Barkley is fond of saying, sometimes there's a reason a guy doesn't play 40 minutes per night. Perhaps Walsh is reluctant to part ways with Roberson since he was one of the first players Walsh brought in after taking over. It's pretty clear, however, that Roberson's roster spot would be better off gambled on another guard.

B-Clearly Robinson did not lose his scoring touch while he was out. The 5-foot-9 highlight reel has averaged 24.6 points per game while shooting nearly 50 percent from the field in five contests since his return. At the same time, however, the Knicks went only 1-4 in those five games. As great as Robinson's energy and scoring prowess have been, his assist-to-turnover numbers are still subpar. Robinson will never be a pass-first, pure point guard like Duhon, but you'd like to see his A/T ratio at least move closer to two-to-one.

C-Like James and Roberson, the only action Rose saw this week was in garbage time against Milwaukee. There's a value to Rose's veteran presence around the team as he remains the only Knick to own an NBA championship ring. However, it behooves the Knicks to shop Rose's expiring contract around in advance of the February trading deadline. The Knicks need quality depth, and they may be able to use Rose's contract to land a productive, short-term piece, perhaps in a one-for-one swap with Dallas for Jerry Stackhouse, perhaps paired with either Jeffries (whose contract runs past 2010) or James to pry Larry Hughes from Chicago, or perhaps in a more complicated swap with Sacramento to land Brad Miller in New York.

CThomas continues to serve as a warm body until 2010... and not much else. He cannot be counted on for consistent scoring or rebounding, nor is he an exceptional defender. But he's got a pulse and a set of legs to get up and down the floor, which is pretty much all D'Antoni asks him to do. Looking down the line though, should Curry and Gallinari both return and enter the rotation, it stands to reason that Thomas could see his minutes cut if he does not bacome more productive.

Rich Zuckerman is a Knicks columnist for SNY.tv. He can be reached at Rich.Zuckerman@mlb.com.
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