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The Circus Comes to Town

As the blogger at the Feed noted, it took only five games for the Knicks season to implode.  That may turn out to be an exaggeration given how early it is, but even by Gotham's standards, this is getting really ugly, really fast.  As Ron Burgundy once said, "Man, that escalated quickly... I mean, that really got out of hand fast."

Backtracking to Sunday night based on various media reports, the time line looks something like this:

  • After the Knicks loss to the Heat in the Garden (no doubt a bitter pill, given the mutual animosity between the franchises and the fact that it was Miami's first and still only win), Frank Isola reported in the NY Daily News that Isiah Thomas and James Dolan met to discuss reducing Stephon Marbury's role on the team, possibly even trading him or buying out his contract.  This meeting was precipitated by a perceived lack of defense and leadership on Starbury's part - something that you'd think Isiah would have noticed before in the three and a half seasons he's been a Knick.  
  • Apparently Isola got the story right.  As the Knicks were flying to Phoenix Monday for their Tuesday game, word apparently reached Marbury through Eddy Curry that Steph was going to be benched in favor of Mardy Collins.
  • What happened next is disputed.  Marbury probably stormed to the front of the plane to confront Thomas.  There may or may not have been punches thrown.  There may or may not have been threats regarding [stuff] that Marbury knows about Thomas.
  • This last fits well with the depiction of Isiah's MSG from this summer's trial.  Boys behaving badly is a polite way to say it, Marbury being the worst of the lot, Thomas getting Steph's back and vice versa.  
  • Tuesday morning at the Knicks practice in Phoenix, Marbury was nowhere to be found.  The news reported him as AWOL, and Thomas implied that he didn't know where Steph was, but when Marbury showed up in New York, he texted news outlets that he had left Phoenix with Thomas' permission (making him AWL instead of AWOL).  
  • Wednesday, the Knicks levied a hefty fine (I've seen anywhere from $180K to $200K) against Marbury for missing the Phoenix game.  
  • And the very, very latest is that Steph is at this moment flying to LA to re-join his teammates - this again directly from the horse's keyboard, as he emailed the NY Post.  Whether he'll play against the Clippers remains to be seen.

Here's the amazing thing.  The Knicks were 2-3 after the loss to the Heat.  Furthermore, they had a pretty good excuse for losing to the Heat, having played the game without their early season leading scorer and rebounder Zach Randolph.  So, even if Marbury did make some mistakes down the stretch of that game, if Randolph isn't dealing with his grandmother's death, the Knicks likely win that game and are 3-2.  Not tearing up the league perhaps, but with a nice win over Denver under their belts, a promising start to the season.

So the real question is, why did Isiah pick 5 games into the season to bench Marbury?  This guy has been getting paid $20M to lead the Knicks to an average of 30 wins per season for over three years, and five games into this season Isiah is going to bench him?  For Mardy Collins?  Isiah has done some strange stuff in his day, but this one doesn't make any sense at all and frankly it doesn't pass the giggle test.  It sure seems like fallout from the trial and Dolan sticking his nose in, doesn't it?

A couple of different pundits have pointed out that Marbury may not be so untradeable after all.  His contract 'only' has two more seasons on it, so a team looking to clear cap space for summer 09 to make a run at Emeka Okafor or Josh Smith or even Kobe Bryant might be willing to take him on knowing that he'll be gone by then.  But I'm hopeful that we haven't reached that point in the NBA yet - where teams are allowed to ditch two full seasons on the flimsy promise of signing a free agent.  We'll see.

Oh yeah, and there's a basketball game tonight.  From the Clippers' perspective, this could end up being a trap.  Marbury may or may not play, Randolph may or may not play, QRich may or may not play... hell, Mardy Collins may or may not play after turning an ankle last night.  The distractions on the Knicks side are likely to hurt New York's chances, but it's distracting to the Clippers as well.  They can't really afford to go into any game over-confident - not the generic Clippers, anyway.

As I said yesterday, stay tuned.  Who knows where this is going next.