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NBA. Knicks fans got some backup yesterday from Charles Oakley. The 44-year-old former Knicks forward was just as flagrant with his words when it came to the befuddled franchise as he was with his elbows during his 19-year career.
“They don’t have a leader. A lot of the guys on the team don’t know how to play basketball,” said Oakley, who paired with former teammate Charles Smith yesterday morning at Madison Square Garden to promote SpikeTV’s “Pros vs. Joes.” “They don’t look like they’ve been playing basketball on a day-to-day basis.”
It’s an argument justified by the Knicks’ 13-28 record and a 12.8 average margin of defeat. But while head coach Isiah Thomas has received most of the flak, Oakley exonerated him.
“I don’t think they have a lot of talent,” he said. “They have a lot of guys making money. That doesn’t mean you have talent.”
Thomas’ cause is not aided when he’s lost the tenacity he played with for so many years against Oakley. Coaching and playing are like night and day to Oakley, but he said he expected more feistiness out of Thomas than he has shown. It also doesn’t help he has a misguided “superstar” in Stephon Marbury.
“Stephon should be more of a leader and more of a outgoing guy,” Oakley said. “I think Stephon wanted too much [money], personally.”
Former Knicks guard John Starks, who coached the Charleses to a 7-1 record in the morning session, agreed.
“It’s kind of mind-boggling,” said Starks, who still works for the Knicks. “They can’t stay focused.”
Neither Smith nor Starks could remember a time during their playing days when a whole team did not come to the arena ready to play night in and night out.
Every player is going to struggle with something at one point in the season, Smith said. That’s what teammates are for — to pick each other up and re-focus them. The way the Knicks are operating, there’s probably not a lot of guidance from anyone in the locker room, he said.
Smith remembers when he came to New York before the 1992 season. He realized the importance of going out with teammates during off days, eating with them away from the court and just being “guys who hang out.” That’s how a successful team learns to gel with new players coming in, something Eddy Curry admitted earlier this season was not the team’s strong point.
“We do enough,” Curry said in December.
Oakley said he can think of a place for these “jokers” to go and bond for a while — a tattoo parlor.
“All of them got 30, 40 tattoos,” he said. “I think they’re too friendly with other players. They smile and joke.”
There’s nothing to smirk about. The only thing that is laughable, Oakley said, is the team's lack of leadership. It’s not coming from Marbury, and he doesn’t expect it from Zach Randolph or Curry, who have softened the image of a bruising blue and orange inside game, which Oak and Patrick Ewing built a career on more than a decade ago.
“Randolph is just a double-double guy and [Curry] hasn’t been in shape in two or three years,” he said. “They lose the same way, by 20, 30 points. If you’re going to lose, lose going out – bodies on the floor, making an effort on defense. If you lose 30-something games by the All-Star break, it’s a disgrace.”