New Controversy On Knicks Between D’Antoni and Hughes

Published on: 5th January, 2010

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New York — In the aftermath of the Knicks blowout win tonight at home against the undermanned, injury-depleted Indiana Pacers, 132-89, it was Larry Hughes, always a standup guy unafraid to speak his version of the truth, in front of his locker discussing his new status as a player who used to be an integral part of the rotation but now, personna non grata as far as playing time is concerned.

As soon as the Nate Robinson headlines were made to disappear by the re-emergence of little Nate this past Sunday with his 41-point explosion off the bench against Atlanta, you had to know that another player would bare the brunt of Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni’s mad scientist ways.

Mr. Hughes, step up to the stage. You’ve been chosen to be the new odd man out. 

Hughes, after sitting out three games with a groin injury, came back and found himself shooting 3-for-22 (0-for-8 on threes) in five games before he was benched by D’Antoni.  Hughes, an NBA veteran of 11 seasons, is beyond trying to understand D’Antoni’s thinking but, at the same time feels disrespected and clearly not pleased by the coach’s style. In the meantime, he will now occupy the space on the bench where Darko Milicic used to sit and that Robinson kept warm for a full month of games without seeing the light of day.

“There’s nothing I can do about it,” Hughes said after the Knicks blowout win tonight. “I don’t agree with it. Nothing was explained to me and it’s not a good way to play a season, going back and forth. It’s my second or third time now, so it’s getting old.”

“I can understand his frustration and sympathize with him,” D’Antoni said, “but that doesn’t change how we have to try to go about things [to] try to win.”

Hughes’ biggest issue with D’Antoni’s decision is the complete lack of communication, particularly given his veteran status in the league.

“The mind games are not what I like about this,” said Hughes. “It’s ideal for the coach to communicate with a grown man. It’s a long season, you always want to have dialogue. There are things you need to talk about over a long season. I think dialogue helps, letting people know where they stand. It goes a long way in this league to know what each other is thinking and feeling. I’m willing and open to express my opinions and get everything out in the open.”

It’s difficult to be too critical of D’Antoni’s methods given the Knicks streak of solid basketball since they decided to cut the rotation to eight players, essentially. It’s left players like Milicic, Robinson, and the rookies, Toney Douglas and Jordan Hill squeezed out of any opportunities to get on the court. And now, Hughes gets to experience feelings of disrespect from his coach.

The Knicks have compiled a 10-6 record over their past 16 games, propelling them back into the playoff discussion in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Hard to argue with the D’Antoni’s coaching, particularly given the atrocious 1-9 start to this season that had Knicks fans booing this team early on.

Hughes doesn’t understand the change away from using him, given his role in the Knicks improved play before he pulled his groin muscle.

“We did start our winning streak when I was playing”, he said. “When you are part of the turnaround and the team starts winning games, it kind of goes both ways. Since I got injured, now I’m not playing. There’s an unwritten rule in our league that you never lose your spot coming back from an injury. I feel like that’s what’s happened to me, though.”

Sounds like this has a chance to build up some animosity between player and coach. In today’s NBA, a coach can’t break these unwritten rules. Or can he? If he’s Mike D’Antoni, and has a track record of success, it appears he still has the respect and power to do exactly as he pleases without needing to explain himself to a player, even a veteran like Hughes.

The player is not happy, by any means but he is still trying to say the right things where it pertains to the team’s success, not his own.

“I think I help this team in many ways,” he added. “I can come down and try to score every time but it’s not productive for this team. We have a lot of guys who can score. To defend, get points, get assists….you can see I’m pretty good at getting guys involved and playing on both ends of the court. I don’t try to overstep the boundaries of my job. All you can do is stay ready. Keep your body and your mind into the long basketball season. I’m here to play. This is something different for me, whatever this is that’s going on now. I’m fine, I’m 100%. I’m fully healthy and ready to get back on the court. I feel like when I’m out there playing, I’m helping the team. There’s really nothing you can do about it. You’re employed, you go to work, that’s all you can do.”

Smart guy is Hughes.  That’s all he can do at this point.

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