The Knicks' lack of a transition game, though, is hardly their only shortcoming. Take their backcourt—please. Until last week only Rory Sparrow could dribble, change direction and look up at the same time—until the Knicks acquired Gerald Henderson from Seattle for a second-round draft pick in 1990 and a probable switch of first-rounders in '87. Gerald Wilkins has talent but often fails to control it, and Trent Tucker adds little to the corps. No one can shoot with consistency, which is an imperative on a team that can't—or isn't allowed to—run.
The Knicks struggle so hard it's exhausting just watching them try to score. There is no vitality to their game. No gun. No run. No fun. There is a lot of fear, though. They are playing not to make a mistake, not to break Hubie's sacred plays, while the coach does the Big Shoe Dance on the sideline.
As Hubie watched in Milwaukee on Friday night, Ewing got the ball down low with five seconds left. The Knicks were down by one. Ewing deftly spun past Cummings and powered up to the ring. Center Jack Sikma came over to help, but he knew better. A foul could cost the Bucks three points. "I wasn't even going to go up," said Sikma. "What for? In fact, I turned my head. I didn't look. Then there was the ball trickling off the rim."
It was an attitude shot. Ewing blew it. "It felt like Patrick was confused," said Cummings. The old Ewing would have brought the Mecca down with a concussive slam that people could have told their grandchildren about. This Ewing, this tentative forward person, tried a half layup. He missed.
Brown has always been at his best coaching overachievers, mutts, guys who couldn't be sure they weren't all those horrible things that Hubie was calling them. But now he has got a dominant center, a messiah. He's coaching talent, which isn't easy to do if your ego gets in the way. When you're coaching talent, you don't change it. You adapt yourself, you change. Hubie hasn't. He has heard that Ewing is unhappy playing forward, and this is what he told Newsday's Gary Binford about that: "Some great names in basketball—Bob Thornton, [Chris] McNealy, James Bailey, [Ken] Bannister, Eddie Wilkins and Ron Cavenall—have been able to play both positions. So I don't want to hear that crap. It's the dumbest thing I ever heard of.... If it's so hard, how come these Einsteins could do it?...I don't want to hear that [ Ewing's] out of position."
"Hubie's teams tend to be slow starters," says Knicks G.M. Scotty Stirling. "Just wait. By January, this team will bear absolutely no resemblance to the team you see now."
If the Knicks don't get better, and soon, that new look could have something to do with a new center—and a new coach.