Brown, for his part, is squeezing the maximum from his team. "They're like alley fighters," said Los Angeles coach Pat Riley after the Lakers struggled to beat the Knicks 119-114 on Feb. 24. "Hubie's done a great, great job." Brown alternates encouragement with chastisement, putting his players in an effective trap press and, sometimes, in his doghouse, which has been described as a duplex. "The good thing about doghouses," explains Grunfeld, a reserve swingman, "is that when one guy goes in, another guy usually comes out. He gives you a chance to show what you can do."
But, just as in Atlanta, Brown is having his differences with the front office. Says one player agent, "The internal fighting between Hubie and Dave is to a point where they don't even talk. The buck has to stop somewhere, but neither I nor anyone else knows where."
DeBusschere denies any rift. "My hand to God," he says, "we're not like little kids carrying grudges. I get so paranoid reading the papers. I get battered enough. And these guys are busting their humps. Hubie's doing a hell of a job."
In fact, one of the very first things DeBusschere did after taking over in 1982 was to accommodate Brown, who had been appointed head coach the same day. He traded Maurice Lucas to Phoenix for Robinson, because Brown and Lucas had a personality conflict dating back to the ABA. "If you're going to have a problem, you can either nip it in the bud or let it become a cancer," DeBusschere says. But while Lucas thrived with the Suns, Robinson played erratically, even pouting and wondering aloud why, with all due respect to this guy King, the offense didn't revolve more around himself. Instead of a cancer, Brown and DeBusschere had the plague.
Robinson is one of eight players whose contracts expire at the end of this season, thus freeing up some $2 million of New York's payroll and giving the front office more flexibility. But, among the currently hale Knicks, next year isn't yet a consideration. "Just because we're not winning doesn't mean we're going to stop going the route," says Knick forward Louis ( Gandhi) Orr, the wraithlike reserve. "We still have a chance at the playoffs."
The Mahatma is correct, thanks to the league's open-admissions playoff policy, which permits all but the seven sorriest teams to participate in postseason play. The Knicks are 5� games behind Atlanta in the race for the last playoff berth in the East. If they don't qualify, they enter the lottery for the college draft and a shot at Patrick Ewing, the Georgetown center who's certain to be picked No. 1. It's hard to believe a team as chronically snakebit as New York could land the big prize.
"Hey Hubie!" yelled a fan at courtside last week during a 129-122 win over San Antonio at Madison Square Garden. "Put Ray-Ray in!"
"You're the same [discourteous gentleman] who was telling me to take him out during the playoffs last year," Brown shot back.
Bless the Knicks. They're learning to live with injuries. But if their coach gets laryngitis, it's curtains.