New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony is pushed away by teammate Raymond Felton after exchanging word with a Hawks player in Atlanta. Atlanta won 107-98. Photo: AP
As the ball went up for the opening tip at Philips Arena on Saturday night, Cole Aldrich draped his left arm over the back of the folding chair next to him. It was empty.
Aldrich, a reserve center with the New York Knicks, had ample room to stretch out on the bench as his teammates faced the Atlanta Hawks. More room than he needed, in fact. The Knicks were already without three injured players as they concluded a futile four-game trip, and they had moved to part ways with two others, Beno Udrih and Metta World Peace, before the Knicks' 107-98 loss.
Coach Mike Woodson confirmed that the Knicks were negotiating buyouts with Udrih and World Peace, veterans who had fallen out of the rotation and out of favor. Woodson did not sound particularly sentimental about their impending departures, saying only that he expected their buyouts to be official by the time the team returned to New York. He used the word "hopefully."
"I think when you're trying to build a team, it should always be about team," he said before the game. "You can't play everybody. And if you're not playing, you've still got to be a good teammate."
The team was hoping to unearth a fragile equilibrium against the Hawks and failed. After going ahead by 17 points, the Knicks (21-35) watched their momentum drain away in the fourth quarter, like a mudslide. Lou Williams gave the Hawks (26-29) the lead with consecutive 3-pointers, and the Knicks played defense that ranged from lethargic to apathetic.
Worth noting: Atlanta had lost eight straight games and was without the All-Star forward Paul Millsap, sidelined with a right knee contusion. Mike Scott (30 points) and DeMarre Carroll (24 points), who are not exactly household names, proved more than capable of eviscerating the Knicks in his absence. Each set a season high in scoring. The Hawks were 16 of 31 from 3-point range.
One day after playing 50 minutes in a double-overtime loss to the Orlando Magic, Carmelo Anthony finished with 35 points but shot 3 of 11 in the fourth quarter.
Udrih and World Peace will be free to sign elsewhere once their buyouts (or outright releases) are completed, and perhaps this is not the worst thing for either of them.
Burdened with the NBA's second-highest payroll ($87 million), with little to show for it, the Knicks will be free to fill the two vacant roster spots. Although the Knicks were inactive at Thursday's trade deadline, they could clearly use some help. Woodson said he would consider a list of available players with management. The larger question is whether the team can sign anyone decent, and cheaply.
Udrih, 31, and World Peace, 34, agreed to short-term deals with the Knicks in the off-season, each player confident that he would be able to contribute. Instead, they languished on the bench. Udrih played a total of 11 minutes in the 16 games before Saturday's game. World Peace, a former defensive player of the year who has battled chronic knee injuries, averaged 4.8 points in 29 games.
"I'm not going to linger on it," Woodson said. "As a coach, guys work for me. I wish them nothing but the best as they move on."
After he played seven minutes against the Magic, World Peace joked on Twitter that he was going to fire his agent and sign with Creative Artists Agency so he could secure more playing time. CAA represents several people in the organization, including Woodson and Anthony, and wields considerable power.
Less than 18 hours after posting that message, World Peace was back on Twitter to break the news of his impending buyout. He thanked his fans. "No disrespect to the city," he wrote.
Udrih was lured to New York by the prospect of being the team's third point guard, alongside Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni. He wound up squabbling with Woodson, who made Udrih the scapegoat for several late-game calamities. One came against the Washington Wizards on Dec. 16, when Bradley Beal drove past Udrih for the winning layup. Udrih was expecting help-side defense. Woodson said Udrih had erred by not fouling Beal.
Less than three weeks later, after J.R. Smith made the stupefying decision to launch a 3-pointer with about 20 seconds left in a tied game against the Houston Rockets, Woodson blamed Udrih for passing the ball to Smith in the first place. The Knicks could have held for the final shot.
"Did Beno have to throw him the ball? You got to look at that," Woodson said afterward.
These were public criticisms that Udrih neither appreciated nor understood, and he requested a trade as he began to collect dust at the end of the bench.
Udrih, an aspiring coach, was asked what he had learned about coaching from his time with the Knicks.
"No comment," he said. "Listen, I call myself a sponge. Every team I go to, I'm trying to learn as much as I can. Every aspect of the game - defense, offense, on the court, all this stuff."
New York Times