Minus playoffs, Van Gundy is out, too

On The NBA

April 25, 1999|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

In the wake of the firing of Ernie Grunfeld as the president/general manager of the New York Knicks, coach Jeff Van Gundy has been quiet. And he has good reason: He realizes he'll be the next to go if the Knicks don't finish strong and make the playoffs.

With the highest payroll in the NBA ($69 million), the Knicks figured to contend for supremacy in the Eastern Conference. Instead, they're struggling to stay at .500 (22-21) and enter today's game at Miami tied for the eighth and final playoff spot with Toronto and Charlotte.

Madison Square Garden has been a place of dissension all season. Van Gundy and Grunfeld barely communicated this season over the off-season trade that sent Charles Oakley to Toronto for Marcus Camby.

Van Gundy loved Oakley's toughness, and in an act of rebellion during the early part of the season he barely played Camby. That led to bad feelings in the organization that have carried over onto the floor.

"I'll only say that the organization has not functioned very well together," said Garden president Dave Checketts.

Checketts will assume Grunfeld's responsibilities for the rest of the season. He'll travel with the team, obviously to keep an eye on the motivational tactics of Van Gundy on his players.

Center Patrick Ewing has said that he doesn't want to play for a coach other than Van Gundy. But, in a town as demanding as New York, Ewing might have to next season. While the Knicks' woes can be attributed to questionable personnel moves, the team's talent does warrant a better record. And in leading the most disappointing team in basketball, Van Gundy has to be held accountable.

Spurs kick up heels

At the other end of the spectrum, the San Antonio Spurs have assumed the label as the league's hottest team with 25 wins in their last 29 games, including last night's 108-81 blowout of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Although this is the time of the year when the Spurs usually have prepared for a postseason fade, they have beaten Portland, Houston, Utah and the Lakers in succession during their current six-game winning streak.

The key to San Antonio's success is forward Tim Duncan playing like an MVP candidate and center David Robinson being rejuvenated after playing the first half of the season in a funk. Robinson was used mainly as a defensive player early, but during the recent stretch his shot attempts have increased slightly. He was averaging 15.1 points and 9.7 rebounds going into last night.

Duncan was impressive in Tuesday's win over Utah, when he recorded 36 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks. He was averaging 21.5 points and 11.5 rebounds going into last night.

"We're trying to dethrone them," Duncan said after the Utah win. "This is one game. We haven't knocked them off yet."

The game was in Utah, where the Spurs had not won since April 9, 1996. While the Spurs, who trailed Utah by 2 1/2 games going into last night, appear on the verge of entering the playoffs on an upswing, they still have to prove themselves in the postseason, where they have not gotten out of the second round since 1995.

Around the league

When the Miami Heat won its 27th game, it earned guard Tim Hardaway a $427,000 bonus. Hardaway has a clause in his contract for $700,000 on the team's 45th win, but all contracts and bonuses were prorated with the shortened season.

Phoenix Suns center Luc Longley said he was eager to leave Chicago after Phil Jackson resigned and Michael Jordan retired.

"I wanted out," Longley said. "I really didn't want to be part of the carcass of the old Bulls for the buzzards to come around and pick at."

Injuries have likely ended the Cleveland Cavaliers' playoff chances. Shawn Kemp probably will miss the rest of the season after injuring his ankle Wednesday night and point guard Brevin Knight is out for the season after fracturing his hand Friday night. Cleveland is in 11th place, a half-game out of the final playoff spot.

Seattle's slim playoff chances also are hurt now that forward Vin Baker will likely miss the rest of the season with an injured knee. Baker's knee was hit by Dennis Rodman during an April 11 game.

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett was named the Midwest Division winner of the NBA's sportsmanship award, interestingly just a few days after coach Flip Saunders was telling his player not to be such a nice guy.

"He has to start complaining a little bit more because that poor guy gets manhandled down there [in the post]," Saunders said.

New Jersey Nets center Jayson Williams watched his team play last week for the first time in person since fracturing his right leg April 1.

Asked his first reaction after crashing into teammate Stephon Marbury, Williams replied: "I tried to move out of the way and not get stepped on by Mrs. Marbury." After the collision, Marbury's mother rushed to the court to check on her fallen son.

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