Updated: Nov. 14, 2006, 11:42 AM ET

When proud franchises go bad

They are the two most storied NBA teams on the East Coast. The Boston Celtics can boast the game's greatest history, and the New York Knicks, too, have often shone on the special stage of Madison Square Garden.

But the present is not glittering. These two teams are now both less than mediocre. Both teams were home Monday, and both lost. The Knicks fell to the Cavs, 102-96, falling to 2-6 while the Celtics fell to the Magic, 92-89, sinking to 1-6.

The way to improvement in the near future doesn't seem too easy in either case.

The Knicks have the harder road. Anybody who comes in after the Larry Brown situation, I would expect something more positive, and that's what Isiah Thomas is trying to give them. Confidence issues need to be addressed, and he's done that by backing his team at every turn.

That being said, the team as constructed has a payroll in excess of $100 million. There are bigger questions that go past what one coach can do.

Clearly, the overriding problem remains with perimeter players. Stephon Marbury, Jamal Crawford, Steve Francis, Nate Robinson, Quentin Richardson all have great skill sets. But for all of them, their greatest strength is playing with the ball

You want players who complement each other, not feature redundant skills. Changing this roster much would prove difficult because of some big, untradeable contracts.

I think the kind of approach Thomas is using will endear him to his players. He has to be tough and demanding, but he also must be loving. He's a father of a child with a fragile ego. You only have one chance to raise a child. And he's got to do far more teaching than most coaches at this level.

With the Celtics, they have a different dilemma.

Their best player, Paul Pierce, is good enough to win with. But the young players are still of the kind with the "potential" label. Al Jefferson's development was further slowed by an appendix operation that has put him out of action.

But there are other questions. Why is a young player like Delonte West ending up the backup 2 guard, preseason injury issue or not, after being the starting point guard?

That's not progression.

They seem to be trying to build a team piecemeal around Pierce. They are in a better position from the salary cap standpoint than the Knicks, having pieces that are much easier to move. The C's only have two big contracts with Wally Szczerbiak and Pierce.

When will these two teams win again? It looks like a hard road ahead.

Which is too bad. There aren't better fans in the sport than those of these two franchises.

And they're not being rewarded.

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Full Nelson
Yao Ming
Victor Baldizon/ /NBAE via Getty Images
Paul Pierce is taking the shot here, but it was Jameer Nelson (24 points) who made the biggest hoops in a 92-89 win over the Celtics.

Observation Deck: Seattle Views

SEATTLE'S BETTER: The Sonics have me scratching my head moreso than any other team thus far. Lost their first two games by 10 points total, lost their next two by only 4 points. The Nets expected to see a lowly Seattle team, and got their butts handed to them in the first half.

This team has some moxie to them, and they have Ray Ray too. Imagine their frontline with a healthy and effective Robert Swift (now imagine they took David Lee two drafts ago instead of Johan Petro). They are closer to getting back to the playoffs than I originally thought two weeks ago. -- David Thorpe

FILM ROOM: Bob Hill needs to get Nick Collison into a movie theater playing that famous film "I Dominated the World When I was at Kansas and I Can do it Again!" He had so much passion and intensity there, but it has washed away in Seattle. Or maybe he just needs to smile a little, in which case I'd recommend seeing "Kingpin." If Bill Murray's hair in the final bowling scene can't bring a smile to your face, you have no pulse. -- Thorpe

FITS THE BILL: I'm sure there were a few old-timers attending the Celtics-Magic game who, after watching Dwight Howard's performance, had to smile at the memory of a young Bill Russell dominating a game in similar ways. -- Thorpe

WILD PITCH: What was Wally Szczerbiak thinking when he threw that long baseball inbounds pass to no one when the Celtics needed a 3 to tie at the end of their loss to the Magic? Was that the play they had scripted for such a situation?

Aren't you supposed to practice those things? Doc Rivers might not sleep well. -- Chris Sheridan

IT'S SUPERSONIC, REALLY: Seattle's offense is making every attempt to live up to its nickname this season. The SuperSonics had four players score more than 20 points on Monday. Luke Ridnour had a career-high 32, Rashard Lewis 27, and Ray Allen and Chris Wilcox with 22 each. -- Chris Ramsay

VARIETY PACK: Nenad Krstic scored eight straight points during the Nets' third quarter comeback on Monday. Krstic, whose average is up to 15 ppg, has added a little variety to his offensive game. He is now a fairly reliable scorer from the wing, baseline, elbow, and block. -- Ramsay

MAGIC NUGGET: For Orlando point guard J. Nelson, the J is for Jumper. Jameer beat the Celtics with 24 points -- mostly on jumpers -- and is shooting 61 percent on the season. Here's the punchline: The Nuggets need only an outside shooter to be an offensive juggernaut, yet traded away Nelson two years ago to acquire a future draft pick they turned into Julius Hodge, who will likely never play a meaningful minute for Denver. -- Royce Webb

Utah Looking Good
Andrei Kirilenko

Ryan (SLC): The Jazz are cooking and Andrei Kirilenko is a non-factor, being outplayed by Matt Harpring. Can the Jazz keep this up, and do they need AK-47?

John Hollinger: Well, they're not going to keep winning six out of seven obviously, but they have enough depth up front to withstand losing Kirilenko, especially since Andrei wasn't playing that well. The key is defensively -- historically Utah has given up a bajillion points when he leaves the lineup. Speaking of Utah frontcourt players, my Paul Millsap bandwagon is filling up after that 15-point effort this weekend.

Javier (Cleveland): Johnnyboy! I was at the Q Saturday and I gotta tell ya, you are right on about Zydrunas Ilgauskas with that "finesse big man falling off a cliff thing." I hope Danny Ferry can pull some strings and get some help for Bron Bron and my new boy Sasha Pavlovic.

John Hollinger: Z hasn't looked good to me at all. Cavs are saying it's the new offense, but even when Z gets "his" shots he's not converting at a high rate. If this is the case, it's a huge downer for Cleveland -- I picked them to win the East based in part on Z remaining productive for at least one more year. Oops. At least Pavlovic looks like he has a pulse this year.

See the full John Hollinger story Insider

Atlantic Wreckers

Luke Ridnour dropped 32 in for the Sonics, opening the floor for Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen in a 119-113 win over the Nets. New Jersey joined the Knicks and Celtics as Atlantic Division home teams that lost Monday.

Sonics roll past Nets

Counsel From The King
LeBron James and Nate Robinson
Nick Laham/Getty Images
LeBron James seems to have a few consoling postgame words for Nate Robinson (19 points, 9 of 10 FG), but probably not, "I think you can play Kid LeBron in the next episode."

Extreme Behavior
Jason Kidd

Monday's Best
Cavs guard Damon Jones: Where did this come from? The erstwhile Shaq sidekick dropped 29 on the Knicks, including 24 in the first half. The well-traveled guard (10 teams) sank seven 3-pointers, a career high.

Michael Olowokandi

Monday's Worst
Celtics center Michael Olowokandi: The Kandi man gets his chance to make a difference. But instead, misses all three shots in six minutes of action in a three-point loss to the Magic, making C's fans yearn for the Eric Montross Era.

Quote of the Day
"We showed our inability to get stops down the stretch again. That's the story of our season."
-- Celtics forward Paul Pierce, after his team fell to 1-6 with a loss to the Magic.

See how all 59 who played stacked up

-- Andrew Ayres

Ainge: Doesn't Want To Pull An Isiah

Celtics Executive Director of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge talks with Chad Ford on the Daily Dish podcast:

On holding on to assets the team drafts and develops:

"I wish they had not traded Chauncey Billups and Joe Johnson," Ainge says. "They really have nothing to show for those two guys.

"We would rather trade away players later than too soon."

On the fire Doc Rivers talk.

"Doc's status is good. We know we have a lot of young players, we know he's got a tough job ... I'm not really panicking right now. I think there's a lot of things we can do better and will do better."

On possibly following Isiah's path, dragooned into coaching.

"I don't want to coach. I'm not worried about that. Ultimately it will be my choice whether I want to or not."

Ford's Daily Dish with Ainge Insider

Howard's Double-Double Style
dwight howard

Dwight Howard scored 17 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the Magic's 92-89 win at Boston. Howard was the second visiting player to post a 15/15 game at TD Banknorth Garden in the past six days after none had done so in the previous 43 games there.

Emeka Okafor scored 28 points with 18 rebounds for the Bobcats last Wednesday.

Elias Says

Grisly Grizzly Tale

The Memphis Grizzlies have problems winning on the road against certain teams. In NBA history, the Grizzlies have three of the four worst road records against one opponent. And the Grizzlies play the Kings Wednesday on ESPN. (Minimum 10 games)

Worst Road Record vs One Team
Team Rec. Pct. Opp.
Grizzlies 0-10 .000 Pacers
Grizzlies 1-21 .045 Kings
Heat 1-18 .053 Spurs
Grizzlies 2-20 .091 Nuggets
Raptors 1-10 .091 Kings

-- ESPN Research


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