'Bockers, Brooklyn tilt to own the pity

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Well, this wasn't the debate anyone expected the Knicks and Nets to have heading into their first showdown of the season. Rather than all of that offseason chest-pounding about who's going to own the city, and in place of each team's bombastic owner preening he was rolling out a championship-caliber team before either squad had even proven it could defend a pick-and-roll, there's new infighting.

"Who stinks worse?"

"We're the laughingstock of the league," Carmelo Anthony admitted Wednesday about his 3-13 Knicks, who are riding a nine-game losing streak.

"Both teams stink," Nets coach Jason Kidd said a day earlier.

"I would agree we both stink -- we've stunk it up this early part of the season," Knicks coach Mike Woodson allowed after the Knicks practiced Wednesday, knowing there is talk he could be fired if the Knicks lose to the Nets.

"We're not playing great basketball," Woodson said.

Could he be more specific?

"It's been on both sides of the ball," Woodson admitted a little later during his weekly spot on "The Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco Show" on ESPN New York 98.7 FM. "For our team -- it's funny for me to even sit here and say this -- we were a 54-win team and we're sitting here trying to figure out how to win one game. That, I mean, that's kind of ridiculous."

Both the Knicks and Nets have looked lousy compared to preseason expectations.

But with just 16 games gone for Woodson's cellar-dwelling team, this game shouldn't be a referendum on whether he gets fired.

He doesn't deserve to be.

If the Knicks remain this awful, the only steadily building referendum that matters -- both right now and going forward -- should be this: How much lousier do the Knicks have to get before they seriously contemplate trading Anthony by the deadline, rather than let him leave as a free agent next summer without getting a thing in return?

Firing Woodson just six weeks into this season would be absurd.

Besides, at this point, who could the Knicks install as his replacement anyway?

Lawrence Frank? (Kidding!) He's almost certainly attainable since Kidd unceremoniously demoted his once-indispensable lead assistant to doing scouting reports Tuesday and kicked him off the bench for games.

Allan Houston? (Wish we were kidding!) The New York Daily News reported Wednesday that chatter within the organization has Woodson's replacement as the former Knicks guard-turned-general manager-in-waiting, waiting ... still waiting. And all because owner James Dolan abruptly fired last year's GM Glen Grunwald over the summer -- and for what? The apparent sin of constructing a division-winning Knicks team? -- and replaced Grunwald with Garden retread Steve Mills.

Not Houston.

This is the usual foolishness and impossibly twisted logic Dolan always brings upon the Knicks. The revolving door at the Garden just spins 'round and 'round. Only the details and the names on the toe tags change.

Woodson is a class act who doesn't deserve to go. He has been dealt a flawed roster this year. Sure, he does things that bug you. The head-scratching, in-game rotations he sometimes employs can make even his players squirm. Yes, the Knicks sit at the bottom of the league in too many vital statistical categories right now, but they've also played five weeks without Tyson Chandler and a lot without Raymond Felton.

Woodson's deeply ingrained habit of preferring older veterans over younger players has, by coincidence or design, left him with a roster of creaky forwards who can only play limited minutes. His irritable defense that he's playing young Iman Shumpert over 30 minutes a night as proof there's no rift or bias in play is not persuasive. The argument might be more convincing if J.R. Smith, Woodson's competing option instead of Shumpert, hadn't been suspended early in the year, then played badly, and is now nursing a sore knee. Shumpert has looked lost since trade rumors about him floated up.

And so, here we are. A lot of the urgency and hype attached to the outcome of this game would feel phony if Dolan weren't so erratic and truly capable of doing anything. No matter how dumb.

At least Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is standing down -- for now. And it's clear Kidd isn't going anywhere -- a least not yet, even though his rookie year as a head coach has started an ugly 5-13. But he hasn't had stars Brook Lopez or Deron Williams healthy, either. And now Paul Pierce has a fractured hand.

The Knicks are more desperate for a win than the Nets at this point.

But the rest of this season isn't about Woodson. It's going to be about what to do with Melo.

The time to build a better team around him was last summer, not this coming offseason when he gets his freedom. By then, it was always going to be too late.

And now, all that early talk from Anthony about "recruiting" other stars to join him in New York seems as silly as Dolan thinking that Mills' ties to CAA, the agency that represents LeBron James and some other pending free agents, will help the Knicks haul in the all-star lineup we always hear is going to come here one of these offseasons.

We heard the same thing when Mike D'Antoni was hired before the Summer of LeBron. How'd that work out?

It stunk. That's how.

Just like the Knicks' outlook does now.