Lupica: If Dolan wants Knicks afloat, he should listen to coach speak

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Mike Woodson (l.) is now coaching Carmelo Anthony and company without the benefit of his starting center, Tyson Chandler, who has a broken bone in his leg.

The Knicks aren’t suddenly the Yankees because they don’t have Tyson Chandler the way the Yankees didn’t have Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira for most of the season and Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez for way too much of it. It just feels that way now that Chandler is lost for four to six weeks or however long it is going to be and there is no help coming over the hill. Or over one of Dolan’s fancy new bridges.

“There are no bigs out there,” one Eastern Conference coach said on Thursday, sounding more than somewhat like Mike Woodson sounds right now, Woodson’s team in an early hole that could get a lot bigger and deeper and worse.

The NBA is not baseball, you can’t compare where the Knicks are with where the Yankees were when big players started dropping all over the place on Brian Cashman. But Cashman, a smart, competent, resourceful guy, went out and got Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds and a lot of other names you can’t even remember from the baseball summer, kept the Yankees in play longer than they should have been.

Cashman did what a real general manager is supposed to do, which means he figured it out.

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But one of the problems for the Knicks is that they have no Cashman to figure things out for them, with so little room to breathe under the salary cap, so little room to maneuver as they have to figure out a way to stay relevant until Chandler, the second-most important player on the team, actually is healthy again, whenever that is.

Since Isiah Thomas was removed from the stage like, well, like a Knicks City Dancer, the Knicks have spent years going from plan to plan, from general manager to general manager, from one big contract to another: Amar’e Stoudemire’s and Carmelo Anthony’s and Tyson Chandler’s. And then suddenly, for one shining season — or what passes for one shining season at Dolan’s Garden — they won 54 games for Woodson and were on their way to the Eastern Conference finals before Chandler got hurt and J.R. Smith forgot how to shoot after throwing that elbow at the end of the Boston series.

Now the basketball operation is Steve Mills and Allan Houston, better survivors than basketball executives, and send up a flare if you believe they have a plan of their own beyond getting to the next plan at Madison Square Garden.

It is why if Dolan is going to listen to anybody now that the Knicks are in this kind of early trouble, he ought to listen to his coach. And keep reminding himself that Mike Woodson didn’t forget how to coach after 54 regular-season victories and an Atlantic Division title last season that nobody saw coming. And have enough sense to know that Woodson is the best basketball man in his organization, though with the Knicks you sometimes think that “organization” sounds a little strong.

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“But Mike knows the deal there,” the Eastern Conference coach said. “You’re expected to win, no matter what’s happening around you. And they haven’t won.”

Woodson came into the season hoping that he could play big with the Knicks, get through the early part of the season with Kenyon Martin and Stoudemire (“I think he lost his skill,” Charles Barkley told me on the radio the other day. “I think he lost his talent”), hope that Andrea Bargnani could rediscover his own skill and talent as a complementary scorer to Carmelo.

Now Woodson has to play Bargnani at center with Chandler gone, give him big minutes and hope that he can offer something more than the toreador defense we saw from him in the first four games of the season, while the Knicks try to play small and fast.

“I gotta keep him on the floor,” Woodson told the media on Thursday before the Knicks left for Charlotte to play the Bobcats, last game before J.R. Smith rejoins the season after his drug suspension.

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Maybe things are different if Smith — you can’t forget the season he had before he lost his shot against the Pacers anymore than you can forget 54 wins because the Knicks ended up losing to the Pacers — is around for the real start of the season. Maybe the Knicks start out 2-2 or 3-1 or even 4-0, because it’s not as if the three losses were blowouts, and people aren’t giving up on them already now that Chandler goes away.

The Knicks, though, don’t come all the way back on the Timberwolves, don’t come all the way back on the Bobcats, what were supposed to be soft places for them to land until Smith rejoins the team. Now they are where they are. And you look at the next 20 games, through the middle of December, 10 at home and 10 on the road and it is hard to see them even getting a split out of those games, especially with a West Coast trip thrown in.

If they win, say, only seven or eight, you see how the math gets very bad very quickly, and who knows what kind of panic sets in on 33rd St., especially since the owner apparently looked down from those fancy new bridges and became the only man in all the land who decided he was looking at the next NBA champion.

In a different sport, in different circumstances, Brian Cashman figured it out. Who does that for the Knicks, even in the short run?

Of course there will be plenty of time for blame later at the Garden, it is still the basketball mecca when it comes to blame. For now you wonder who has Dolan’s ear. Knicks fans should hope it’s the coach. At least he knows what he’s doing.

Until the next plan, that is.

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