Nate Robinson's Return Signals a New Era

Guard's return speaks volumes about this year's team

By Josh Alper
|  Monday, Jan 4, 2010  |  Updated 9:31 AM EDT
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Nate is still Nate.

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The Knicks won a laugher on Sunday night against the Pacers. They led by as many as 48 points before taking the game 132-89. It was fun to watch the team fire on all cylinders, and we expect the Indianapolis city council to investigate why their city's teams refuse to compete against New York teams any day now. There's not much to say about a blowout, though, so we'll dial things back to Friday.

There's been a lot of discussion about lessons learned in the wake of Nate Robinson's 41-point return to the Knicks lineup on Friday night in Atlanta. Some people argue that Robinson was humbled and others argue that this proves Mike D'Antoni is an egomaniac who costs his team wins by holding grudges, but the truth is that the only lesson learned is that these Knicks are different from the ones we've watched over the last 10 years.

Robinson's response to his benching was to change absolutely nothing about himself, and we mean that as a compliment. He remained upbeat on the bench and remained the kind of teammate who desperately wants to be the first guy to greet you when you made a big play. He wanted to play, but he wasn't going to let the vagaries of the NBA season stop Nate from being Nate. On Sunday night, Walt Frazier called his return to the lineup one of "jubilation and emancipation," and it's pretty clear that the jubilation allowed the emancipation to happen. 

Compare that to what happened with Steve Francis, Stephon Marbury or any of the other malcontents who've drifted through town over the last decade. Those players brooded, they ignored the game and, in the case of Marbury, actually refused to play when asked. D'Antoni's style may be prickly -- Larry Hughes is the latest to complain about the way the coach handles changes to the rotation -- but is there anyone really longing for the days of prickly players? 

The idea that either man changed is silly. Robinson remains a maniacal gunner and his first two games back reflect the pros and cons of that route. He followed 41 points with 2 of 11 shooting on Sunday and didn't seem like a man humbled into only taking smart shots on either night. Sure, he gave an Oscar speech following the win over the Hawks, but that doesn't mean he's undergone some Manchurian Candidate-style brainwashing. 

When D'Antoni benched Robinson, he did it because Robinson wasn't playing well and was hurting the team. His return came because Hughes wasn't playing well and the team stopped winning. One's a gunner, the other's a pragmatist and that's just fine.  

The big thing is that both want the Knicks to win, which is a big difference from the average guy on Jim Dolan's payroll in recent years. With apologies to Sam Cooke, it's been a long, long time coming but the change has come.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.

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