Bryan Colangelo called him an enigma. My friend, Graeme, said Bargnani’s play “looks like a video game glitch.” After a Knicks-Rockets game, Stephen A. Smith said Bargnani has “decided to show up” as a Knick and that “his impressive defensive performance on Dwight Howard, suddenly has everyone a bit more optimistic.”
I watched some of that Houston game. I wasn’t tuning in to watch the Knicks, I was there to watch Bargnani, to see how he was playing, to feel better that he wasn’t a Raptor. In five minutes I watched Bargnani miss a 3 then miss a layup. While players aren’t measured on two plays, and his rough housing Dwight Howard highlight was awesome, I couldn’t handle the Bargs Saga the whole night.
I couldn’t watch Bargs move around the floor, throwing up his wooden picks, resting on an opponent’s back as he watches a rebound drift away, or maybe he’s taking a break? Or what? What’s Bargs doing? He looks like he’s thinking something when he’s leaning on player’s backs or standing around in the key. But when you watch him, when you shut out the actual plays and the distracting ball movements and the scores, and say as a viewer, this game, this is Andrea’s story being played out, I’m only going to watch him, which I have, and not just during the Houston game, but the Charlotte, Atlanta, and San Antonio games, I keep wondering, what is going on in his mind? He’s running up and down the court. He’s taking a pass, he’s shooting it, he’s high fiving teammates but I’m not convinced he’s there. I’m not saying Bargs is stupid or that he doesn’t know how to play basketball but when I see Bargs in his glowing orange running shoes I wonder if, in his mind, he’s playing some other game on the court, some arcade classic isometric projection against guys named Coily, Ugg, Wrong-Way, Slick & Sam.
What to do with him? Pay him 11 million this year. 12 million the next. Talk about how he’ll help spread the floor. Hope that he’ll rebound and score in bunches. Listen to the Bargs mirage fever start rising after he has two solid games and people start saying he’s finally, after seven years, turned his game around.
But the Knicks are 3-10. Mike Woodson has said that the Knicks “didn’t compete tonight, it’s just unacceptable.” And I know, Chandler’s injured, JR Smith is shooting for himself and to get his brother back on the team, James Dolan once got dumped by a cheerleader and is taking it out on everyone. I know, I get it, the team is in another of its twenty-first century identity crises, and the memory of Isiah Thomas is still buried at center court, and Glen Grunwald was silently poisoned before he could make another trade, and the announcer says, “Andrea Barg-NAN-NI!” And I forget whose team history I’m watching because those rim clanging shots Bargnani took during the Houston game, they looked an awful lot like the countless misses he made as a Toronto Raptor. And that distracted look he has as he runs back up the court to be at the other end of the court, that looks like the same lost player I’ve watched for years.
And there Bargs is again in the Knicks-Pacers game and I see a couple more back of the rim clangers like only Bargs can shoot. They go up, they’re going in, then no, they’re bouncing off the inside of the rim and landing in the Pacers’ hands.
Or the Pacer player covering him, Bargs teammates clapping their hands calling for the ball, and Bargs decides to shoot. He looks scared, he looks bullied. When he shoots he looks like he’s taking the shot of someone who doesn’t want to hold the ball. Like he wants to be left alone.
In the last few minutes of regulation the Knicks had a chance at beating the Pacers. Bargs saw his opportunity and took a three. This was a hero three. I’m sure he was thinking if he just hits this three then everything will change. Fans will cheer him. Other players will respect him. He’ll show them he’s not soft. He’ll show everyone he deserved to be picked first overall.
The ball bounced off the side of the rim.
The Pacers won in overtime.