It is Monday, March 19th and the Knicks are currently on a 3-game winning streak, playing good overall basketball, and have the fans and players optimistic for what the remainder of the season has in store. Mike Woodson is 3-0 as the Knicks head coach after taking over for Mike D’Antoni. The Knicks seem to be a completely revitalized team thanks to his departure. It was evident that Coach D’Antoni would probably not be asked back after his contract expired at the end of the season so he pulled the trigger himself. With the Knicks not living up to all the pre-season hype and Linsanity dying down, the fans had to point fingers at someone, and D’Antoni was the scapegoat. The fans were chanting, “fire D’Antoni,” during the recent 6-game losing streak and it eventually became too much for the coach and the organization to handle, causing D’Antoni to be stripped of his coaching position. Despite Knick fans basically throwing D’Antoni under the bus like they did with Isiah Thomas, I truly believe that D’Antoni never got a true chance to succeed with this organization.
Look, D’Antoni’s coaching position was clearly on the respirator. He was most likely not going to get a new contract offered to him at the end of the year and before the season even started, many speculated that the former Hawks head coach and recently hired assistant coach Mike Woodson would take over. Looking back to last year before the Carmelo trade, the Knicks were an exciting, young team that showed a lot of heart and promise. Unlike the previous 2 seasons, the Knicks actually had some players that D’Antoni could work with. They had just agreed to a blockbuster deal with the previous 5-time All-Star Amare Stoudemire, who had played in Phoenix while D’Antoni was the Suns head coach. They had just signed point guard Raymond Felton, whom many thought would excel in D’Antoni’s offensive system. Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari were young, upcoming players who had begun to show signs of becoming stars in the league. Felton flourished in D’Antoni’s offense, putting up career highs in almost every stat category. Amare was putting up MVP-like performances including 9 straight games of 30 or more points. Despite all of the offensive success the Knicks were having, the defense still had a long ways to go and then the Carmelo Anthony drama began. D’Antoni was against the trade, thinking that the Knicks were giving up too much for Carmelo, but owner James Dolan ignored D’Antoni’s wishes and brought Melo to New York.
Now flashback to the beginning of this season. The Knicks have signed center Tyson Chandler in an effort to improve their horrid defense, along with veterans Baron Davis and Mike Bibby to give them more depth at the point guard position. They have also signed former Hawks coach and defensive specialist Mike Woodson as an assistant coach to run the defense while D’Antoni runs the offense. At the end of January, the team had an 8-13 record and fans began to get fed up. D’Antoni at this point still hasn’t figured out how to utilize both Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony in his offensive system. Amare was struggling tremendously with his shot as well as his overall confidence, nobody looked comfortable as the team’s starting point guard, and the fans began to pray that an injury-prone and aging Baron Davis would return from injury and become the team’s savior at the PG. The Knicks approached the All-Star break and showed very little signs of gelling together and turning their season around. The groin injury to Carmelo Anthony and the death of Amare Stoudemire’s brother really made things even more frightening. But then the unlikeliest of heroes emerges and breathes life back into the team as well as the fans. Jeremy Lin winds up leading the Knicks to a 7-game winning streak and it looks like the hot seat under D’Antoni has cooled off.
Now, fast-forward to last week. The Knicks are on a 6-game losing streak and Carmelo has made it clear that he no longer has respect towards the Knick head coach. He is extremely unhappy and made it evident when he did not join the team’s huddle during a third quarter time-out during the loss to the Bulls. His body language and his shooting struggles at the time made Knick fans question his work ethic. To top it all off, there were rumors that Melo wanted out of New York because his relationship with D’Antoni got so bad; but Melo immediately denied the rumors saying he had no intentions of leaving. However, the relationship had gotten so broken that D’Antoni reportedly requested that Carmelo be traded in an attempt to bring Deron Williams to New York, but the Knicks management headed by Dolan wouldn’t allow the trade. With the fans against him, and his best player against him, D’Antoni agreed to leave the team for good.
Did D’Antoni have to leave? Yes, he did because he lost the respect of the players in the locker room and most importantly his star player. But I truly believe D’Antoni never got a fair chance with the team. Back in the pre-Melo days, D’Antoni’s offense was working extremely well. Felton fit perfectly into D’Antoni’s pick and roll offense and had extremely good chemistry with Stoudemire, who was putting up MVP-like numbers. He didn’t want the Carmelo deal to happen because he was content with the players he was given, and did not want to give away what the Nuggets were asking for. But Dolan didn’t care about D’Antoni’s wishes. Carmelo refused to buy into the D’Antoni-style offense and the team’s chemistry suffered as a result. Yes, D’Antoni was unsuccessful in figuring out how to build chemistry between Carmelo and Amare, but it would have been different if Carmelo embraced the system instead of deciding to keep playing isolation basketball. Yes, D’Antoni’s offense relies heavily on the pick and roll and requires a solid point guard for the offense to work effectively and the Knicks couldn’t bring in that guard. Just think about this fact, the only remaining players on the Knicks roster from the beginning of last year are Amare Stoudemire, Landry Fields, Bill Walker, Jared Jeffries, and Toney Douglas. D’Antoni was given a completely unfair situation, considering his star player gave him tremendous problems, the roster was constantly changing, and an owner who never respected his wishes.