Mike D’Antoni spoke yesterday for the first time since he resigned as the Knicks head coach. In a one-on-one interview with Jack McCallum of Sports Illustrated, D’Antoni discussed his decision to step down as the Knicks head coach this past March. It was usual D’Antoni- he was self-deprecating and had his dry sense of humor on display.
Reading between the lines it was clear that D’Antoni knew he couldn’t motivate the same Knicks club that Mike Woodson led to the playoffs. They had finally tuned out his message and he knew it that on that March 14th afternoon.
It also was revealed that D’Antoni didn’t believe he was going to have his contract renewed at the end of the season. The Garden basically spent $24 million dollars for a transitional coach. That is what D’Antoni always was going to be the minute they blew up his first roster two weeks into his tenure. It was solidified when Lebron James took his talents to South Beach. D’Antoni took money over a chance to win.
When Donnie Walsh was hired in the spring of 2008 everyone knew his goal was to release the Knicks from salary cap hell and make a run at Lebron. After nearly a decade of pretending to build a contender under Isiah Thomas, Walsh would do the painful thing- the task that everyone says can’t be done in New York- and bottom the roster out. That’s why I found it curious when he made the decision to bring in D’Antoni as the head coach over Mark Jackson.
The process was sound. Walsh needed a high-profile coach that could recruit Lebron James. It didn’t hurt that his offensive style was exciting, and would probably sell some tickets along the way. The hiring was necessary but built on a shallow foundation.
D’Antoni was the opposite of every successful coach in team history. Holzman, Riley and Van Gundy preached defense first. The 90s was built on the Knicks exposing talented offensive teams- like D’Antoni’s Phoenix club- through their physical play. Now the Knicks were going to be the fancy Ferrari instead of the hard-nosed Silverado. It didn’t make sense. It didn’t feel right. In the end the gut instinct was correct.
His first roster actually had a decent trio of Zach Randolph, Jamal Crawford and David Lee. They started 6-3, and there was some thought the speedball offense could possibly turn Isiah’s trash into a treasure. On November 21st, 2008 the rebuilding program began. Walsh traded Crawford and Randolph, and the process of becoming cap-friendly was underway. Any chance D’Antoni would have at succeeded was now in the hands of Lebron James, who was two years away from free agency. .
It’s amazing that through 3.5 seasons as coach D’Antoni had a stable roster for about a half a season: in 2010-2011 before the Carmelo Anthony trade. That team finished 42-40 and had some potential, but the lack of interior defense meant they were no better than a six seed and, at best, maybe win a first round series.
It would have been interesting to see how this year’s roster would have turned out with a point guard from day one. The Heat are proving this postseason to be vulnerable. The Knicks are no worse than Boston, Atlanta and Indiana. It was amazing that Woodson navigated them through a long stretch without a legitimate floor general.
D’Antoni got what he wanted when he took the Knicks job: money. His 4 year/$24 million dollar deal put him among some of the riches coaches in sports. Everyone thought he was going to take the Bulls job, which would have landed him Derek Rose and a far more talented roster. Who knows, perhaps he finally would have his championship if he decided to spurn the Garden dollars for the Windy City.
The Knicks got a high-profile coach they thought could recruit Lebron. I don’t think anyone believed he was going to be the man that would end the Knicks title drought. Defense and rebounding wins NBA championships. D’Antoni teams are not known for either of those characteristics. The funny thing is even Lebron knew he had a better chance at winning with Pat Riley than D’Antoni.
Should we feel sorry for D’Antoni? No. He was compensated very well to be the Knicks caretaker. Agree with his style or not, he still played a part in moving the organization in the right direction. Now it’s time for someone to get them to the next level- a championship level. Phil Jackson would have been the ideal choice, but Woodson aligns more with the Garden politics. In any event, he seemed to connect with Anthony and coaches a defensive style that is more conducive to winning in the postseason.
Mike D’Antoni is a fun regular season basketball act. His teams will score points and bring the crowd to their feet. When it comes to what really matters- championships- it’s hard to see any one of his teams taking home the hardware. He didn’t even practice defense; that was the off-the-record quote from a long-time D’Antoni player a few years ago.
The promises are over. The fans got a taste of what the Garden was in the 90s. They don’t want to hear about cap room, rebuilding or next year. They want to win now. They want meaningful playoff games in 2013. This city has been denied meaningful basketball for far too long.
Mike D’Antoni was never going to be a part of that. He wouldn’t have been saved by Lebron James because the expectations would have been even higher. Could you imagine a first round sweep against Boston with King James? He wouldn’t have survived it.
In the end D’Antoni was doomed to fail. At least he was compensated handsomely for it.