Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t; that’s the new bottom line for Mike D’Antoni.
During appearances on the local airwaves last Friday, the Knicks’ coach may not have guaranteed a championship this season, but he surely guaranteed the brevity of his tenure in New York if the team fails to live up to his own rather lofty expectations.
“We’re excited about trying to win a championship,” said D’Antoni. “That’s what we’ve tried to build for since last year. Whether we’re there or not, that will play out. But we think we’re one of the top-tier teams. There’s no reason not to compete night in, night out to win every game… if it all comes together, why can’t we compete for a championship?”
For better or worse, Gothamites tend to take each and every comment literally, and although the gist of D’Antoni’s point is valid – that this team has championship pieces, championship goals, and a championship price tag – he’s opened himself up to what will be scathing criticism and unrelenting pressure come June if the Knicks fail to deliver.
I happen to think his confidence is commendable. We often lambast athletes and coaches who don’t give it to us straight, but since day one of D’Antoni’s regime in New York, he’s been nothing short of honest – sometimes to a fault – and fair about his team’s and his own shortcomings.
D’Antoni’s style of coaching may not be for everyone, but there’s no disputing the fact that his three-year run has been marred by excessive roster-turnover which bred an inability to develop consistence and continuity.
Maybe now is a time to temper expectations, and preach cautious optimism to the fans and media alike, but what, exactly, would that have netted him?
More criticism, of course, that’s what.
D’Antoni knows full well that he’s operating without a safety net – his contract is set to expire at the end of this season – so perhaps his statements were of the “WTF” variety. Surely the coach sees the shadow of Phil Jackson looming large in this city, so with a margin for error already residing closer to none than slim, why not set the bar high, and hopefully prove the naysayers wrong?
Ultimately, D’Antoni’s fate will rest upon the abilities of his two superstar players, anyway, and probably upon GM Glen Grunwald’s ability to solidify a weak backcourt.
Whether success means winning a playoff series or two (or making it to the NBA Finals) is impossible to know. That answer rests somewhere deep within the recesses of James Dolan mind.
For now, though, D’Antoni’s words are just words. And meaningless ones at that.