Honesty. Accountability. Decency. These are the qualities which Mike D’Antoni brought to New York some three and a half years ago when he chose the Knicks – and James Dolan’s mighty checkbook – over the Chicago Bulls in search of the championship that had for so long eluded him in the Phoenix desert. Though he comported himself in a manner that garnered near-universal respect from his peers and players alike, D’Antoni ultimately ended up like so many of his predecessors before him, a bruised and bloodied heap of regret, abandoned in a ditch alongside Dolan’s road to perdition.
Yesterday marked the sad end to one of the more unfortunate chapters – at this point, there are too many to count – in Knicks’ lore, the byproduct of a toxic mix of the Gotham-media’s rabid fire stoking and the me-first petulance of a “superstar” whose sense of entitlement is eclipsed only by his failure to deliver.
I told you’ll about that dude, but you’ll didn’t listen. #DanPhony.
Grammar aside, it is beyond ironic that the malcontented (and exiled) “Starbury,” who christened D’Antoni’s New York reign, now has the audacity to publicly chide his former coach before his pseudo-doppelgänger, Carmelo Anthony, hasn’t even had time to wipe the coach’s blood from his dagger.
For his part in all of this, ‘Melo was in damage-control mode last night at the Garden. “I didn’t have nothing to do with [D’antoni resigning]. I don’t know what was going through Coach’s mindset. We never had any disagreements, and we always talked everything out.”
Are we to believe that mere hours after news “broke” that you wanted to be traded — a story you predictably denied — and that D’Antoni had “lost the team,” a man with D’Antoni’s experience and pride would simply walk away, presumably leaving the balance of his salary on the table? Come on now. What’s next? You’re going to tell us that you left Denver solely because of your desire to “come home,” and that it was never about the money or having your cake and eating it, too? Oh, wait, you’ve already spun that yarn, haven’t you?
Ultimately, MDA’s resignation/dismissal was about two diametrically opposed forces on a collision course, and as we’ve seen time and time again, the player rarely loses in these situations. It happened with Deron Williams and legendary Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan — btw, is there anything more ironic than the rumor that D’Antoni recently pleaded with Dolan to trade Anthony to the Nets in exchange for Williams? — and it will happen again, but let’s not sit here and pretend that Carmelo isn’t responsible for yesterday’s Garden-carnage. To do so is to besmirch D’Antoni’s good name.
In truth, it is the fans who will judge Mike D’Antoni — just log onto Twitter if you don’t believe me — and solely based on the Knicks’ record during his time here, they’d be justified in proclaiming his New York tenure as a failure. There were many a botched play call, some questionable bench-management, and an unwavering dedication to a style that may or may not be capable of winning a championship, but wins and losses don’t tell the whole story, do they?
In my opinion, D’Antoni never got enough credit for how he handled what was a mostly untenable situation from the get-go. First there was the Great Roster-Purge, a commendable, if not ill-conceived plan that was predicated on the belief that LeBron James +2 would jump at the chance to restore honor and glory to Madison Square Garden. Not only did that plan fail, but it meant that two entire seasons were sacrificed — completely unrelated to and not reflective upon of D’Antoni’s coaching acumen.
After the Knicks eventually landed Amar’e Stoudemire as a consolation prize in the 2010 off-season, we saw glimpses of what D’Antoni could do with a fully-assembled roster last year. Except that in Dolan’s mind, the roster was not yet complete, and only by bringing in Carmelo could the Knicks ascend to those heights not seen since 1973.
Yeah, so, about that.
Which brings us to the lockout-shortened, Linsanity-infected, injury-plagued, roster-remaking 2011-’12 Knicks season, a season in which the last ten games were relied upon to define the entire scope of D’Antoni’s Knick-legacy.
Sounds fair, right?
Truthfully, much like Joe Torre did, D’Antoni always knew the deal in New York. He knew that his words would be manipulated in this media-driven market, and he knew that picking fights with the press would never end his favor. He knew that on-court success was only half the battle.
Yet despite more ups and downs than an Anthony Weiner webcam feed, D’Antoni never embarrassed the organization. He never publicly hung his players out to dry — even the ones who he didn’t get along with. He was content, albeit visibly annoyed at times, to bear the slings and arrows of agenda-driven beat reporters and over-the-top sports radio personalities. D’Antoni, in a word, perservered. Until yesterday, when it finally became apparent to him that there was no way to succeed here. Not when Stoudemire admitted that “we all didn’t buy into [the system],’ and there is certainly no mistaking who that “we all” was directed towards.
In the end, Mike D’Antoni saw this coming, and rather than death by firing squad, he chose to go out on his own terms. He chose Seppuku. And honestly, who can blame him? D’Antoni is honest. D’Antoni is accountable. D’Antoni is a decent human being. And that is precisely why he is no longer coaching the Knicks.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
- The Portland Trail Blazers (20-23, 6-16 on the road) are a dreadful basketball team. They’ve lost seven of their last ten games, and if the age-old axiom of “only replace your coach when you’ve got a winnable game on the schedule” has taught us anything, it is that Knicks interim-coach Mike Woodson was pretty much guaranteed to wake up 1-0 this morning. The results of this game are meaningless.
- Sure, Portland didn’t put up much of a fight, but one can take a modicum of encouragement from the way that Carmelo and Amar’e played with more energy and cooperation than at any time since they’ve become teammates. Both players looked great in the first half before being rested in a blowout, but whether they can build on this when the Knicks face a much more talented Indiana Pacer team tomorrow night is anyone’s guess.
- Gee, it’s a good thing the Knicks were able to get out and play some free-flowing offense under Woodson, huh? Hey, wait a second, that kind of looked like D’Antoni-ball! Go figure, but New York had a MIND-BLOWING 35 assists on 43 FGMs. Moving the basketball, sharing the basketball, now where have I heard that before?
- I think we should all expect significant minutes for Baron Davis going forward — which isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. Boom Dizzle collected 10 assists in just 15 minutes last night, and he’s now averaging 5.6 dimes in just 17.6 minutes played per game this season. Davis is still shooting a dreadful 31.7% from the field (20.7 from long-range), but he can only get better from here as his stamina increases.
- It’s raining treys, Hallelujah! Steve Novak and J.R. Smith — I think the latter could “see” the game last night, his lady friend’s derriere notwithstanding — collectively drained 13 three-pointers against the Trail Blazers, and if that was fool’s good… well, I’ll have what they’re having! One thing we’ve all called for from this team is better shooting, and if Novak and Smith can provide what they’re capable of, things will be that much easier for Jeremy Lin, Carmelo and Amar’e.
- Jared Jeffries lives! Per Tommy Beer, in games this season in which J.J. has played 26 or more minutes, the Knicks are 8-0. Jeffries only played 14 minutes last night, but the fact remains that when he is out there, good things tend to happen for the ‘Bockers.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
- Pretty much nothing, except that Mike Bibby played for seven minutes.
- Oh, and Lin (6 turnovers) only played 23 minutes, but it’s impossible to say if Woodson was limiting him because of the blowout or because he favors Davis.
- Notwithstanding Lin, several of the Knicks’ 19 turnovers came during garbage time, but bad habits breed bad habits, so let’s see if the new coach is able to impress upon his team the need to take better care of the basketball.
- The Knicks will face the Pacers tomorrow (7:30 p.m., MSG) in the first of a back-to-back-home-and-home. If New York can somehow beat Indiana twice, they’ll almost certainly improve their standing in the Eastern Conference playoff race, where the Knicks are presently on the outside looking in.
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