Mike D’Antoni got a raw deal. For the ‘08-09 season he took over a mess of a team that had won only 23 games the year before. That first year the team was an ugly combination of young (Chandler, Gallo and Lee), overpaid (Hughes, Q-Rich, Jerome James, Curry) and knuckleheaded (Z-Bo). They also had Jamal Crawford. They went 32-50. The next season, the team was stripped bare in an effort to sign LeBron in the offseason. That team went 29-53. Last season, with Amar’e Stoudemire and a cast of hungry youngsters, they started slow but got hot (and were very, very exciting) and were 28-26 when they traded all those hungry youngsters for Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. Finishing 42-40, they got swept out of the playoffs. This season, they re-did the squad again, swapping Billups for Chandler and leaving them without a point guard. Oh, and there was a lockout. Then Jeremy Lin showed up and Carmelo left. And JR Smith showed up. And Baron Davis showed up. And Carmelo came back and everything went to shit. And the Knicks were 18-24 and had lost six straight and Mike D’Antoni wasn’t the coach anymore. 121-167 in the regular season, 0-4 in the playoffs. Four crummy, disappointing, incomplete seasons. Some of which is his fault, some of which is not.
It’s not Mike D’Antoni’s fault he coached for the worst owner in sports in the toughest town in sports. It’s not his fault years of corporate irresponsibility left the Knicks without cap room or draft picks for almost his entire tenure. It’s not his fault the Summer of 2010 happened and trapped half the NBA in gridlock for nearly two years while LeBron decided where he wanted to play. It’s not his fault American basketball culture creates self-important, self-entitled superstars. It’s not his fault Amar’e came into the season with the mobility of Priest Lauderdale or that the lockout happened. None of that is his fault.
But some things are: he never communicated well with players. He treated Larry Hughes particularly badly and frustrated Carmelo Anthony this season. The Knicks were never prepared to run set plays in the waning moments of games because they never ran them at any other time. Their execution was sloppy in games one and two in Boston. He didn’t emphasize defense and didn’t want to sacrifice offense for defense in terms of personnel. This last week, their effort became abysmal. He’s stubborn. His system may not work without the likes of Steve Nash (and there’s only one Steve Nash). The fit was never quite right with him and the Knicks or maybe even with New York City. Maybe it’s his origins, maybe it’s the style of play. I’m not sure. I have a hard time believing that contemporary New York - hardly full of grit - couldn’t find a way to embrace his style. Of course, they never really played his style because they never quite had the personnel. But he kind of tried it anyway and the results were predictably bad.
In the end, he’s not a good fit for the current personnel. And by personnel, I mean Carmelo Anthony. But it’s a lot easier to find a new coach than it is a new Carmelo Anthony. Or even to start over and get rid of Carmelo without taking back something far more nefarious. You don’t go compounding last year’s overpayment by taking the asset you overpaid for and selling it at a discount. If Mike D’Antoni couldn’t find a way to fit Carmelo Anthony into his offense, whether by changing his system or by having enough clout to convince Carmelo to change his game, it was time for him to go. And so it was time for him to go. The Knicks will have plenty of options. We’ll talk about that another time.
Of course, Carmelo Anthony has come out of this looking like a really bad guy. But you know he’s hardly the first player to get a coach fired. And some of those guys weren’t bad guys, just great players who were frustrated. Don’t believe me? Ask Magic Johnson.