Mike D'Antoni: 10 Reasons Phoenix Suns Would Be Wise to Bring Back Former Coach
The former Euroleague star coached the Suns for five seasons from 2003-2007, amassing an impressive resume with the organization.
He wasn't able to make his marriage with the Knicks work, but New York City is a much different animal than Phoenix. A much more rabid, unforgiving beast of a sports market.
Here are 10 reasons why the Phoenix Suns should bring D'Antoni back to where he made his coaching name in the NBA.
His Track Record with Phoenix
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The above photo was taken back in Mike D'Antoni's glory days with the Phoenix Suns. Not sure what he's doing, but he's doing it on the bench in the first round of the 2008 NBA playoffs.
The man known as Arsène Lupin in Italy for his ability to steal the ball garnered a 253-136 record with the Suns.
If you throw out his first-year record, in which he went 21-40 after assuming the head coaching role 21 games into the season, he accumulated a .707 winning percentage over his Suns career.
Even more impressive is what he did in his second year. He coached the team to a 33-win improvement, good enough to go 62-20, the best in the NBA.
He also won Coach of the Year that season.
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The only player still on the team from Mike D'Antoni's tenure with the Phoenix Suns is Steve Nash, the All-Star point guard who D'Antoni helped lure to the franchise.
D'Antoni is a point guard's dream. His "seven seconds or less" offense thrived when Nash ran the point, as the team averaged nearly 110 points per contest in his four full seasons.
Nash put up career highs in points per game in the 2005-2006 season (18.8) and assists per game in the following season, putting up almost 12 dimes a night.
Nash has lost a step at 38 years old (or has he?), but he's still a step ahead of most guards in the league.
If anybody can run D'Antoni's offense seamlessly, it's Nash. And if there's a perfect offense out there for Nash, it's D'Antoni's.
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One of the better centers in the league that most people wouldn't think to include in the conversation is Marcin Gortat.
He's fifth among centers in scoring, averaging over 16.4 points per game. That's just five points less than Dwight Howard, the consensus pick for the best big man in the league.
Yes, it's preposterous to compare Gortat to Howard, but Gortat is a quality guy who would work in D'Antoni's system.
He already works well with Nash (most players do) and is the same size as Amar'e Stoudemire, who was one of the best players in the league under D'Antoni in Phoenix.
Again, it's preposterous to compare Gortat to Stoudemire's prime seasons, but he's a guy would would make D'Antoni's job a lot easier.
Pick-and-roll, baby; pick-and-roll.
The Newly-Acquired Chip on His Shoulder
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Mike D'Antoni's tenure with the New York Knicks isn't anything to write home about.
This last season was just brutal for him.
At 8-15, D'Antoni's demise was pushed back by the arrival of Jeremy Lin. Before Lin started playing out of his mind, D'Antoni looked dejected on the bench.
He almost looked pathetic. It was a sad sight.
He had that "please-fire-me-I-won't-be-able-to-look-at-myself-in-the-mirror-if-I-quit" look in his eyes night in and night out.
There's no doubt he's unhappy with how his Knicks' career ended, but that should prove to be motivation for wherever he goes next.
If he winds up in Phoenix working for Lance Blanks, a talent evaluator extraordinaire who is a much less controlling GM than New York's head honcho, James Dolan, D'Antoni would be able to run the offense with the players he wants to.
He also wouldn't have to pacify any superstars, as Steve Nash is the lead by example floor general of the team.
The Suns Roster
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Five players on the Phoenix Suns average over 10 points per game.
That distribution is perfect for D'Antoni's run-and-gun offensive scheme.
D'Antoni has long stood by his offense that treats every player on the court as an equal, giving everyone on the floor the green light to shoot when they please.
It also helps that the Suns shoot almost 46 percent from the field as a team, nearly 17 percentage points higher than the New York Knicks.
The team is tied for the seventh lowest turnovers per game, a stark contrast to D'Antoni's former club that is second to last in the NBA in turnovers.
There's a decent core of players taking the court at US Airways Center on game nights, a core that would benefit from playing with an offensive guru like D'Antoni.
Phoenix Is a Much Better Fit for Him
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Over the last three-plus seasons, it was painfully obvious that the New York City environment was not the right situation for Mike D'Antoni.
That's not to say that New York is a better basketball city, nor that it's a tougher place to coach. It's just different.
It's a different market. It has a different type of fan. It has a different attitude.
Everything you do in the city of New York is put under a microscope and made to be a bigger issue than it actually is.
It's not like that in Phoenix.
Phoenix has that West Coast, casual fan setting. That doesn't mean that Suns fans are less loyal or passionate than fans in New York.
Once again, it means they are different.
The Suns rank 20th in percentage of seats filled on a nightly basis. The Knicks sell 100 percent of their seats every night.
Some coaches work better when they don't have to validate every move they make within their own team. Come to think of it, doesn't everyone?
A small-market franchise is a much better fit for the headstrong, and sometimes stubborn coach.
They'll Sell More Tickets
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According to Forbes, the Phoenix Suns are the 10th-most valuable franchise in the NBA.
That's the good news. The bad news is that the franchise's worth decreased four percent from last season.
While they are in a lot better shape than many other teams, a decrease in worth is never a good thing.
Bringing D'Antoni back would put more butts in the seats in Phoenix.
Of course, the GM and coach of a team will tell you that winning is the only thing that matters to them, but when you ask the owner, they might tell you different.
The NBA is a business no matter how you look at it. Teams are multi-million dollar corporations that either take in or lose oodles of money each year.
D'Antoni would not only be a good head coaching option when it comes to winning basketball games, but also when it comes to raking in the dough, as fans would hope for a revival of the powerhouse Suns from the mid-2000s.
The Suns Already Don't Play Defense
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Historically, the New York Knicks have been a grind-it-out kind of franchise.
Knicks fans have come to expect players like Patrick Ewing, John Starks and Charles Oakley to take the floor and give a full effort on both ends.
When you bring an offensive-minded coach to run a team that has three generations of fans who want to see players go balls to the wall every possession, you're basically sending him to the gallows.
The Phoenix Suns as of recent years have been an offensive franchise, wowing their faithful with inordinate scoring outputs.
That hasn't changed this season, as they are allowing 97.2 points per game thus far.
If the fanbase knows what they're getting from the start, a defensively clueless, offensive tactician, they can't complain when the opposition is almost reaching the century mark every night.
He's a Class Act
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OK, he's a nice guy, so what? That and $2 will get you on the subway nowadays.
But seriously, as bad as the Knicks look at times, and as bad as D'Antoni looked sitting down for three-quarters of every game, he really does put his heart and soul into coaching.
Well, coaching offense at least.
Former Knicks President of Basketball Operations Donny Walsh said this about D'Antoni when he was hired in 2008:
"As an executive, you couldn’t be working with a better guy and a better coach than Mike, in trying to do this with,” says Knicks President, Basketball Operations Donnie Walsh. “(His) ability to keep his eye on where we’re going, I appreciate that a lot. Coaches have a tendency to make it more difficult sometimes, because they’re under such pressure. He seems to handle that really well. I love working with him, personally. He’s so positive in his style, he’s so well-thought out. He just shows confidence, and the players like playing for him."
Well, some of those things might not be the case anymore (the players like playing for him, handles pressure well), but when you hear that from a guy who has been around the NBA since 1979, it means something.
He Wants to Coach Next Season
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According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, Mike D'Antoni wants to coach next season.
The Suns don't have to jump on him right away, as they seem to like what they have in Alvin Gentry, but a couple of years in the future could be a good time to sign D'Antoni.
He didn't forget how to coach basketball; it just didn't work out with the Knicks.
Plus, coaches are like wine anyway. They get better with age (see Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, etc).
D'Antoni is just 60 years old, which isn't ancient in the coaching world.
He still has some gas in the tank to coach a few more years in Phoenix down the road if they so choose.