Mike D'Antoni is a very happy man right now.
A very happy, very rich man.
D'Antonie was presented with two very attractive options this weekend: go to a team in Chicago with a great young nucleus ready to win now, or follow the money and end up in Manhattan coaching one of the marquee teams in the league. D'Antoni followed the money, as I believe most of us would. However, when one stops to consider the two situations in detail, the future for Mike D'Antoni and the New York Knicks might be a lot bleaker than most expect, because there were factors involved in this decision far more pertinent and than simply following the money.
Mike D'Antoni is an offensive coach.
D'Antoni's teams love to score, and they usually find themselves in the triple digits thanks to an ungodly amount of fast break points and shots taken early in the shot clock countdown.
This was the biggest knock on the Shaq deal earlier this season: that the addition of the Diesel would be far more inhibiting to D'Antoni's breakneck style of basketball than beneficial, and hindsight tells us those fears were absolutely founded. Pheonix looked lost with Shaq and lost the swagger and intensity that they had carried over after the sham that was the Spurs series in last year's playoffs. Shaq then proceeded to get absolutely served by Timmy D in the playoffs as D'Antoni's Suns lost the spring in their step that had defined that team for the past few years.
D'Antoni is phenomenal with the right group of players to fit his system, this is a group of players that can hit outside jumpers early in the shot clock and get up and down the court on the fast break. Without those players, D'Antoni's teams look sluggish, every possession a laborious effort to find some way to score in a set half court offense.
Now try to find another set of players that embody that antithesis of the players D'Antoni needs to succeed better than the 2008-09 New York Knicks.
If Shaq slowed down D'Antoni's offensive flow, I cannot even fathom how D'Antoni will try to work in Eddie Curry and Zach Randolph. If Eddie Curry won't even run to McDonald's, how do you expect him to be flying up and down the court on a fast-breaking team trying to score in the 100's every night?
Taking shots early in the shot clock shouldn't be a problem for the Knicks, because that has been a staple of New York basketball since Isiah Thomas haphazardly threw together this group of underachieving and overpaid losers. However, D'Antoni's system needs his players to shoot a good percentage on those shots early in the shot clock, otherwise he'll end up with a win-loss record that looks like, well, the New York Knicks'. Now factor in the fact that they won't have a shred of cap room until after the 2009 season (see: Starbury, Curry, Randolph, and Crawford), short of a Pau Gasol-esque grossly one-sided trade, D'Antoni will be working with this roster for at least another two seasons. D'Antoni will need to completely re-invent himself as a coach, and will need to completely re-invent his system and philosophy to have any semblance of success in New York.
Now let's look at Chicago. The Bulls have two budding young big men in Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah who can both haul tail up the court at the drop of a hat. Drew Gooden would have no trouble adjusting to a run-and-gun system either, despite the weight he has put on since entering the league. The Bulls have an overcrowded and extremely talented back court rotation, with both the 3-point gunners that D'Antoni loves (Hinrich, Gordon, Duhon, Nocioni) as well as the slashers D'Antoni requires (Sefalosha, Nocioni, Hughes) to set-up those shots early in the shot clock by driving-and-kicking and/or finishing at the rim.
Last year's fluke choke job aside, the Chicago Bulls are a team that is ready to compete now, especially in a weak Eastern Conference. It could even be argued that the inhibiting, anti-D'Antoni philosophy of Scott Skiles could have been holding this group of young gunners back from realizing their true potential. The Bulls and D'Antoni seemed like a match made in heaven.
Until the money came into play.
Look, it's hard to really blame a guy for following the money and wanting to live in Manhattan. However, looking at the two situations he had to choose between, it is apparent that, from a pure basketball perspective, he made an extremely poor decision. With that roster and that nightmare salary cap situation in New York, to find success, D'Antoni will either have to transform those guys to fit into his run-and-gun system (the fact that the roster is filled with guys coaches have been trying to "transform" for their entire careers is another story), or D'Antoni will have to transform his run-and-gun philosophy to fit a sluggish and sedentary Knicks roster.
Both approaches are long-run strategies that will take at least two seasons to come to fruition and we all know how fickle New York fans can be. New York crucified Larry Brown after the stinker turned in his one season as the Knicks coach, and he's won championships. He is now barely able to show his face around the league again and came to Michael Jordan on his hands and knees for the Bobcats job, where before the Knicks gig Larry Brown probably wouldn't have even returned Jordan's call.
Can you imagine how New York will react when multi-millionaire D'Antoni is coming off his second consecutive 50+ loss season into the third year of his lucrative, some might even say, exorbitant contract? With the aforementioned cap and roster issues, two consecutive losing seasons seem inevitable for D'Antoni
D'Antoni, like Larry Brown, will be keel-hauled in the New York media as an overpaid and underachieving coach who can only win with a gimmick run-and-gun scheme and most certainly cannot win when it counts most in the playoffs.
D'Antoni could have gone to Chicago instead, transformed and molded that young roster to fit his scheme perfectly, and bring basketball glory back to a basketball city that has been starved of that glory as of late.
The Bulls roster is so full of young talent that he could have won with the status quo roster or parlayed some of those young guys into a superstar and brought a marquee face back to the Windy City.
He would have been regarded as the second coming of the Zen Master as he would lead a running-and-gunning Chicago Bulls team to at worst a 5 seed in next years playoffs (assuming Lebron and his Cavs remain atop the Central Division).
Instead, he followed the money to a roster that doesn't fit his schemes and to a salary cap situation that is one of the worst in the league.
Now, it is very possible that D'Antoni really is the coach of the century and will have the Knicks in the playoffs next year. If he pulls that off, I will gladly tip my hat to him for a job well done. However, I believe it will take a few years and some patience before we see the Knicks get out from under the Isiah Thomas era, and patience has been extinct in New York City for a solid 50 years now.
Nobody is under the impression that this disaster is the fault of anybody but Isiah Thomas. However, D'Antoni obviously is either too vain or too dull to realize that New York fans are a far cry from Suns fans and that losing will not be tolerated, especially if the mastermind of those losing seasons is signed to a $24 million contract.
Instead of solidifying his legacy and bringing winning back to Chicago with a team that is ready right now, D'Antoni followed the cash to New York City, where he will inevitably struggle and ultimately take the fall in the aftermath of Isiah's incompetency. All after being lambasted in the New York media for being an overpaid underachiever.
Mike D'Antoni as an overpaid underachiever. Hmmm. Maybe he'll be a good fit in New York after all.
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