The Celtics quietly put an end to the Knicks’ season on Easter Sunday, delivering a 101-89 loss in Game 4 to seal a 4-0 first-round playoff series sweep.
To be fair, the Knicks were perhaps more a victim to circumstance much more so than a victim of the Celtics. Former NBA Finals MVP Chauncey Billups was forced to leave Game 1 and was never seen again, and Amar’e Stoudemire was plagued by back spasms since Game 2, and it certainly showed in his less than stellar performances throughout.
As the Knicks look to build on the success of the playoff team that came about, they need to determine where improvements can and/or should be made moving forward.
The trade that brought in Billups, Carmelo Anthony and company certainly brought in some much needed star power for the Knicks. Pending whether or not the Knicks decide to exercise Billups’ option for next season, it appears as though the roster would be set with a couple of tweaks here and there.
Bypassing the roster, the attention comes to the coaching staff. Though the first-round playoff loss cannot be completely blamed on Mike D’Antoni, he certainly had some trouble getting his team to gel following the trade with the Nuggets.
The “time” factor can certainly be suggested here, with the Knicks having less than half a season with the current team to get things going. A major injury to Billups during the regular season prompted a major slump, but the team was able to rebound in time for the playoffs.
Did (or does, rather) D’Antoni need more time with this team? Does he deserve it? Would it be time worth investing for the Knicks organization? If the Knicks decide that D’Antoni is the right coach for the team moving forward, he’ll obviously be back. Coming to that decision is what may prove to be difficult.
Under D’Antoni’s guidance, Anthony increased his three point attempts, and his shooting percentage skyrocketed to over 42 percent from beyond the arc. Nevertheless, it’s debatable whether or not he’s most efficient on offense as a jump shooter, rather than a post player.
Billups also seemed to struggle to find his way in D’Antoni’s system. Though he was praised for his success and chemistry with D’Antoni while on Team USA, Billups was primarily used as a shooting guard on that team. With the struggles of Landry Fields, perhaps it would be better to play Billups at the two and let Toney Douglas (or a free agent signee) take the reins at point guard instead.
Billups struggled at the point for the Knicks to an extent because he isn’t a run and gun type point guard. He wasn’t put in a place where he could help the team succeed, because in a half-court set he would appear quite stagnant, and that type of slow movement would spill over to his teammates on the court. They often looked confused with little fluidity, something that the Knicks hadn’t struggled with prior to the trade.
What’s the ultimate solution, here? Does the coach need to match the personnel or does the personnel need to match the coach? In terms of the coach, he needs to be able to adjust to get the most out of his players.
D’Antoni did wonders with players like Raymond Felton and Wilson Chandler, elevating each of their games (just like he had with Shawn Marion, Raja Bell and Boris Diaw on the Suns), but struggled to get the most out of much higher regarded talent after the trade.
During the Larry Brown experiment, the Knicks constantly tried to bring players in that fit Brown’s style of play, rather than force him to adjust and get the most out of who he had. As Knicks fans will remember, that experiment did work out in the team’s favor.
It’s obvious that if a team’s players can play the way a coach prefers to play, they’ll do conveniently well. Nevertheless, by not seeing as much success with a more talented Knicks squad, maybe D’Antoni proved he’s merely a one-trick pony as many have criticized him to be.
With one more year guaranteed on his contract, perhaps it would be in the Knicks’ best interest to let D'Antoni coach the next season out, with a full training camp and a greater variety of games to really figure out how he can help all of his players shine. That would be fair, given what he was able to do with the somewhat limited talent he had earlier in the season.
That being said, with the roster that of a major contender on paper, it may be better to cut ties with D’Antoni now rather than waste time. The real question is whether or not the Knicks feel he can effectively adapt to the “new” players he has on the roster. If not, he should be let go now, rather than later, seeing as how the Knicks’ fan base has waited long enough for a contending team and have finally been given a taste of what could be.
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