Mike D'Antoni's Time To Silence His Critics Is Now
After three full seasons as the head coach of the New York Knicks, Mike D'Antoni is 103-143, which is good for a .419 win percentage.
The Knicks have made the playoffs only once during his tenure, and were swept by the Boston Celtics.
Since his arrival in New York, Mike D'Antoni has been somewhat of a polarizing figure. Most Knicks fans remember the prouder days of the franchise when the likes of Patrick Ewing, John Starks and Charles Oakley were leading the Knicks to 50 wins each season and playing a grind-it-out defensive style that—in some ways—epitomized the type of person that can "make it" in New York City.
Hard-working, determined and gritty, even if not the most talented.
A lost decade plagued by bad management, bad decisions and embarrassment had the effect of having many Knicks fans developing a closed-mindedness in terms of what New York basketball should look like. Logically, it made sense. When the team was successful, it was because Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy had them playing a ground-and-pound game similar to the Pittsburgh Steelers. And on defense, points were something that came at a premium for opposing offenses. Winning basketball in New York City was personified with the "no-layup rule."
And because of the period of futility that immediately preceded the commencement of Mike D'Antoni's tenure in New York, he came here with the deck stacked against him.
Certainly, he has—and continues to enjoy—the full support of Donnie Walsh.
But the public openly questioned Mike D'Antoni's philosophy. And what simply cannot be overlooked is a fact that hurts just about any coach that plays a run-and-gun style that seeks to maximize possessions in a game by shooting quick shots and depending on fast-break offense: it has never won a championship.
New York Knicks fans aren't fools. They know this. Questions abound from the moment Mike D'Antoni was hired:
Is he the right coach for this team?
Can we win a championship with him as our coach?
Does he coach defense?
Now, before this goes any further, realize something about Mike D'Antoni. He is not an Xs and Os coach. Coaches like Avery Johnson or Gregg Popovich, who won championships with the Spurs, like to control the game. Half-court sets, play-calling, rigidity and no negotiation.
Mike D'Antoni is quite the opposite. Essentially, he teaches his players an offensive philosophy and gives them the freedom and opportunity to create plays for themselves and for one another. The ball has energy, and that energy finds motion. It's a loose style that will only be as successful as its personnel. Smart players that can pass well, move without the ball, hit open jumpers (which, mind you, are created by the philosophy and playing style) are those that thrive in the system.
Players such as David Lee, Chris Duhon, Amar'e Stoudemire and Landry Fields have thrived—at least during stretches—playing under Mike D'Antoni. Those that see the glass as half empty maintain that Mike's system is fool's gold and that it inflates the statistics of its personnel.
The optimists that see the glass as half full, however, simply argue that the philosophy puts a certain type of player in situations wherein they may excel by utilizing their strengths.
Where you stand is solely at your discretion.
Regardless, consider David Lee—he moves well without the ball, developed his mid-range game, and was a much-better-than-advertised passer. That sounds exactly like Amar'e Stoudemire. Ditto for Chris Duhon and Landry Fields. Both players played well in the system before breaking down, and both played good all-around games—not necessarily doing anything very well, but doing many things well enough.
And it's why players like Al Harrington and Larry Hughes didn't perform during their tenures under Mike D'Antoni: they just weren't his type of players.
That's a very important consideration.
Since two-thirds of his tenure in New York was dedicated to trading dollars for change to feed parking meters, it is somewhat unfair to make any determinations as to whether or not Mike D'Antoni "deserves" a long-term extension and a commitment from the organization that puts him in control of the legacies of Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire.
Quite simply, Mike D'Antoni deserves a training camp with this roster, and at least three solid months of chemistry and team building before said decision is made. Let's remember, the Miami Heat began the 2010-2011 NBA season with a 9-8 record, and they are now just three wins short of an NBA championship.
Let's also remember, that with Raymond Felton and Danilo Gallinari, Mike D'Antoni had his team playing at a very high level—at least during some stretches. The Knicks, at one point, won 13 of 14 games, and at another, were 23-15. Despite the turmoil and shakeup of this past season, the Knicks just posted their first winning record since 2000-2001, when they were 48-34.
This doesn't sound like a coach who deserves to be on the hot seat. Not even in New York City.
Knicks fans should realize (at least right now) that questioning whether or not D'Antoni is the coach that can lead this team to the promised land is premature and unfair. The team has made progress, and you simply do not treat a coach like that after he willingly undertook a significant challenge and essentially agreed to lose for two years en route to trying to turn this thing around.
Amar'e Stoudemire is close to being universally loved and revered by Knicks fans (again, at least right now) for taking the challenge and producing. Mike D'Antoni took the same challenge. While he hasn't produced tangible results like Amar'e, one can make the argument that he hasn't had the opportunity to.
Let's recall that each year during his tenure, the Knicks have undergone significant midseason roster shakeups. Not once has Mike D'Antoni began and finished a season with the same rotation. And yes, that might be an excuse. But let's consider that there is a difference between an excuse and a poor excuse.
As of right now, his excuse is valid.
But now, the honeymoon for Mike D'Antoni is officially over.
Once next season begins—assuming there is a season—there will be no more excuses. The Knicks have two legitimate All-Stars in their primes, and the time is now for Mike D'Antoni to not only figure out how to fully utilize Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, but also to help them improve their games and develop the skills necessary to excel together.
And while Knicks fans might need to temper their expectations if they want to be able to compete with the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls or even the Boston Celtics for supremacy in the East, the word patience should no longer be a part of anyone's vocabulary. Progress is the p-word that should be used.
Ultimately, Mike D'Antoni's 2011-2012 season should be considered successful if the Knicks are battling for home-court advantage in the first round of the 2012 NBA playoffs after winning around 50 games during the regular season. Additionally, Landry Fields' unique skill set needs to be utilized better, even if it means bringing him off of the bench.
Since they don't have first-round draft picks in either the 2012 or 2014 drafts, the Knicks need to find a winner with the No. 17 overall pick this year. While that responsibility isn't necessarily Mike D'Antoni's, anyone that thinks Donnie Walsh wouldn't solicit Mike's opinion and work with him closely when evaluating prospects simply doesn't understand how important a head coach is in the process. The Knicks cannot afford another situation in which they chase the likes of Jared Jeffries—at the request of Mike D'Antoni—instead of a more pressing need like an intimidator and shot-blocker.
Essentially, what Coach D'Antoni should be judged on in the 2011-2012 NBA season is how much progress the team makes, how they fare in next year's playoffs and how well coach utilizes his personnel and his prospects; not whether or not they are legitimate contenders for the Eastern Conference.
That's only fair.
And would it also be fair if Mike D'Antoni was fired after 30 games if the Knicks got off to a 9-21 start?
Probably. But any discussion as to his worthiness, before then, is premature and unfair.
What is fair is giving Mike D'Antoni an opportunity to show some progress in the upcoming season. Rome wasn't built in a day, after all. And the old cliche holds true: You've got to crawl before you walk.
Still, promenade isn't the p-word Knicks fans want to be using, either. Instead?
As in championship parade.
And while that's understandable, levying unrealistic expectations on the 2011-2012 New York Knicks won't do anyone any justice.