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Ciao D’Antoni

It’s time for Mike D’Antoni to go.

This is not just a reaction to the Knicks’ embarrassing performance in Game 3 against the Celtics –when Bill Walker is your best player you are not going to win in the playoffs– but rather a qualitative assessment of his tenure with the team and in the league. The fact of the matter is New York will not win a championship under his stewardship, and pretending otherwise is a waste of time a franchise that has not won a playoff game in over a decade, and a championship in almost 40 years can afford.

This is nothing any attentive basketball fan didn’t know when he was hired. Even coaching the Suns, the “gentleman thief” could best be described as the Mike Martz of basketball. His offensive philosophy put up points in bunches, and with Steve Nash running the show was certainly a thing of beauty. However his inability or unwillingness to focus the same energy on coaching defense, and more importantly demanding effort on that end ultimately doomed Phoenix’s title chances and has hindered the Knicks’ as well (not that they were a particularly willing bunch to start with).

We knew all this going in, so this isn’t a case of buyer’s remorse; Mike D’Antoni was who we thought he was! No reasonable Knicks fan believed he would lead us to the promised land. At the time, our hope was that the lure of playing in his offense would persuade a big free agent (read; Lebron James) to come to New York and rescue the once proud franchise from the nightmare of the Isiah Thomas era. The day he was signed there were even pipe dreams of winning the lottery and drafting Derrick Rose, and look what Chicago has done with Rose and the right coach.

In more hopeful times...

Instead of LeBron or Wade, the Knicks ended up with Amare and Carmelo, an injured and old Chauncey Billups and a mismatched roster from the land of forgotten toys back-ended by Jared Jeffries (Britt-ney Gri-ner!). The roster construction is not D’Antoni’s fault; its piss poor utilization however must be laid at his feet. Everyone acknowledged that it would be difficult incorporating Melo and (when he’s healthy) Billups into his offensive schemes and that it likely wouldn’t happen until next season. What few, if any saw coming were stagnant sets with no movement on the perimeter, no sense of spacing and a refusal to drive to the basket. Even taking into account Carmelo’s tendency to be a ball-stopper working off isolation, there is no reason the rest of the offense should look like their feet are glued to spots on the floor.

How much of that is related to the lack of a healthy conventional point guard is unclear, but the inability of D’Antoni to adjust to his personnel on offense is particularly damning when that was supposed to be his one strength. I defended the Melo trade at the time (and still do), but much of my reasoning was contingent on a belief that the coach was creative enough to find a way to get both players going offensively. If anything the Knicks as currently constructed are a perfect fit for the Triangle offense, but right now any offensive strategy would be better than standing around the three-point line and hoping.

Mike D’Antoni is not a bad coach, and with an off-season to work out the kinks and a better stocked roster, I don’t doubt that he could guide New York to a 50-win season next year. Even this series against the Celtics cannot be pinned on him. The fact the Knicks came so close to winning the first two games in Boston, particularly Game 2 without Billups and Amare is a credit to the coach (and a singular offensive effort by Carmelo Anthony). At the end of the day however, his failure to properly communicate to players situational details (like guarding the in-bounds and not letting Delonte West taking the last 4.2 secs off the clock), enforce defensive responsibility or adjust to his players and situation means New York would remain only a paper tiger. After everything this Knicks’ fan has dealt with, that is something that I cannot abide. It’s time for Mike D’Antoni to go.

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