MIKE D’ANTONI NOT THE CHAMPIONSHIP ANSWER FOR THE KNICKS

                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

    

Much was expected when Donnie Walsh hired Mike D’Antoni this past off-season to coach the Knicks.  Whether he really wanted to come to New York (or not), whether the Knicks were his second (to Chicago?) choice (or not), whether he could adjust to the rigors of coaching in New York (or not) are all irrelevant to the bigger, down the road, most important question:  Can he lead the Knicks to a championship?

    

The answer here, unfortunately, is no.

    

Are the Knicks improved this year?  Yes.  Are they more “fun to watch?”  Yes.  Is it easier to root for them today than it has been in a few years?  Yes. 

     

BUT HERE’S THE PROBLEM

     

The problem lies in the notion that a team with this up-tempo, at times averse-to-defense attitude can win an NBA Championship.  A comparison with the recent (and very successful) Phoenix teams coached by D’Antoni is instructive here.

    

D’Antoni took over in Phoenix in 2003-04 and, after a 21-40 record in his first season there, he was able to turn it all around and make Steve Nash an MVP in 2004-05 with a stunning 62-20 record.  That team had the “Big Three” of Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion that would be the backbone of that excellent four-year run D’Antoni would have in Phoenix (few remember that D’Antoni’s first excellent Phoenix team had Joe Johnson (17 ppg, now of the Hawks) and Quentin Richardson (15 ppg, now of the Knicks)).

    

In 2005-06, the Big Three were joined by excellent athletes like Rajah Bell, Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw (D’Antoni’s kind of players) and this group would lead Phoenix in winning 170 regular-season games in the next three seasons (Marion would be traded 47 games into the 2007-08 season in the Shaq deal).  They had some playoff success but could never get over the hump in the very tough West and never made it to the NBA Finals.

       

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR TODAY’S KNICKS?

     

Well, the Knicks of today have nowhere near the talent that those Phoenix teams had from 2004-08.  If you’re debating whether they should keep David Lee or Nate Robinson, you have to wonder if they should keep either (rather than one or both).  Lee, an impressive player, has huge trouble defending big men or quick men and that’s a problem from a win-the-championship perspective.  Robinson, an enormously talented guard, loses his mind on a regular basis, be it with the refs or the opposition or a teammate.  If he doesn’t calm that down sooner rather than later, he should be gone.  But even if he does tone it down, it’s hard to say that you should keep the good, small player (energy and all) over the good, big player (a walking double-double).

     

WHERE DOES LEBRON AND THE CLASS OF 2010 FIT IN TO ALL OF THIS?

     

Based on reports coming out of Cleveland, it now seems less likely that Lebron James will come to the Knicks when he becomes a free agent.  If he considers it, he’s no fool – he knows he’ll need help (Shaq-Kobe, KG-Pierce-Allen, Shaq-Wade, Duncan-Robinson, Duncan-Parker-Ginobili – you get the point).

    

Frankly, the Knicks will need two in 2010.  It says here that one, even if it’s Lebron, won’t be enough.  If they get two stars (Lebron, Wade, Bosh, fill in the blank), the coach becomes much less important.  Which brings us back to whether the up-tempo style with ultra-talented players can win a title?  Which brings us back to the Phoenix teams that D’Antoni coached – the answer, for those teams, was a resounding no.

      

WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER KNICK PLAYERS TODAY?

     

Well, what about the other Knick players on the team today?  Waiting for Eddy Curry is like waiting for Godot.  Some people thought Scott Skiles, then-coach of the Bulls when Curry was sent to the Knicks, was too harsh in his assessment of Curry (essentially, that he wouldn’t amount to much).  To date, he’s totally right (Curry now will apparently “try to play” when the Knicks are eliminated from the playoff race).

    

Larry Hughes?  He can play, but is he a long-term championship player?  Unlikely.  Q Richarsdon?  In and out of D’Antoni’s doghouse, it seems.  Maybe Danilo Gallinari?  He can shoot it, but he’s got so far to go defensively he may never get there.  And that assumes he’s healthy, a big assumption.  Chris Duhon?  Better this year with some upside, but he wore down and got hurt playing all those minutes (compared to what he was doing in Chicago).

    

Jared Jeffries?  Chris Wilcox?  Come on.

    

The main guy with upside for the future is Wilson Chandler, who has really come on this year.  Al Harrington?  Maybe, but he’s another up-and-down guy.

    

The problem for today’s Knicks isn’t the loss to good teams like Orlando, who turned a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter into a five-point lead and a win in the blink of an eye on Monday.  The problem is losses to teams like woeful Sacramento and the Nets (without the best New York-area player, Devin Harris).    

    

Frankly, when the season opens and the conversation immediately turns to whether the Knicks can make the eighth seed, that’s a big problem.  And with so many teams making the playoffs (hey, even now, the Knicks are only four games out in the loss column), the “hope” of the playoffs is even watered down and sold to foolish fans.

         

SO, WHERE DO THEY GO FROM HERE?

     

Well, after two horrific seasons, 2008-09 is certainly an improvement.  The only number many New York fans who like to gamble care about is 33, which will let them cash their “over” bets on how many games the Knicks will win this year.  But, as for the playoffs, PLAYOFFS (where’s Jim Mora when you need him), well, absent a miracle, that’s become a pipedream this year.

    

With slight improvement this year and even more next year, the real question is can the Knicks make this an enticing team for one or (preferably) two superstars to come to?  Well, virtually everyone seems to love to play for Mike D’Antoni and his “style.”  It remains to be seen if that style can ever win an NBA championship.

      

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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One response to “MIKE D’ANTONI NOT THE CHAMPIONSHIP ANSWER FOR THE KNICKS

  1. It is a little shortsighted to say the answer was a resounding “no” on D’Antoni’s Phoenix teams. While they didn’t win, they did come very close, and certainly “could have”.

    Was Barkley’s Phownix team championship caliber? Absolutely. Kemp and GP and the Sonics? Sure. D’Antoni’s “Style” may not have sealed the deal, although let’s not say it can’t work. (Read Simmons piece on this and think about what would happen if they hadn’t run Joe Johnson out of town. We mightbe singing a different tune).

    Your point about the roster overhaul that will be needed to make it happen? 100% right on the money.

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