The Fast Break: Should Mike D’Antoni Be Next Coach Fired?

Is it time for Mike D'Antoni to go?

Mike D’Antoni, the mastermind behind the run & gun Phoenix Suns. He was supposed to be the savior of Gotham, the architect behind a resurgence at the Mecca. He failed, and it has fallen on Amar’e Stoudemire to lead a rebirth at the Garden. He was supposed to be the main attraction for the much hyped free agent class of 2010. He failed, and LeBron James went south. He is supposed to be the coach that leads New York back to the finals. I’m going to go ahead and call that a fail as well, since¬†the D’Antoni experience seems to be on the fast track too nowhere.

For a coach that was supposed to lead the team back to the playoffs and attract every free agent under the sun because A) His system is fun for everyone, and B) He coached all the mega stars in the Olympics, Mike D’Antoni has thus far been an enormous disappointment. No one that was a free agent or was approaching free agency gave a damn about his system or his time spent with the Olympic team. The Knicks had to pay more then anyone else would in order to acquire Amar’e Stoudemire, and it has been STAT that has made the Knicks attractive again, with Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and even Dwight Howard proclaiming NYC a possible destination now that Stoudemire is here. Mike’s ability to lead this team to the playoffs is also looking shaky, as the team was pretty worthless under him until Donnie brought in STAT and Raymond Felton. Even with an All-Star caliber Point Guard and a superstar Power Forward, the Knicks under Mike’s peerless leadership are just 1 game above .500 and a mere 4 games from being tied with Indiana for 9th place in the Eastern Conference.

Only six Knicks are averaging 20+ minutes a night, with Stoudemire and Felton averaging over 37 minutes a game. Those six Knicks that are averaging over 20 minutes a game are also the only players to appear in at least 28 games this season. Tony Douglas is the only none-starter to appear in 30+ games. There’s a reason why the Knicks often look tired entering the fourth quarter, missing that clutch ability to close games out late that they showed during their 13-1 burst from November 17th – December 12th.

This is a topic that¬†Howard Beck of the New York Times reported on back in late December. The Knicks lack of depth at point guard and center, and Mike D’Antoni’s tendency to use a meager 8 man rotation leads to flat 4th quarters from many of his starters.

Anthony Randolph and Timofey Mozgov have collected dust on Mike’s bench all season long, a scene that benefits no one as the Knicks at 25-24 (1-6 versus Boston, Miami & Orlando) are nowhere near good enough to excuse the lack of development of their young talent. It would certainly benefit the Knicks to have Randolph and Mozgov develop their games for any potential trades, but it would also benefit the Knicks regular starters, who all log far too many minutes for their own good. Timofey Mozgov is trying to defy that trend with a 23 point, 14 rebound performance against Detroit and a 9 point, 7 rebound, 2 block stat line against Philadelphia. The situation isn’t as simple as young player performs thus said player gets minutes though, because Mike D’Antoni is notoriously stubborn. He refused to play Nate Robinson and when Nate embarrassed Mike by putting up stellar numbers, there by bringing into question the coach’s decision to bench him, Mike simply played Nate less and less as the week went on until he was glued to the bench once again. Same thing happened with Tony Douglas that same year.

Before the Detroit game Mike D’Antoni told reporters that nothing Mozgov or Randolph could do on the floor was going to “upset the apple cart”, meaning no matter how well they performed they had no chance of cracking the rotation. How nice of the coach to show confidence in his young players with ¬†such inspiring words of support. Now that Mozgov made Mike D’Antoni look stupid for benching him, by posting a double-double against the Pistons and gaining public support from Raymond Felton, who called for somebody “who’s physical like that to take some of that banging off Amar’e Stoudemire”, Mike’s decision making as come under fire yet again. If he sticks to his tendencies, I expect to see Mozgov less and less as the weeks drag on until he’s entombed in the bench once again.

Burning out his starters, due to a heavy workload, isn’t the only issue with Mike D’Antoni’s coaching style. Defense, as they say, wins championships and it’s something that Mike hasn’t exactly been renowned for in his time in the league. The Knicks are allowing 106.0 points per game while scoring 106.3 per, for a differential of +.03. That means they are allowing the most points of any of the 16 teams currently holding a playoff spot while having the second worst point differential among playoff teams. The Knicks have allowed their opponents to score 100 or more points 14 times over the last 20 games. To make matters worse, the Knicks stand as the only team in the entire league to lose to the 8-42 Cleveland Cavaliers over the Cavs last 33 games, giving up 109 points in that December 18th game, breaking up a Cavs losing streak that should stand at 33 games instead of 23. From November 30th too now, the Knicks stand as one of only 7 teams that Cleveland managed to score 100 or more points against during that time. The other teams on that list are Memphis, New Jersey, Indiana, Toronto, Denver, and Phoenix. 109 points allowed vs Cleveland on December 18th, against a team that averages only 94 points a game. Defense is definitely not what Mike D’Antoni is renowned for.

What Mike D’Antoni is known for however is developing high scoring, highly entertaining, offenses. As entertaining as a fast break happy team is to watch, that style of play has not resulted in the number of wins expected from a team as talented as the Knicks, playing in a weak conference no less. Especially against strong playoff teams. Out of 8 games played against Atlanta, Orlando, Miami and Boston, the Knicks have allowed 100 or more points 6 times, losing all but one of those matches. In 3 games against the Lakers & Spurs they’ve allowed point totals of 115, 109 & 101, going 1-2 in those games. New York’s record against playoff bound teams now stands at 10-14, a record that includes 0-2 marks against Boston, Atlanta, and Philadelphia.

If Mike D’Antoni is fired, the Knicks will have to settle with one of his assistants becoming the interim head coach (not Herb Williams) until the off-season when New York will have several worthwhile candidates to choose from. While that situation is not ideal, it could give the Knicks a shot in the arm like similar situations have given the Bobcats and Pacers players a little extra motivation heading into the seasons’ stretch run.

Now lets talk about our potential head coaches for next season and beyond. Let’s start with Ron Adams, who was the former assistant coach for the Oklahoma City Thunder, credited by many for the development of the terrific defense they showed last year. In his absence the Thunder’s defense has suffered mightily while the Chicago Bulls (his current gig) have improved defensively. This move would not only provide the Knicks with a viable defensive minded head coach but weaken a conference rival in the process. The next potential hire is the more recognizable Nate McMillan, the current head coach of the Portland Trailblazers. With injuries ravaging his team season after season, McMillan still manages to find a way to get his players (those that are healthy anyway) to compete. He has issues with Blazers’ ownership and is expected to be among the coaches searching for a job come seasons’ end. The list of potential coaching hires includes Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer, who’s regarded as an up and coming head coaching talent, former Knicks great and current assistant coach for the Orlando Magic Patrick Ewing, former Knicks head coach (& fan favorite) Jeff Van Gundy and former Knicks great Mark Jackson.

Jim O’Brian is out in Indiana, Larry Brown is out in Charlotte, and with all this coach talent available this off-season, perhaps it’s time for Mike D’Antoni to be out in New York.

LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE

The Knicks just finished that 8-game span I previously wrote about, with the 3-5 record I expected them to have during that stretch. Though the win over the Heat was a pleasant surprise, I expected them to beat the lottery bound Houston Rockets, losing the first game in a favorable 8-game stretch (too a bad team no less) is inexcusable. The Knicks play 6 of their next 8 games against teams with losing records, with the Lakers (34-16) and Hawks (32-18) standing as the only teams likely to beat New York, and what does NYK do? Well they lose to the woeful 76ers of course. Philadelphia was 22-26 entering that game, with as many issues as promising young guards, and yet the Knicks failed to play any defense to start or end the game, losing 100-98. Everything seemed to start off on the wrong note for New York as Mike D’Antoni’s decision to send out a small frontline, with Shawn Williams starting, led to 19 first quarter points from Elton Brand. A loss Sunday would mean a season sweep of the Knicks by the 76ers.

After Philadelphia the Knicks face the two-headed LA monster of the Lakers and Blake Griffin (whose team is 19-30), after which they must take on the Nets (15-36), Hawks, Bucks (19-29), and Cavs. I expected New York to go 6-2 over this 8 game stretch, but since they already dropped one to Philadelphia, the Knicks need to go 5-2 over their next 7 games before facing a potential 3 game losing streak Feb 27th-Mar 2nd, when they’ll face Miami (36-14), Orlando (32-19), and New Orleans (32-19). Otherwise we might see the Knicks with a losing record for the first time since November 27th, when they were 8-9.

ONE FINAL THOUGHT

I realize Mike likes to keep things simple, and he’s never shown a capability to adapt his style to match the strengths of his players, but playing Danilo Gallinari as a Point Forward (taking a little something out of the Magic playbook, circa 2009), would go along way to improving the flow of the offense given Gallo’s innate ability to get to the free throw line. To use someone who is as capable of getting to the rim and finishing as Gallo has been since returning from his knee injury, and that can pass as deftly as he can, well that opens the floor up nicely for long range shooters, which the Knicks have plenty of. I realize Mike enjoys the traditional pick & roll, but your point guard isn’t the only one that can (or perhaps should) always run that play.

Topics: Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, Nate McMillan, Patrick Ewing

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  • Chili

    Mike D’s “talent” as a successful coach is suited for two scenarios. 1)Coach either side of an NBA all-star team. 2)Coach the U.S. Olympic Team. Both really being the same. Having an all-star starting lineup along with an all-star bench who can go out and score 145 points a game no matter who plays or what the other team does.
    Having 6 or 7 guys riding the bench all season is not the mark of a good coaching staff while playing an 8 man rotation is destined for failure via minor injuries and burnout.
    And if DNP-Coach’s decision isn’t bad enough, it’s the way he treats his bench that’s infuriating, based on comments he makes about his bench when asked by reporters.
    I’m no Eddy Curry fan but can’t ANYONE get this tub-o’lard motivated to drop weight, run up and down the floor, set picks, rebound and protect the paint against teams that have real centers? Nobody? It’s gotten to the point that Curry would suffer a season-ending shoulder injury ripping open a package of Twinkies.
    I wonder what this head case is going to do for money when his NBA career is over after this year.
    Mike D’s “system” (minus any defense)can have some success until the shooters are throwing up bricks…which has been the case over the past couple of weeks. When that happens, there is no system. That’s his problem. No plan B. No room for adjustment. No use for his bench players…one or two who just might provide a spark or have a hot night. But we’ll never know because he has no use for them. That’s why he’ll only be successful when he has a team of all-stars and simply outscores the other team night after night. A good defensive team will always shut down a good offensive team. And if that’s all you have, the only other thing you have is a quick exit from the playoffs.
    Don’t fool yourselves, Knick’s fans. Walsh has thrown out the garbage and made this team relevant again. He’s made the team competitive. Playoff bound? Hopefully. Championship caliber? Say no to the drugs you’re on if you even entertain that thought. On any given night, the Knicks can beat the best or lose to the worst. That falls on the coaches shoulders. In my judgement, Mike D. and his staff fail. This system will keep them relevant year after year but that’s about all. Get used to repeating “Wait till next year” at the end of the each season. Reminds me of the Ewing era. 3 or 4 good players cannot and will not bring a banner to MSG. You can sign all the big name Free Agents you want over the next couple of years. Unless you have the tools to shut down the other team’s strengths, you won’t win. Period. I’ll repeat myself. A good defense will ALWAYS prevail over a good offense. Always has and always will. I, for one will not lose any sleep if Mike D. and his staff are shown that the doors to the Garden swing out as well as in. They don’t seem to be teaching this group of young, athletic players much of anything. Isn’t that what coaches are for? Coaching???? Developing talent? Utilizing strengths and minimizing weaknesses?
    This coaching staff does none of that.
    Which is why players should only sign short term contracts. Once you get into Mike D’s doghouse, escape is next to impossible so you only have to endure him short term and then are free to sign elsewhere where you can at least be given a chance to perform and develop. Not so, in D’Antoni’s “system”.
    Which is why after his stint with the Knicks, the NBA should hire him as a permanent coach for the All-Star game. Fun for the fans, where his “system” fits perfectly and he would find success. Other than that…. not so much.

    • sage

      Yea Mike D’Less has some serious issues when it comes to developing/properly using the talent on his rosters.

      Mike didn’t want to use Darko, now he’s become a quality role-player for the T-Wolves.

      Mike didn’t want to play Nate, now he’s become a quality role-player for the Celtics.

      Mike reportedly didn’t want McGrady back, and now he’s become a solid role-player on the Pistons’ starting 5.

      Darko plays Center, Nate & T-Mac play PG. Funny, those are the same positions everyone keeps reporting the Knicks need depth at!!!

  • http://www.shattertheglass.com bgalella

    No!

    • Will Woods

      The degree to which Nate Robinson has been made better by the players around him cannot be overstated. Posting his worst ever PER and trust me, as a Celtics viewer, I have not once watched Nate and wished he were still with the Knicks.

      What did T-Mac show last year that merited a re-signing?

      When Darko said he wanted to leave the NBA next year, what were we supposed to do? When Minnesota offered him 4 years and 20 million, were we supposed to top that?

      • sage

        Nate’s scoring off the bench, ability to get to the rim, and create his own shots are all elements the Knicks could use more of off their bench. These are all things Nate did in spurts, similar to Dallas’ Jason Terry. Inconsistent, but useful.

        T-Mac was retained on a cheap, 1-year deal, so there was really no reason not to retain him and see if they could use him, given his high basketball IQ and strength/size at the point.

        Darko wanted to leave the NBA because Mike D’Less refused to play him. His playing time in New York was nonexistent due to Mike’s inability to use any center that doesn’t just stand at the 3 point line.

        Given Darko’s ZERO market value at the start of last season, the Knicks could have easily offered him an affordable, short term deal (1 year + team option), since all he wanted at the time was consistent playing time. If he said no then fine, New York could have attempted a sign & trade in the off season, but the fact that he never got any playing time did not allow the front office to even attempt that, since being glued to the bench creates zero trade value.

        9.5 points, 5.5 rebounds & 2.4 blocks per game on just 25 minutes per game. He could have been averaging these numbers last year!

  • http://Knicksonline.com Kiyaman

    Celebrity coach Dantoni best qualities in the NBA is as an assistant coach use for practice sessions, running scrimage and wide-open fastbreaks.
    Mike and Dan Dantoni has no-strategy to be any teams headcoach in the NBA. The NBA is a BIGMAN-game which eliminates the Dantoni-brothers…

    • sage

      BIGMAN-game?

      Sounds like you want Patrick Ewing to be our next head coach. :]

      My preference would be for the Knicks to go after Ron Adams. I respect his work with the Thunder/Bulls defenses these last couple of seasons, and it would hurt Chicago so win-win!

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