Mike D’Antoni resigned as the Knicks head coach on March 15, 2012, a media firestorm surrounding the team in his wake. That day, the Knicks in the midst of an six-game losing streak, rumors had surfaced that Carmelo Anthony had confidentially asked that D’Antoni be removed as head coach, and if not, he’d like to be traded. Of course, Anthony denied reports and teammates said everything was fine, but below the surface, there were deeper problems – problems likely everyone in the organization recognized. With a tornado of negative press surrounding the team, hours before their matchup against the Portland Trailblazers, D’Antoni resigned. He didn’t see anything else he could bring to the table for that team.
At that time, Carmelo Anthony, and the Knicks at large, had been having an underwhelming season. Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire were out of sync, in an out of games with injuries; the team looked disjointed and inconsistent. The brief glimmer of hope that was Linsanity, sparked by the meteoric rise of Jeremy Lin, had been squashed during the team’s return to Earth and the apparent incompatibility of Lin and Anthony.
Now, months later, D’Antoni’s return to Madison Square Garden as the Los Angeles Lakers head coach offers a chance to see how far the Knicks have come. Since Mike Woodson took over for D’Antoni that day in March, the Knicks have gone 33-12 excluding the playoffs. Carmelo Anthony is playing at an MVP-level, the Knicks’ offense is among the best in the NBA, their defense, while inconsistent, capable of winning them games, their bench is sturdy, their point guard rotation trustworthy; things are good in New York.
In Los Angeles, D’Antoni’s situation mirrors the one he left less than a year ago. The Lakers are severely underwhelming, struggling with a 9-13 record, despite cast of all-worldly NBA talent. However, D’Antoni’s circumstances in LA are also similar to what he left in New York because of the instability. D’Antoni hasn’t gotten a chance to coach the point guard he made MVP in Phoenix, Steve Nash, who’s been injured since early November. Pau Gasol has been absent for the last few games. As Zach Lowe pointed out, the Lakers players are just as much at fault as D’Antoni. Besides injuries and an incomplete bench, D’Antoni also took over early in the season without any training camp to become acquainted with his new roster.
In New York, D’Antoni coached a team that was constantly under construction. Over the four years that D’Antoni coached, he had a total of 58 different players on his roster, and dealt with a major mid-season roster overhaul almost each year. Through the first two years of coaching, the Knicks teams were built around expiring contracts in order to clear cap space for the summer of 2010 and LeBron James. Though the Knicks obviously missed LeBron, in 2010-11, D’Antoni had a team humming along, built around Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, and Wilson Chandler. Then, of course, the Knicks cleared most of the rotation players for Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, and the team basically started from scratch.
Last season, the Knicks finally had a stable roster, but went through many different phases, mainly highlighted by the failed Anthony-as-a-point guard stage to start the season, and then Linsanity. When injuries took Anthony and Stoudemire out of the lineup, the Knicks adjusted, led by Lin. When they returned, there was no cohesion because the groups had never played together. D’Antoni never truly had a stable roster or rotation to work with.
When D’Antoni returns tonight, it will be a pleasant reminder for Knicks fans at just how things have turned around in recent months. But with that said, Knicks fans should not be hostile towards D’Antoni. What they had in four years under D’Antoni was a good coach, who struggled to find consistent success during a turbulent time.
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