Sunday, May 11, 2008

D'Antoni brings running game to the City

New York Knicks GM Donnie Walsh has long been a fan of Mike D’Antoni. When Walsh was GM of the Indiana Pacers, he wanted to add D’Antoni to the team as an assistant coach only for then Pacers’ head coach Isiah Thomas to block the move. It took 8 years and a move to New York City, but Walsh finally got his man on Sunday when he hired D’Antoni to become head coach of the Knicks.
D’Antoni comes to New York after just over 4 seasons with the Phoenix Suns where he went 253 - 136. He was coach of the year in 2005 and twice took the Suns to the Western Conference finals.
Despite what sounds like an impressive resume, this hiring is still a surprise move by Walsh because of the style D’Antoni plays. After years of chaos and turmoil, the Knicks need defense and discipline, someone with a firm hand. They need a coach who knows the importance of solid defense, someone who demands respect. That’s not to say that D’Antoni isn’t respected, but he is an offense first coach who pays about as much attention to defense as he does the 24 second clock.
D’Antoni’s Suns breezed through the regular season while he was in charge. Come playoff time though, it was a different story & when Phoenix was forced to play defense, D’Antoni either refused to, or didn’t know how. A quick glance at the Suns playoff results during D’Antoni’s tenure sees that they were eliminated by the NBA’s benchmark for defensive standards, the San Antonio Spurs, 3 times in 4 trips to the post season. The only time San Antonio didn’t knock Phoenix out was in 2006 when the two teams didn’t face each other. As if it’s needed to emphasize the point any further, San Antonio then went on to win the NBA title in 2 of those years and could make it a perfect 3 for 3 if they win it again this year. D’Antoni just didn’t get it; sure, his offense was fun to watch, but defense always won out in the end.
With Steve Nash at the point in Phoenix, it was easier for D’Antoni to implement his so called ‘Euro-style’ game. Like two greyhounds chasing a hare, Nash didn’t even need to look up to know that he had either Shawn Marion(for most of the time) or Amare Stoudemire racing down the court to finish the fast break. Phoenix often had high scoring games full of highlight reel dunks & alley oops. They played offense without a conscience. It was real life playstation.
D’Antoni will find it difficult to play the same way he did in Phoenix with this New York Knicks roster. Instead of Nash, Marion & Stoudemire, he now has Stephon Marbury or Jamal Crawford looking for Zach Randolph or er, Eddy Curry. Eddy isn’t the most agile big man in the league & has difficulty handling the ball at the best of times. His lofty 285lb frame makes it hard for him just to make it from one end of the court to the other, let alone trying to finish a fast break. For Curry, playing D’Antoni’s high speed offense will feel like he’s being sent to the NBA’s version of a training school for fat kids.
D’Antoni might be able to employ his fast paced game if he can bring in some players more suited to his style and he’ll be hoping Donnie Walsh can unload some of the ugly contracts left over from the Isiah Thomas shipwreck era.
This figures to be the toughest job of all though for Walsh. It’s hard to see him being able to convince anyone to take on the $22m owed to Stephon Marbuy for next season, so barring a buy out, he’s probably stuck with him. Zach Randolph has shown that he can score & rebound well enough, but his attitude alone makes the almost $50m owed to him over the next 3 seasons a tough sell. The most attractive asset the Knicks have on their roster is probably the one guy that both Walsh and D’Antoni want to keep most in Jamal Crawford. He was one of the few positives to come from the Knicks last season.
So D’Antoni now brings his fast, firework brand to basketball’s biggest stage at Madison Square Garden. The fans there have endured a lot of losing lately and are desperate to see a winning team again. If he can survive his first season, D’Antoni should at least bring excitement back to the Garden, but he won’t last long if the Knicks are scoring a lot, but ultimately still losing.
It’s said that Mike D’Antoni loves a challenge, so he’s certainly got his wish with this one in New York….but as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for Mike !

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