Wednesday, December 28th, 2011 at 12:26 pm  |  12 responses

Can Mike D’Antoni Transform The Knicks Into Contenders?

It’s not as easy as it sounds.

by DJ Dunson / @dunsonchecksin

In the final year of his contract, Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni sits in the hottest seat at Madison Square Garden. This is the season the Knicks are expected to make the leap from celebrity attraction to Championship contender. Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony may battle for the throne as Kings of New York, but at least they are locked into nine-figure, multi-year contracts. Mike DAntoni’s four-year, $24 million contract expires after this season.

With that leap comes increased intensity from the New York media and Knicks fans. Spike Lee’s glass frames will be burning a hole through Mike D’Antoni if the Knicks are not a top three seed in the Eastern Conference in April. It may seem premature to forecast D’Antoni’s demise but this is a franchise that began planning for the free agent classes of 2010, 2011 and 2012 back in 2008. The Knicks are more desperate to bring an NBA title back to the Big Apple than Kobe is to catch Jordan.

Baron Davis brings name-value to the Knicks but he’s never displayed great defensive ability, which is the one area that D’Antoni’s teams have shown glaring deficiencies. Unfortunately for D’Antoni, his dream point guard, Chris Paul, just agreed to exercise his option for 2013-2013 season in Lob City but the Knicks are still expected to take a giant step towards the franchises first Championship in nearly 40 years.

D’Antoni’s teams have always ranked near the bottom of the League in defensive statistics. A large part is based on the up-tempo pace he encourages. The Knicks’ Christmas Day victory may have brought good vibes to Madison Square Garden, but it still raised eyebrows.

The Knicks should not have had given the Celtics a chance to tie the game on the final possession of their matchup Sunday afternoon. This is an aging Celtics team that was missing a trio of big-time contributors in All-Star Paul Pierce, Glen Davis, who signed with the Orlando Magic in the off-season, as well as forward Jeff Green who will miss the entire season after undergoing heart surgery. The Cetlics are now a Championship team in name and reputation only.

After the final buzzer sounded, D’Antoni told the press that the Knicks and Celtics had been rekindled. “It’s going to be a rivalry now, because I think we can get up to the same level they are,” he said. “It’s going to be knock-down, drag-out.”

While D’Antoni may have experienced a surge of confidence on Sunday afternoon, he may want to wait until the Knicks have made some Playoff noise before announcing the Knicks arrival. D’Antoni has always been the NBA’s Michael Bay. Bay may have directed some of Hollywood’s highest-grossing blockbusters of the past 15 years but the Academy Awards don’t hand out Best Picture nominations for explosions and scantily clad women. Like Bay’s films, D’Antoni’s teams are always entertaining and high scoring but aren’t gritty enough on defense to capture Playoff glory. Knicks fans want NBA Championships—not scoring titles.

It’s one of the reasons that former Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Woodson was brought in to serve as the team’s unofficial defensive coordinator. The hope within the Knicks organization is that Woodson’s addition will yield the same results Tom Thibodeau did on the Celtics’ bench from 2008 through 2010. Defense wins Championships, after all.

The Celtics won a Championship in Thibodeau’s first season. In his first season as Bulls head coach, Thibodeau’s defensive principles helped Chicago earn the Eastern Conference’s #1 seed with less talent than the Knicks currently have at their disposal.

The Miami Heat’s star studded roster made sure to establish defense as their foundation. Miami and Chicago allowed 91.3 points and 94.6 points per game, respectively last season. The Knicks allowed 105.7.

Phil Jackson’s recent retirement as Lakers head coach doesn’t make matters any better for D’Antoni. Jackson has a habit of showing up on the sidelines of franchises with Championship-caliber talent. New York would be the perfect final destination for his hallowed coaching career. Whether Jackson would come out of retirement to coach the franchise he won two Championships with as a player is unknown. Plus, the ideal coach may be coaching in Brooklyn next fall. Avery Johnson has a reputation for coaching disciplined teams and emphasizes defense. If the Knicks don’t challenge the League’s elite this season, it won’t matter for D’Antoni which coaches will be lining up for the Knicks job next summer, because by then, it won’t be his to lose.

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  • charliewinning

    I have no faith in the chances of any D’Antoni lead team winning a title. My biggest wish for the Knicks besides a real pg is that they get a real coach. As a Knick fan, I think anyone who advocates for this guy to stay past this season just wants the Knicks to fail.

  • bull22

    that answer is simple, nope.

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    Can Mike D’Antoni get a PG who can run his system? Or a bench? Those are more important questions. I think it’s pretty obvious he can make them contenders, he’s done it with a similarly talented team before.

  • http://slamonline.com LakeShow

    ^Most people would say in hindsight the Suns weren’t contenders. I think they were. Knicks aren’t contenders right now. Not saying Billups would have made them contenders, but they needed Billups.

  • Paul

    What this article says about D’Antoni–comparing him to Michael Bay,saying he’s never made “playoff noise”, etc–is totally off base. D’Antoni went to two conference finals in the west, which was an extremely competitive conference at the time. If not for injuries and suspensions, its conceivable that those D’Antoni Suns could’ve gone to the finals and won a title one of those years. This idea that d’Antoni doesn’t have the ability to win is nonsense.

  • Paul

    @Lakeshow, why don’t we wait until Baron gets on the court before we lament about Billups and say they aren’t contenders. Baron Davis is younger than Billups and arguably has more left in the tank and more of the sort of talent the Knicks need right now. With Melo, Stat and Chandler in the frontcourt they will do damage regardless, I say. But really, its far too early to tell either way.

  • http://slamonline.com LakeShow

    If Baron is at G-State amazing status. Yes they are contenders. BUT… he won’t be.

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    The year Joe Johnson broke his face they were contenders. Same with the year Amar’e was suspended for stepping on the court.

  • http://slamonline.com LakeShow

    No argument.

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    I feel you, I was just trying to hedge off anyone who was going to go on a rant about how Phoenix was a fake contender.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Thanks for the post, DJ. The very first comment says it all!