D’Antoni’s departure a stunning end in New York

Mike D’Antoni waited nearly four years before he could re-create

the high-octane success he had in Phoenix, and for three

exhilarating weeks in February, the New York Knicks were the NBA’s

team to watch.

They played fast and fun, sharing the ball and sharing laughs,

and their coach enjoyed the ride as much as anyone.

Just as quickly, it was gone again. And now, so too is D’Antoni,

a casualty of the forces generated by a mercurial owner perpetually

rebuilding the roster, the caprice of a star player and the

heightened expectations of a fan base desperate for a winner.

He resigned Wednesday, a stunning finish for a coach who only a

month earlier seemed rejuvenated by Jeremy Lin.

”Nobody saw it coming,” said Carmelo Anthony, the star who was

sidelined when Lin emerged and seemed unlikely to ever mesh with

him the way D’Antoni wanted after he returned.

That meant Linsanity couldn’t last, and D’Antoni may have

realized it first.

Lin had come from the end of the bench to play so well that

D’Antoni would compare him to Suns star Steve Nash, who ran his

wide-open offense better than anyone. The undrafted Harvard point

guard outplayed Kobe Bryant one night, toppled the champion Dallas

Mavericks another, and D’Antoni had that feeling again that his

team could outscore anyone.

”You know what, I think at that point in time we started to

play well and he started to build on that offense,” forward Amare

Stoudemire said.

The Knicks won seven straight, leading newscasts on a nightly

basis for the first time in memory.

But D’Antoni also had the same fear as many fans. He knew

Anthony would soon be back from injury, and his vision of beautiful

basketball would stop.

And when that happened, followed by reports of the friction it

created between the coach and star, D’Antoni decided it was time to

walk away.

”He had a certain ideal of a system we were supposed to

implement,” said Stoudemire, who also played for D’Antoni in

Phoenix. ”We all didn’t quite buy into it, and he got frustrated

and I think that’s why he took his way out.”

His departure may have been hardest on Lin, who was barely

hanging on to an NBA job before D’Antoni’s schemes catapulted him

onto two straight Sports Illustrated covers and TV screens around

the world.

”Obviously, I miss him a lot,” Lin said after the Knicks’

121-79 victory over Portland under interim coach Mike Woodson.

”What he did for me and my career, I’m not going to forget. I’m

not going to forget what he did for me personally. Just very

emotional and sad to see him go. I owe a lot to him.”

Minutes after he spoke, it was clear the same affection didn’t

exist between D’Antoni and Anthony.

D’Antoni communicated with some players via phone or text

message Wednesday afternoon, but Anthony said he hadn’t talked to

him since a brief conversation when D’Antoni ran the Knicks’

morning workout. He acknowledged the sacrifice it took for him to

play in D’Antoni’s system, where he didn’t get the ball as much as

he wanted, but denied having any role in the coach’s

resignation.

”I didn’t have anything to do with that. That was Coach’s

decision,” Anthony said. ”I really don’t know where his mindset

was at, what he thought, what he was thinking as far as his

decision to step down. So anything about me and Mike, you guys who

probably know Mike personally, anything like that, he will tell you

we never had any issues. Any disagreements that he had with us as a

team, we talked it out and went from there.”

D’Antoni was a coaching star in Phoenix, averaging 58 wins in

four full years. He got a big contract to come to the big city, but

rarely much chance to compete. He sat through two years of

rebuilding and too many trades that halted momentum while failing

to deliver the type of roster he craved, and interim general

manager Glen Grunwald admitted D’Antoni had a ”rough go of it” in

New York.

Still, the Knicks went 42-40 last season to make the playoffs

with their first winning record in a decade, and they were a

basketball story again after years of mostly being in the headlines

for all the wrong reasons during Isiah Thomas’ tenure.

D’Antoni relished being relevant again, his easygoing

personality and quick wit returning as the success of Lin and the

team brought more media attention. He joked one day after meeting

with the large Asian contingent that came to cover the NBA’s first

American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent that he felt

like he was opening for the Beatles.

But with the Knicks mired in a six-game losing streak, his final

days brought back the way it was before his arrival. Anthony wanted

a trade and D’Antoni had lost the support of players, according to

two of the stories based on anonymous sources that appeared

Wednesday morning.

Perhaps that’s when D’Antoni made his decision. He wasn’t able

to turn the Knicks into a regular winner again and seemed unlikely

to return anyway, with his $24 million, four-year contract set to

expire this summer.

”I think in life there are times where change could be for the

better,” Anthony said. ”This is an unfortunate situation for

Coach Mike, but sometimes something will just spark off for guys to

wake up and say, `OK, something is real right here and we got to

change.’ Obviously, I’m not speaking for Coach, but that’s how he

felt. He stepped down for the sake of the team. He felt like the

team needed change and he did that. I wish it was under better

circumstances, but at this point it is what it is.”

Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter:

http://www.twitter.com/Briancmahoney