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
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
”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
”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
”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
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
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: