D'Antoni taking beatings right along with Knicks
Two years ago, Mike D'Antoni had his choice between two of the NBA's most renowned franchises.
He would have been the leading candidate to coach the next U.S. Olympic team had Mike Krzyzewski declined to return.
One more thing about Mike D'Antoni: He's on pace to lose 100 games in two seasons.
Losses now come as quickly for D'Antoni as points used to, making it easy to wonder if his reputation is taking a beating right along with his New York Knicks.
``I don't see Mike as being any different coach than he was when we were winning 62 here. It's beyond me how all of a sudden a guy changes,'' said Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry, who still talks regularly with his old boss.
``You know Doc Rivers lost his last 18 games, if I'm not mistaken, or he lost 18 out of 19. Then he got Kevin Garnett and all of a sudden now he's a great coach. Mike is no different than when he was winning games here. You take the personnel that you have, you try to put them in a situation to win and sometimes that doesn't work out. That doesn't mean Mike is any less of a coach than he was here.''
The Knicks are 20-39 after going 32-50 in D'Antoni's first season after picking New York over the Chicago Bulls. Those are numbers that get coaches fired, and while it's unlikely he's going anywhere, he knows it doesn't exactly justify that $6 million per year salary, either.
``I haven't had a good year, that's for sure,'' he said.
But is it fair to blame the coach, when all the moves the Knicks made with an eye toward the future have left him a subpar roster in the present?
``What's fair is fair doesn't really matter, because we're going to go ahead and do our jobs best we can and knowing where we're going, and it's up to me to get us there,'' D'Antoni said. ``And we're not there obviously yet.''
They weren't supposed to be this season. New York traded away two of its best players - Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford - early in 2008-09 to create salary cap room for this summer, then opted to protect that space rather than upgrade for this season.
That means he came back with the recently benched Chris Duhon as his starting point guard, the position where he once had Steve Nash. He's also had a group of unreliable shooters, including Duhon and recently traded Jared Jeffries and Larry Hughes, who currently rank 25th in the league in 3-point shooting.
D'Antoni still insisted the Knicks could be a playoff team, but he'd have a hard time finding many people around New York or the NBA who would've believed him. The team just doesn't have the personnel to run the system that turned the Suns into a perennial championship contender under D'Antoni.
``It just comes down to as a coach, you're trying to fit your players in a system that works for them,'' Chicago coach Vinny Del Negro said. ``Different teams, different players, you're going to get different results at times, so it's not easy.''
It's been harder than D'Antoni thought, and the frustration has started to show while he endures a meaningless stretch run for the second straight year.
Usually affable with the media, he grew testy Saturday when questioned about his decision not to foul when leading by three points in the final seconds of a game, after the Knicks were forced to overtime twice within a week when a player made a late 3-pointer.
Then Monday, he acknowledged his team ``kind of gave up'' in the third quarter in Cleveland, when the Knicks trailed by 49 points in a 124-93 loss.
D'Antoni used to be on the other end of those types of scores. His Suns averaged 58 wins in his four full seasons, using his pedal-to-the-metal system to ring up better than 110 points per game in three of them and twice reach the Western Conference finals.
When he and the Suns parted ways in 2008, he had a pair of jobs waiting for him. The 2005 NBA coach of the year chose New York, but Knicks fans are still waiting for the turnaround D'Antoni engineered in Phoenix.
``New York has been lacking a winner in terms of the Knicks for some time, so people are hungry and anxious, but Mike D'Antoni will always do his share to make his team competitive, exciting and the players will play for him,'' said USA Basketball chairman and former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo, who has hired D'Antoni twice. ``So I think he just needs time.''
Not surprisingly, the guy whose system was known as ``7 seconds or less'' isn't interested in taking his time. Knicks president Donnie Walsh said D'Antoni takes losing hard, to the point he has to remind his coach that the team's struggles aren't his fault.
``I know he's a good coach,'' Walsh said. ``I go to practice every day, I talk to him every day and I know that if he had the players that could fit into his style that he'd be successful.''
The Knicks hope to get those players this summer, and D'Antoni could be the key. The U.S. Olympic team assistant is friendly with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and Walsh has noticed how so many of the league's stars greet D'Antoni at the Knicks bench when they play in New York.
So perhaps it was a little alarming to Walsh that D'Antoni's player-friendly reputation has come into question in New York, where Hughes, Nate Robinson and Eddy Curry complained about or were confused with their roles this season, and Stephon Marbury feuded with the coach last season.
``My experience in the league over 40 years is that when teams aren't winning, players don't take the kind of responsibility they should for their own situation and they ran off on someone else. Usually it's the coach,'' Colangelo said. ``I've heard that ad infinitum, about lack of communication, a lack of direction, 'I don't know my role.' We could repeat that a million times. I've heard it. But you don't hear that from winning teams.''
The remaining schedule is difficult, so the Knicks may not even hit 30 wins. There is no Nash or Amare Stoudemire here to make his offense hum, but D'Antoni said the players he has will be competitive.
The losses go on the coach's record, but D'Antoni's defenders maintain that the blame shouldn't.
``There's definitely disappointment that we haven't won more games, but that's not coach's fault,'' center David Lee said recently. ``He's done an unbelievable job, he's the best coach I've ever played for on any level and I'd be happy to have him as my coach the rest of my career.''
AP Sports Writer Bob Baum in Phoenix contributed to this report.