It’s happened again.
Another coach has been swayed by the bright lights of Madison Square Garden and the big checkbook of the New York Knicks.
Mike D’Antoni who led the Phoenix Suns to two Western Conference Finals and four playoff berths in as many years accepted $24 million over four years on Friday to lead the once proud organization out of the train-wreck that was the Isiah Thomas era. Over the next few weeks expect D’Antoni to talk about the taking the Knicks job because of the challenge in restoring the proud franchise. Of working for one of the NBA’s most well-respected executives in Donnie Walsh. And how coaching the Chicago Bulls interested him, but ultimately his heart led him to New York. Don’t let him fool you- this decision was about the glamour and dollar bills that only the Knicks could offer.
To understand the argument, all one needs to do is look at the rosters of D’Antoni’s two primary suitors. The Bulls are stocked with young, athletic players that would thrive in his open court, shoot first, think second system. Imagine Kirk Hinrich running D’Antoni’s break-neck offense with Ben Gordon and Luol Deng getting open for perimeter jumpers and Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah and Drew Gooden running the floor and getting lay-in after lay-in against less athletic frontcourts. With the right coach this team will not only be in the playoffs next year, but could certainly be competing for an Eastern Conference championship.
Now compare that to the Knicks. David Lee and Jamal Crawford will certainly be an excellent fit for the new offense D’Anotoni will bring in. There will be discussion that another Knick, Quentin Richardson had the best year of his career playing for D’Antoni in Phoenix. After three sub-par years in New York, however, it’s clear Richardson isn’t the same player he was in 2005 when he made 226 three-pointers for the Suns. Nate Robinson certainly is as athletic as any player in the NBA, but it seems hard to believe that a 5’9 guard who has shown little interest in passing the ball over the course of his career can thrive in this offense.
Then you have Stephon Marbury, Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph, three players who never seem to be happy no matter who they’re playing for or where they’re playing. It is unclear whether Marbury will ever wear a Knicks uniform again, after sitting out most of last season because of some heated arguments with Thomas. As for Randolph and Curry, it is hard to imagine them running the court in New York the way D’Antoni convinced Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion to do in Phoenix. What is even harder to imagine is Donnie Walsh being able to get any value in a trade for either.
Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe Stephon Marbury comes back and runs D’Antoni’s offense as well as Steve Nash. Maybe, Randolph and Curry become revitalized for the new coach, and for the first time in their careers commit themselves on the defensive end of the floor and in some type of strength and conditioning program. The Knicks do own a lottery pick in the upcoming draft and could strike gold with someone along the lines of Derrick Rose from Memphis, Michael Beasley of Kansas State or Indiana's Eric Gordon - all of which would be great fits for the system.
While I do think that for first time in a long time, the pieces are in place for the Knicks to at least improve next year. However, even competing for a playoff spot still seems like a stretch at this point. Maybe D’Antoni knows something I don’t. For his sake I hope he does. Because next year, when players start coming late to practices, arguing with the coaching staff, and quitting half-way through the season, all the money in the world won’t be able to buy him the playoff berth he passed up in Chicago.