This season isn’t over yet, so it is way too early to be thinking seriously about next year’s NBA season. The hiring of Mike D’Antoni by the Knicks is so interesting in so many ways, though, that it is worth looking ahead for a bit.
The first place to start is the money. The Knicks clearly make way too much of it. They will be paying D’Antoni $6 million a year for four years. That’s on top of almost $50 million in dead money that they have paid or will pay Larry Brown and Isiah Thomas to not coach. Imagine what a competent, reasonably managed team could do with all of that cash.
There are some reasons to like this hire. The guy has averaged 58 wins a year for four years, so he can obviously coach. His style is great to watch, and offensive players who fit in love it, so the team shouldn’t struggle to bring in players when they have space for them. Combined with Donnie Walsh, D’Antoni finally represents a much-needed new era of good management.
That paints a pretty picture, but reality is far more bleak. D’Antoni’s success was largely fueled by the fact that Steve Nash is a hall-of-fame lock. Now he has to work with Nate Robertson and Jamal Crawford. That’s like trading a Porsche for a Pinto. This could all change if they get lucky and land Derrick Rose of Jerryd Bayless in the draft, but for now there just isn’t a floor general with the skill and basketball IQ to make D’Antoni’s system work. D’Antoni is fiercely proud of his system – he wouldn’t change even a bit in Phoenix even though that meant his departure – so it seems unlikely that he would adapt to his team. That means it could be a long year.
Zach Randolf and Eddy Curry ensure that the Knicks have no payroll flexibility, and that they won’t have the speed and creativity to make D’Antoni’s system work. Walsh will have to work miracles to get rid of them. There won’t be any real salary cap space clearing up any time soon, so D’Antoni will have to find patience he hasn’t had to show.
The Knicks haven’t known the meaning of the word defense since Jeff Van Gundy left the team. They’ve also only made the playoffs once since he left in 2002, and that was without a winning record. With that in mind it doesn’t necessarily make sense to look to D’Antoni as the solution to the woes.
Back to the money for a second. The fact that D’Antoni went to New York instead of Chicago even though the Bulls have a much more talented roster full of players that are much more suited to his style is a clear sign that the coach made a money-driven decision. That’s fine, but it is tough to believe that his motivation and inspiration will be all that it could be if (wen) the road is rough because he was looking to get away from Steve Kerr and bit into the shiniest apple.
I think that D’Antoni is a wildly talented coach, and I am not willing to count out his chances of winning in New York entirely. I just sure won’t be in a real hurry to bet on him next year until he gives me a reason to. That being said, the Knocks are instantly about 112 times better with him at the helm instead of the Thomas train wreck.