Coach Mike D’Antoni coming to New York was a pretty big deal. The Knicks were coming off the Isiah Thomas era (or should I say error). The Knicks had only won 23 games in 2007-08 and had not made the playoffs since 2003-04. The team had become a joke and that is tough to do in one of the biggest markets in all of sports. The Knicks needed a big time coach who was going to bring respect back to New York basketball and his name was Mike D’Antoni.
Coach D’Antoni was a star coach coming to a star town. He had a ton of success in Phoenix and was considered one of the best coaches in the NBA. While there was always a knock on him that his teams played little defense, no one could deny that his teams had a lot of success. His Suns averaged 58 wins a year for a four year stretch where they were contenders every year and may have won a title if Joe Johnson does not break his face or Amare does not get suspended.
Despite all his former success in Phoenix, is D’Antoni overrated? Was he a really a great coach in Phoenix or did he just have a ridiculous amount of talent? The same question can be asked about Phil Jackson, is he a great coach or is he just lucky to have spent his career coaching Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant? D’Antoni did have the only MVP at PG (and he was a two time MVP) in the last 20 years on his team in Steve Nash. Nash was also a PG that was perfect to execute the D’Antoni style of offense. The Suns also had an explosive Amare Stoudemire. They had great role players like Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion, Quentin Richardson (when he was good), Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa, Grant Hill, Raja Bell and Shaquille O’Neal. In his first full year they had 5 players average double figures, his second year 6 players, 5 players his third year and 7 players his fourth year. D’Antoni’s Phoenix teams all had deep rosters with a great deal of balance. My argument is that while D’Antoni did a great job with this team, he gets too much credit for their success. They had a loaded roster and D’Antoni just proved that he can coach well when he has a loaded roster. He can coach well when his roster fits well into his system. Just like Phil Jackson can lead your team to a championship as long as your roster includes the greatest player ever (Jordan) or the greatest player since Jordan.
Coach D’Antoni came to New York and success did not follow. His teams won 32 and 29 games in his first two years, barely distinguishable from from the lack of success Isiah had with this team. It would be hard to argue that Isiah would have had a worse record with the team during the 08-09 and 09-10 season. The Knicks where a team in disarray and playing solely for the summer of Lebron/summer of 2010. They changed their roster over dramatically and did all they could to free up cap space. D’Antoni clearly did not make these teams better. They played little defense and were not very good on offense. D’Antoni did nothing to adapt to the talent he had around him and seemed convinced that those first two years were lost years.
So this brings us to 2010-11 and the team we have with Amare and Carmelo. I am not advocating that we should bring back Isiah but I doubt we would have a much worse team with Isiah. A coach is supposed to make a team better. Make the sum of the parts better than the individual parts. The D’Antoni system can make a player look better on offense and below average on defense. Is that what we need with Amare and Carmelo on our roster, a coach that will make us look better on offense?
D’Antoni has done nothing to truly distinguish himself as coach of the Knicks. He is still riding high from the four great years he had in Phoenix. Maybe he made those teams better but I have yet to see even the potential that D’Antoni will make these Knicks teams better now or going forward.