Should We Feel Sorry For Mike D’Antoni?

Angry Mike D'AntoniSince Mike D’Antoni arrived in New York under the hoopla of a new regime and the joy from discarding an old one, the wry smile that had cut across his face has faded, it seems, to become just one more stress wrinkle among many new ones.  His hair, once handsome, now often looks disheveled and has grayed quicker than that of a U.S. president after his first 100 days.  D’Antoni even looks less dapper and his coaching legacy less attractive than it did when he arrived in Gotham as he is forced to wear the 35-64 (and falling) record he has accumulated since taking over the team.

Some, including many fans, would say it is not D’Antoni’s fault that the Knicks are so putrid in his second year as coach.  According to his long-time friend and rival, George Karl, coach of the Denver Nuggets, the organization’s strategy of tossing two seasons for a shot at the 2010 free agent market is  unfair to D’Antoni. Without directly naming Donnie Walsh, Karl was very critical of a strategy he felt was doomed to failure and the eventual firing of the coach.    “The history of the game that I don’t understand, that I don’t think has a lot of success is going to the bottom and trying to sign a great free agent. I think it’s a lack of respect to coaches. When you go to the bottom, that coach gets fired 90 percent of the time. You throw that coach to the wolves,” Karl said.*

Karl, a respected member of the coaching fraternity who will defend any coach not named Isiah Thomas or who has worked his why through the old boy network, knows the game outside the game and suggested that a coach of D’Antoni’s stature should be allowed to wait in the front office as a “vice president” or something while some other poor fool absorbed that mounting losses on his resume and disintegrating reputation in the basketball community.  Karl’s protectionism begs the question whether fans should feel sorry for D’Antoni for being subjected to the Knicks questionable recipe for return to championship-contention form.  Well, should we?

Undoubtedly, it is difficult to feel sympathy for an individual who voluntarily accepts a 4-year, $24 million contract to join a obviously dysfunctional organization with clear plans to dismantle.  After all, even without full disclosure from Walsh, D’Antoni had been a GM for a hot second and must have been aware of the Knicks personnel and cap space issues in the face of a plan to create more cap space.

It is even harder to feel bad for D’Antoni, who arrived with a 267-172 career record, since he seemed to get all that he asked for at the very beginning of the relationship.  First, he  was given his choice point guard, Chris Duhon, recommended by his Olympic coaching buddy, Mike Kryzweski.  Then Walsh, without checking the prospect out personally, used the 6th pick in the 2008 draft, when they really needed a good point guard, to draft D’Antoni’s Euroleague roomate’s son, Danilo Gallinari, who was suspected to have a back problem which was revealed immediately in the summer league.

To be fair, when he first arrived, he believed that he could win with the roster in place.  “I look at the roster and that’s the roster I’m going to win with. My focus is to win this coming year,” D’Antoni said. Perhaps he didn’t know that his two highest scorers, Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford, would be traded at the beginning of a winning season and replaced with expiring players and expiring contracts. Perhaps he didn’t know.

But, then there is D’Antoni’s poor defensive coaching which will never find sympathy in the rough and tumble streets of New York.  D’Antoni’s best defense seems to be defending his lack of team defense to the press.  Some consider that at least a little more consistency on defense would also cover up for D’Antoni’s problems executing a good-end game where he seems to have trouble getting his team to drive to the basket instead of shooting tres, making sound coverage decisions with his rotation,  and calling timely timeouts,

Tonight D’Antoni faces his Phoenix Suns, a team that seems to have regained its way after the lost year last year which followed Steve Kerr forcing D’Antoni to find another job by insultingly insisting that championships are won by defense and with really big, big men not by racing up and down the court in an effort to simply outscore the opponent.  Coach Terry Porter gives Coach D’Antoni all the credit for his success with the Suns, but he has made very distinct changes, though less subtle then Terry Porter’s, in the defensive and offensive philosophy of the team.  Even Porter’s success with implementing a greater defensive mindset makes it harder to feel sorry for D’Antoni, who clearly knew what he had to do to keep the Suns job and was pretty clear on how difficult it would be to work under the restrictive conditions in New York.

“Sorry Mike,can’t feel sorry for ya.”.

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* Karl should have said “You throw that coach to the Timberwolves.”  LOL

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