A Season on the Brink: D’Antoni Out in New York
Less than a month ago, on Sunday, February 19th, the Knicks knocked off the defending-champion Dallas Mavericks in an afternoon matinee at MSG. It was their eighth win in nine games. After falling into an 8-15 hole to start the 2011-2012 season, New York had finally climbed back to .500 with that win over the Mavs. Jeremy Lin carried the Knicks, scoring 28 points and dishing out 14 assists. Linsanity was at its absolute apex. The crowd was electric every time the Knicks took the floor. Head Coach Mike D’Antoni was joyous and joking with the media after wins. The future looked beautifully bright.
After a decade of darkness, with very little promise or optimism inside Madison Square Garden for the better part of 10 long years, it appeared as if Knicks fans finally had a reason to smile.
New York had finally found a point guard to run D’Antoni’s system and the offense was humming. And, shockingly, thanks in large part to defensive dynamo Tyson Chandler, the team was playing stellar on the defensive end as well. The Mavericks were the 10th straight opponent the Knicks had held under 100 points; something which hadn’t happened since Larry Brown was coach.
Better yet, the cavalry was coming… Carmelo Anthony, who had missed the previous eight games nursing a nagging groin injury, was set to return to the lineup. The Knicks were going to add one of the league’s elite scorers to a team that had recently run off a seven-game win streak. In addition, Amar’e Stoudemire had missed four of those contests after the tragic death of his brother in a car accident, would hopefully knock the rust off and round back into shape.
This team had the potential to be scary good. Pundits across the country were in near universal agreement; this Knicks squad – if everybody remained healthy and they were able to get on the same page – was arguably the only team in the Eastern Conference that could challenge favorites Miami or Chicago.
It appeared the Knicks were on the precipice of a special season and exciting playoff run.
Instead, they were actually on the edge of cliff. The rapid freefall from cheerful optimism and excitement to downright despair was astonishingly fast.
There was light at the end of the tunnel… turns out it was an oncoming train.
On Wednesday afternoon, March 14, (just 24 days after that victory over the Mavericks) news broke that Mike D’Antoni has resigned. Well, technically phrase being bandied about right now is that team and the coach “ mutually ” decided to part ways. Either way, D’Antoni is out. The lunacy and circus-like atmosphere that has perpetually surrounded this franchise remains.
That big win over the Dallas Mavericks was less than a month ago, but it seems like a lifetime. In that context, the hopefulness that enveloped New York City when the Knicks acquired Carmelo Anthony prior to the trade deadline last February, feels as though it was forever ago.
Today began with an onslaught of competing Carmelo-related articles in all the major NYC dailies and other major news outlets across the country. It was clear, regardless of whom the blame was pinned on, tension and discord within the Knicks locker room had reached a boiling point. Today’s resignation was a by-product of what had become an untenable situation.
Fair or not, much of the heat will now be focused solely on Carmelo. The New York Post’s story this morning inferred that Melo issued a “him or me” edict, inferring that either D’Antoni had to go or Melo would request a trade. Melo quickly and vociferously denied this accusation after this morning’s practice, but that part of the story will be brushed aside and the popular perception will paint Melo as the villain.
Anthony already had been bashed in the press over the past two weeks, receiving the lion’s share of blame as the Knicks dropped eight of 10 and fell into 9th place in the East. A team many predicted would challenge for the Eastern Conference crown, now finds themselves on the outside of the out of the playoff picture looking in.
In fairness, it certainly wasn’t all Melo’s fault. For instance, the schedule the Knicks faced had a lot to do with their February win streak and the corresponding Linsanity. Consider this: The cumulative record (at the time NY played them) of the teams the Knicks beat during their seven-game February win streak was 83-108 (.434%). In contrast, the cumulative record of the opponents New York has played in their last seven losses is 159-103 (.606% winning percentage); this current slump book-ended by losses to the HEAT in Miami and the Bulls in Chicago.
Nonetheless, Melo brought a lot of this drama on himself. His defensive effort has been poor, and his body language much worse. Whether it was barking at teammates for not receiving the ball when he clapped for it, or sitting outside of the team huddle with a towel draped over his head, Anthony made it difficult for even his staunchest supporters to excuse some of his antics. Fans can live with missed shots. They won’t tolerate halfhearted effort on a nightly basis.
The rumors that D’Antoni never wanted Melo in the first place (instead preferring Gallinari, Felton, Wilson Chandler, and Mozgov) began to surface once again.
The Knicks positive momentum had come to a screeching halt. The enthusiasm that had spiked in February, had been effectively eviscerated.
The head coach had had enough.
Now that D’Antoni has departed, the Knicks are once again rudderless.
In this most unpredictable of seasons, it’s anyone’s best guess as to what lies ahead in New York…