Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Knicks introduce new coach D'Antoni
NEW YORK -- Mike D'Antoni is bringing his high-scoring brand of basketball to a Knicks team that seems ill-suited to run it.
No matter. The former Phoenix Suns coach figures he'll come up with something that works.
"I will adapt what I do. Now I like to play fast, move the ball and all that stuff, and we'll try to do that as best as we can," D'Antoni said Tuesday. "Obviously you're going to be a little slower than [the Suns], but at the same time there's no reason why you can't run, be exciting and have good ball movement."
The Knicks are counting on it, hoping one of the NBA's top offensive coaches can turn around a team with seven straight losing seasons -- and make New York an exciting future destination for free agents who want to play his entertaining style.
D'Antoni was introduced as the Knicks' 24th coach during a news conference at Madison Square Garden, four days after agreeing to leave the Suns for a $24 million, four-year contract. Knicks president Donnie Walsh referred to his new coach as Mike "D'Antonio" before quickly correcting himself. Still, Walsh is certain he has the right man.
"I thought that Mike was the best guy to choose because I think he's been in situations like we have right now and he did a good job with those situations," Walsh said.
D'Antoni believes he can win right away, even though the mismatched group of players he inherits makes that difficult to imagine.
"I look at the roster and that's the roster I'm going to win with," D'Antoni said. "My focus is to win this coming year."
D'Antoni replaces Isiah Thomas, who was fired last month after going 56-108 in two seasons. New York was 23-59 last season, matching the franchise record for losses.
D'Antoni won at least 54 games each of the last four seasons and earned coach of the year honors in 2005. He is known as one of the NBA's top offensive minds, running a system that helped Steve Nash win two MVP awards and making the Suns one of the league's most exciting teams.
"Mike is a proven winner in this league with a long impressive coaching resume in the NBA and abroad," Walsh said. "While Mike's style in Phoenix was extremely successful with a running offensive team, he can adjust his style to the personnel."
The 57-year-old D'Antoni went 253-136 in Phoenix, but the Suns let him talk to other clubs about their jobs after losing to San Antonio in the first round. He chose the Knicks over the Chicago Bulls, citing his comfort with Walsh and his desire to live in New York.
D'Antoni's career record is 267-172 in parts of six seasons with Phoenix and Denver. He also coached Benetton Treviso to the 2002 Italian League championship.
After firing Thomas, Walsh took his time with his search, interviewing TV analyst Mark Jackson, coaches Rick Carlisle and Avery Johnson and Knicks assistant Herb Williams before settling on D'Antoni.
Despite his impressive record, D'Antoni's hiring has drawn criticism because his teams in Phoenix were never strong defensively -- a critique that both amuses and annoys him.
"I know one thing for sure," D'Antoni said. "We averaged 58 wins in four years, so 58 times a year we were the best defensive team on the floor, I do know that."
There's no questioning D'Antoni's offense. He turned the Suns into the NBA's most potent team, relying on a system that focused on taking a shot in the first seven seconds of the shot clock, many of them 3-pointers.
But the Suns had Nash along with a roster loaded with players who could get up and down the floor quickly and shoot from the outside. The Knicks are a slower group, with Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph in the frontcourt, and their point guard is uncertain with Stephon Marbury coming off ankle surgery that ended the worst season of his career.
D'Antoni said he still wants to play fast and believes many of the players on the roster are capable of it.
"We were seven seconds or less and the rules say you have to be 24 seconds or less," D'Antoni said. "So we can adjust it to anything we want."
Marbury and Quentin Richardson, who both played for D'Antoni in Phoenix, attended the news conference. Marbury was traded to the Knicks soon after D'Antoni took over in 2003 -- a move that helped clear salary-cap space for the signing of Nash -- but Richardson flourished in his one season with the Suns, tying for the NBA lead with 226 3-pointers in 2004-05.
Richardson said his teammates are excited about the hiring, and the Knicks hope some of the league's superstars will be, too. Walsh's goal is to be under the salary cap in the summer of 2010, when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all can be free agents, and perhaps the allure of D'Antoni's style would get the Knicks on their list of teams to consider.
"Who wouldn't love to play that way?" Richardson said.