D'Antoni could be next to take fall

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The New York Knicks will tell you that it was mutually agreed upon. That Donnie Walsh's abrupt departure as president and general manager came attached with hugs and kisses. But as the news descended from Madison Square Garden, claiming yet another body, the one thing Friday's actions say more than anything else is that the ax is swinging.

And more folks could get hit.

Coach Mike D'Antoni is gone, ladies and gentlemen.



Perhaps it will occur in a matter of days, or weeks. Maybe it will take months due to the possible impending lockout. But if Walsh's departure symbolizes nothing else, it most certainly illuminates the reality that the Knicks will have a new coach much sooner than most of us expected.

Approximately 14 hours removed from a monumental collapse in the NBA Finals and just 30 minutes before the start of a nationally televised news conference for the retirement of Shaquille O'Neal, the Knicks decided to make news for all the wrong reasons, yet again, by announcing Walsh's departure.

"Following a long series of discussions regarding his future role with the New York Knicks, Donnie Walsh and I have mutually agreed that he will be leaving his position," chairman and owner Jim Dolan said.

Dolan said so via statement. No appearance. Not much elaboration. And if that doesn't speak to how drastically matters have eroded inside the corridors of MSG, consider yourself the lone sucker who believes Walsh when his rationale behind his departure is surmised like this: "It took me a lot of energy the last three years to do this, and I'm running out of energy."

We know Walsh has not been the bastion of health. Excessive years as a smoker, combined with age, attrition, Father Time and that conspicuous walker he was constantly seen with throughout this past season validate any assertions about his well-being, or lack thereof.

Except it didn't stop Walsh from wanting a contract extension. It didn't stop him from insisting on more autonomy from Dolan. Nor did it stop him from intimating to those close to him just days ago that a deal was imminent and he was planning on staying with the Knicks.

Walsh is gone because he wanted to keep three former general managers on the Knicks' payroll, plus all the players he wanted, plus D'Antoni -- and he didn't want Dolan to have anything to say about it. The fact that Dolan essentially told Walsh to kick rocks speaks not only to Dolan's insistence on having the final say anytime he chooses, but also to the fact that he isn't enamored with all that's been going on with these Knicks.

Which brings us back to D'Antoni.

This isn't a debate about what Dolan knows about the game of basketball, because he's proved he doesn't know much. But he did want Carmelo Anthony when neither Walsh nor D'Antoni was inclined to welcome him on board. He is aware of how important it will be to win at the Garden with the dynamic duo (Anthony and Amare Stoudemire) he now has wearing Knicks uniforms. And he's getting enough counsel -- whether it's from Isiah Thomas, Allan Houston or one of Walsh's three GMs on the payroll -- to know that D'Antoni's system is just not going to cut the mustard with this particular roster.

D'Antoni's demise is imminent because it's already taken place among his players. It's already known he doesn't get along particularly well with Chauncey Billups. It's not hard to figure out that Anthony and others don't necessarily respect him, and that whatever negative feelings -- revolving primarily around his unwillingness to preach or teach defense -- are corroded further by the reality that he cares even less about defense.

The fact that D'Antoni's agent, Warren LeGarie, was quoted earlier Friday as saying, "This is the team Mike wants to coach. He spent two years putting it in position not only to have a winning record but a playoff appearance," means very little. Or at least it should.

D'Antoni doesn't want to leave New York because he doesn't want to leave his family behind. Because he's not wanted in Toronto, where the team was dead last in defense the past two seasons and knows he's not the answer. D'Antoni wants to stay because he wants to continue getting paid and he has nowhere else to go. Especially not for $6 million per year. But there comes a time when you have no choice.

There are limited choices on D'Antoni's side when players are ignoring his instructions, speaking privately against him, invoking the name of former Knicks coach Larry Brown and doing so unapologetically. And once we consider that now the very individual responsible for hiring him has been basically pushed out the door, it doesn't bode well for D'Antoni.

"That doesn't mean it's fair," O'Neal said, hours after he announced his retirement in Orlando on Friday. "People want to say that D'Antoni is not a good coach, but I actually think he is. The man knows basketball and preaches about as much defense as anyone else. Folks are just making a big deal out of it.

"At some point in time, I love Amare and Melo, but they've got to step up and get it done. They are great players who can score against anyone. But they've got to get the hardware. We can't always blame a coach for what we don't do. That's just being real. This is the real world."

Indeed, it is. The Knicks' world. Run by a man named James Dolan who just doesn't seem happy right now.

Donnie Walsh's departure was step one. Who's step two?

As if we don't already know.