Commentary

CP3? Howard? Knicks' key is D'Antoni

Coach can't dunk or dribble, but if he doesn't start preaching D his team is doomed

Updated: December 2, 2011, 4:00 PM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

Supposedly, it was news on Thursday when word leaked that the representative for Chris Paul told New Orleans that his client has no intention of signing an extension with the Hornets because he'd rather end up in New York -- a point made abundantly clear before last season ended.

But it still doesn't change the fact that while the Knicks desperately need Paul, their biggest need is having a coach they trust. One who preaches defense. And one who'll make us all feel a tad more comfortable no matter what marquee free agent-to-be ends up starring on Broadway in the future.

Do you hear New Yorkers talking to you, Mr. Mike D'Antoni?

Let it be said right here that there is no team without a coach. And at the moment, in D'Antoni, the Knicks have one in name only. Considering the Knicks' mediocre 14-14 record in the 28 regular-season games after Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups arrived in New York, along with the team surrendering almost 106 points per game last season, what else should anyone expect?

"Evidently, since everyone's clamoring for Paul to come to New York, they're thinking of those old Phoenix teams D'Antoni coached in Phoenix," one Western Conference coach told me a few days ago. "They're thinking of how Steve Nash pushed the ball and ran that team for D'Antoni to an average 58 wins in four seasons. They're thinking they can get the same in New York now. Good luck with that."

Amen!

This city should be on D'Antoni Watch, not Paul Watch. What good is getting Paul if a system is being implemented that will assure both Carmelo and Amare Stoudemire aren't around to execute it? It was Stoudemire who was run into the ground so much last season that he ended up hurting his back in warmups prior to Game 2 of the playoff series against the Boston Celtics. It was Carmelo who had elbow and knee surgeries in the offseason.

Both are owed approximately $80 million over the next four years. Both are considered cornerstones of this franchise. Both are the reasons Paul wants to be here in the first place, and why the likelihood of Dwight Howard ending up with the Knicks is slim to none.

[+] EnlargeMike D'Antoni
Mark L. Baer/US PresswireMike D'Antoni needs to learn some new tricks -- or the Knicks will have a new coach next season.

It's also the reason we need to pay more attention to D'Antoni.

To D'Antoni's credit, he did slow the tempo a bit once Melo arrived. But if an old dog can't be taught new tricks, that adage could easily be applied to D'Antoni when it comes to coaching.

This is what happens when you're giving the green light to guys like Bill Walker, Shawn Williams and Toney Douglas to shoot whenever they want. Particularly with just seven-to-10 seconds having expired on the shot clock.

When you do such things, you turn the game of organized basketball into a track meet. You create wear-and-tear on valuable, multimillion-dollar bodies. And suddenly, instead of Melo and Stoudemire having four quality years left in them, it's reduced. Plus, they lose interest because that's not the ingredient to winning basketball games in the Eastern Conference.

Yet somehow, for some reason, we find ourselves around here thinking about the need for Paul or Howard.

"You can't control it. It's always going to happen. It's part of the game," Paul told reporters Thursday. "I'm just happy to be back with [the Hornets]."

Of course, Paul wasn't alone in dismissing matters.

"I don't think the NBA needs [talk of Paul wanting to leave the Hornets] right now," Carmelo, one of Paul's closest friends, told reporters. "We just want to focus on -- especially the Knicks -- we just want to focus on what we need to focus on. Getting everybody back in the gym and preparing for our first game on Christmas."

Right on!

Inevitably, we'll focus on what Melo and Stoudemire will look like with some training camp under their belts. What Billups will look like now that he's expected to be healthy, playing in the last year of a contract paying him $14 million this season -- and knowing he could easily be traded for Paul before the NBA's trading deadline in February.

Yet, we'll all need to focus on D'Antoni. On what difference new assistant Mike Woodson will have on the defense. Especially since D'Antoni, clamoring for a contract extension in the last year of his deal, was forced to bring Woodson on in the first place.

At the end of the day, the Knicks not only need to win games, but they'll need to look good doing so. It means we'll need to see Melo and Stoudemire flourishing. We'll need to have the feeling that this team is going places beyond the first round of the playoffs.

The only way for the Knicks to do that is if there's modification in D'Antoni. In his beliefs. His methods. His strategy. What he's focused on.

The future is at stake. So is a new contract for D'Antoni, an innovative offensive mind, if nothing else.

Now D'Antoni needs to be innovative in a lot of new ways, with or without Paul arriving in New York.

Unless, of course, he wants Phil Jackson coaching here next season. Which may happen anyway.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, a co-host on First Take" and a regular on "SportsCenter."

EDITORS' PICKS

  • Idz A Bad Hire
    John Idzik, who called Percy Harvin "a potential coup," has been anything but the past two years.
  • JPP: We Can Go 9-0
    Jason Pierre-Paul made quite a bold prediction while meeting with media Monday.
  • New Kidd On The Block
    Fisher follows Jason Kidd's footsteps to the sideline with a resource Kidd never had.
  • Let's Go Shopping
    While it doesn't appear Hal Steinbrenner will buy, let's browse the shelves a bit.
  • The Matchups To Watch
    Buster Olney breaks down 10 keys matchups in the World Series. StoryInsider

ALSO SEE