Mike D'Antoni: Knicks can contend

Updated: December 17, 2011, 1:43 PM ET
By Ian Begley | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

New York Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni thinks his team can "obviously" contend for an NBA title this season.

D'Antoni believes that the front line of Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler turns the Knicks into a championship contender.

"If you have a center from the defending champions on your team that's 28 years old and is playing the best basketball he's ever played and you've got two superstars in [Carmelo Anthony] and [Amare Stoudemire], obviously you've got to compete for a championship," the coach said Friday on ESPN 1050's "The Michael Kay Show."

With Anthony and Stoudemire in tow, the Knicks made the playoffs for the first time in six seasons last year. They were swept by the Boston Celtics.

The franchise has not won a playoff game since 2001, and they haven't won an NBA title since 1973.

D'Antoni stopped short of guaranteeing this year's team will end the title drought.

But the coach said he is confident that, with the addition of Chandler, the Knicks should at the very least be "one of the top teams in the league."

"I can't sit here and say, 'Oh, these guys are great' and [then say] 'No, we can't compete," D'Antoni told Kay. "That's not fair to anybody. I think our fans should expect us to compete. ... It does take luck, it takes timing, it takes a lot of things. But there's no reason why we're not one of the top teams in the league."

The Knicks have struggled mightily on defense during D'Antoni's three seasons on the bench.

Last year, they ranked 26th in opponent field goal percentage and allowed an average of 45.4 points in the paint, the fifth-highest total in the league.

With the 7-foot-1 Chandler on board, those numbers should improve.

Chandler finished third in the Defensive Player of the Year vote last season and was an anchor on defense for the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.

The Knicks also brought on former Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Woodson to help coach the team's defense.

"We added one of the better defensive centers in the league so obviously, our defense is going to be much better," D'Antoni said during the radio interview.

D'Antoni also said that the Knicks have the best front court in the league in Stoudemire, Anthony and Chandler.

But there are legitimate questions about the Knicks' backcourt.

D'Antoni has penciled in Toney Douglas as his starting point guard. Douglas is a talented perimeter defender but struggled at times when filling in at point guard for the injured Chauncey Billups last year.

The team brought in veteran free agent Mike Bibby last week to back up Douglas and possibly replace Douglas as the starter if the third-year player struggles.

Second-year player Landry Fields will start at shooting guard for the Knicks, who open the preseason on Saturday against the Nets.

Fields surprised many with his play in the first half of last season, establishing himself as one of the league's top rookies. But he struggled in the second half, particularly after the Knicks acquired Anthony in a three-team trade in late February.

"We expect a big year out of Landry," D'Antoni said on Monday.

D'Antoni enters this season in the final year of a four-year contract.

He told Kay on Friday that he isn't concerned with the rumors that may swirl about his possible replacement if the Knicks struggle this season.

"It doesn't really matter. It's all about winning. I think there are probably 29 other coaches that hear footsteps all the time," D'Antoni said. "That's just part of the job. The only way to take care of it is [to] win."

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

EDITORS' PICKS