Commentary

Bring on the next victim

This mess may not be Mike D'Antoni's fault, but someone else will have to clean it up

Updated: January 29, 2012, 4:39 PM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

When the game ended in Houston on Saturday night, long after it became abundantly clear that the New York Knicks have a problem, Tyson Chandler swore that he "refuses" to lose, demanded that teammates "man up" and generally revealed that things are every bit as bad as they seem.

What he didn't expound upon is what exactly needs to be done to remedy the situation -- which is the best indication that a solution may be beyond anybody's control.

It is all in jeopardy, folks! The Knicks' playoff aspirations. The allure of a dynamic duo or a big three. The future employment of head coach Mike D'Antoni.

I believe that D'Antoni is done. Eventually, but inevitably. The Knicks will either deny this or avoid the questions altogether, but who cares? No one gets to hide from their record.

Tyson Chandler
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesKnicks fans can relate to Chandler's reaction.

Let it be said that such proclamations are without provocation from these pages. Despite how horrid the Knicks have looked offensively, how subpar they looked defensively on Friday in surrendering 10 -- count 'em, 10 -- dunks to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, nobody who works for ESPNNewYork.com is calling for D'Antoni to be axed as if it's all his fault.

The Knicks' head coach never wanted Carmelo Anthony. D'Antoni desperately wanted to hold on to Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari and the relatively young squad he was nurturing last season. But the fact that he wasn't able to have his way doesn't give the Knicks the license to look as moribund, as pathetic, as impotent as they have looked. And failed expectations, along with spiked ticket prices, demand that heads will roll.

Sooner rather than later.

Who can't see the handwriting on the wall with Chandler sounding off the way he has? With Anthony too hurt to play in Miami on Friday night yet able to show up for Charlotte and Cleveland?

Who hasn't noticed Amare Stoudemire perpetually walking around looking like a lost puppy these days? Who thinks GM Glen Grunwald and assistant GM Allan Houston accompanied the team to Miami on Friday for nothing?

No matter what the Knicks are willing to reveal, it's clear that chairman James Dolan is closely eyeing the situation, itching to make a move, and that the clock is ticking ominously on D'Antoni's career in New York. And who can blame Dolan, considering the Knicks' 1-9 slide to a 7-13 record -- identical to that of the New Jersey Nets -- with two stars who look like journeymen right now.

"I refuse -- I refuse -- I refuse to have a losing season," Chandler, frustrated as ever, said to reporters after Saturday night's defeat in Houston. "We have to do what it takes. I don't care what it is. I really don't. I refuse, I refuse to go through a losing season like that."

Sadly, Chandler has limited control in that regard.

It's not his fault the Knicks are shooting 40.5 percent from the field for the season, that they were 5-of-26 from beyond the arc in Houston, that they've shot 30.9 percent on 3s in the past 10 games or that they've registered a 1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio (188-to-188) during this embarrassing slide.

Nor is it Chandler's fault that two of the three games Anthony missed (Oklahoma City and Miami) came against the Knicks' stiffest competition, or that he's averaged just 19.3 points on 33.6 percent shooting from the field (20.7 percent on 3s) in the past seven games he played.

Chandler is here to defend, rebound and block shots. The offensive responsibilities belong elsewhere. And pondering the reality of the Knicks being held to 90 points or fewer in six of those games, and shooting worse than 46 percent in each of their nine losses in this 10-game stretch, the onus falls primarily on the stars paid to avert such catastrophes. But D'Antoni can't escape, either.

D'Antoni is a coach who's renowned as an offensive guru. He's a coach who appears to have made no adjustments whatsoever. He's the same coach who's been maligned for his rigidity with the style of play he demands, regardless of personnel. Knowing this, one must wonder why D'Antoni didn't insist to former team president Donnie Walsh that the Knicks go after Deron Williams before the Nets acquired him from Utah, instead of pursuing Anthony.

Except that question doesn't really matter anymore.

The team's body language says it doesn't matter. So does that of D'Antoni, who looks completely despondent, out of ideas, seemingly praying that point guard Baron Davis will show up and save him. There's a reason assistant Mike Woodson was forced upon D'Antoni. The Knicks clearly wanted to have a head-coach-in-waiting, evidenced by the contract extension they refused to grant D'Antoni before the season began.

And with Amare guaranteed $83.2 million over the next four years, and Melo inked for $85.7 over the same stretch, the Knicks are virtually stuck with them, at least for now. So they'll need to look beyond the roster to make changes.

"We all know what's going on," one team executive said recently. "Who can't see the handwriting on the wall? When you're paying guys that kind of money, the coach who's not winning games always goes before the players. That's anywhere, but especially in a market like New York. There are no surprises here."

Actually, there is one: No one expected the Knicks to look this awful. Yet here we are.

So it's not a matter of what's next. Just a matter of when.

We all know what time it is.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, host of a weekday show for ESPN New York 98.7 and a regular on "SportsCenter" and "First Take."

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