- Johnette Howard, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
It still won't be outrage -- let alone a shock -- if New York Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni gets fired at some point this season. But it would be highly ironic if, after all the lousy rosters D'Antoni was brutally saddled with at the start of his tenure here, the pivotal game that allowed him to stick around came on a night that Jeremy Lin, a waiver-wire find from Harvard, hung up 25 points that no one saw coming. All just as the buzzards were circling above D'Antoni's head.
The Knicks' 99-92 win over New Jersey Nets on Saturday night was only their third in their last 14 games. It stopped the bleeding for one blessed night and the laughter returned to the locker room. It also underscored what D'Antoni's defenders have been saying all along: There's nothing ailing this team that an honest-to-God, even mildly effective point guard couldn't fix if the front office would just give him one already.
But good as Lin was in the 35 minutes he played, and as loudly as the crowd was chanting his first name by the game's end, one win does nothing to answer the long-term questions surrounding this Knicks team which still sits at only 9-15.
"He gives us what we haven't got," D'Antoni said afterward, rattling off how Lin is a true point guard rather than a shooting guard trying to play point, like some of the Knicks other young guards.
But then D'Antoni stressed, "It's just one night."
The Knicks' real point guard-in-waiting is still supposed to be veteran Baron Davis, who sat out yet again as the reeling Knicks came back to Madison Square Garden trying not to lose their third game in as many nights.
It's not Davis' fault the bulging disk in his back still hurts. The Knicks knew what they were getting when they signed him. But have you noticed the Knicks have always seemed to be waiting for somebody to ride over the ridge and save them in recent years? If it wasn't LeBron James, it was Amare Stoudemire, then Carmelo Anthony, and then Tyson Chandler and a new assistant coach (Mike Woodson) to improve the defense.
Now the Knicks have been waiting to see if Davis can save them. And that's has always looked like a lot to ask of a man with his past injury history, especially in a lockout-induced sprint of a season like this one. If he doesn't get back soon, D'Antoni may yet find him right back where he was at the start of Saturday night: batting away questions about whether he's about to get fired.
Just don't try to time when that might happen, as some folks have been trying to do. Because you can't.
Not when the person in charge of making the decision is Knicks owner James Dolan, a man who long ago put the "wild" in wild card. Trying to predict what Dolan will do is impossible even for his closest confidants. He's a contrarian, a hothead, a sentimentalist, and a sometime sphinx on top of all that. He's notoriously given to acting on whim rather than cold logic. He overpays when he doesn't have to, impetuously extends contracts when he shouldn't and runs off people he should have kept around. He tends to be too over-the-top about how good his teams are. Or are not.
Remember Rangers coach John Tortorella's priceless response earlier this season when told at a postgame news conference that Dolan had said this year's club was close to winning the Stanley Cup? "Don't give me that B.S.," Tortella growled back.
D'Antoni is in no position to say anything like that might reach Dolan's ears. After back-to-back close losses to Chicago at the Garden and to the Celtics in Boston -- the latter when the Knicks blew a 12-point fourth quarter lead and couldn't execute cleanly on their last-gasp shot at the end of the game -- D'Antoni fully expected a new wave of job-security questions to come at him before the Knicks played the Nets. And when they came he met them with his usual smiles and shrugs and lighthearted remarks like "panicking won't help." Then he laughed and added, "Even if I may be panicking inside."
It will be hard to feel really outraged if D'Antoni is fired at some point this season. Maybe D'Antoni can laugh and joke about it because, deep down, even he feels that way too.
The Knicks came into Saturday night's game against the Nets having lost 11 of their last 13 games, and even some of the Nets players were quietly asking reporters beforehand if it were true that D'Antoni might be gone if the Knicks lost yet again. There's always been some off-court drama mucking things up in every one of his seasons here. Either the Knicks were engaging in a wholesale dumping of players and salaries to chase LeBron, or they were trading half of last season's roster to get Melo. This season it was forging ahead without a proven point guard or reliable outside shooter on the roster.
But here's the snag: The Knicks also have more talent this year than they've ever had in D'Antoni's other seasons. And all this waiting for someday is starting to get old.
Even if you concede the Knicks as presently constructed are flawed, they should still be a damn sight better than they are.
Instead, they're still waiting (there's that word again) for one or more of the healthy guards they already have -- Toney Douglas, Landry Fields, rookie Iman Shumpert, Mike Bibby or Lin -- to consistently steady the backcourt. They're waiting for Davis. They're talking about how close they've been to winning so many of the close games they lost, how they've been snake-bitten, how this year -- unlike some of D'Antoni's early seasons in New York -- there's at least hope.
Hope is nice. Wins are better.
D'Antoni knows that too.
D'Antoni deserves to at least stick around until Davis returns or the front office's search for another experience guard pans out. As bad as this current slide has been, Stoudemire and Anthony really are finally showing signs of being able to top 20 points on the same night during it. Anthony really does show flashes of trying to move the ball rather than remain a black hole. And the Knicks continue to play hard for D'Antoni. They do still seem to be buying his talk that, "We're in a hole -- but we can still dig out."
But how long Dolan is willing to wait remains the question.
The Knicks merely moved back to wait-and-see Saturday night.