Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni resigns

Updated: March 15, 2012, 1:42 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- Maybe there's a big-name coach out there who can bring out the best in Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks.

Mike D'Antoni decided Wednesday he wasn't that guy. And so, he resigned, surprising even his bosses.

"It wasn't just Carmelo," interim general manager Glen Grunwald said. "I think it was our whole team not playing up to where we thought they could be and I know Mike was as frustrated as anyone about that and that's what led him to that decision, that maybe there needs to be a new approach and look at it."

Assistant Mike Woodson was promoted to interim head coach and led the Knicks to a 121-79 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.

"I think everyone for the most part was obviously very emotional when we came, but we sat down and said, 'Look, this is where we want to go. This is how we feel like we need to get there,' " Jeremy Lin said. "So we came out with more energy than we have in a long time."

The Knicks' brief resurgence in a wave of Linsanity last month had been replaced by a six-game losing streak that dropped the Knicks into a tie for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, along with speculation of friction between D'Antoni and his All-Star forward.

Anthony denied it and said there was no "bad blood" between himself and the coach.

"As far as that, it is what it is when it comes to that," Anthony said. "That's something I can't control as far as the blame being put on me. I don't sit here and complain about that."

D'Antoni informed Grunwald before the Wednesday morning shootaround that he was thinking about stepping down.

"I was surprised. ... I said, 'What do you really want to do, Mike?' And he clarified that he thought it was best for the team," Grunwald said.

Grunwald called MSG chairman James Dolan, who went to the Westchester training center for what he called a "very honest" conversation with D'Antoni. He later said the parting was mutual.

"He clearly felt it was best for the organization if he were not to continue as coach of the team. He did offer to stay," Dolan said during a news conference. "After a long discussion, we did agree it was best for the organization to have new voice moving forward."

Dolan and assistant general manager Allan Houston arrived at the team's training center after the shootaround to speak with Grunwald and D'Antoni.

Grunwald called D'Antoni's decision to step down "a selfless move."

"I think he felt that he had done all he could and he didn't really see another way for him to really positively affect the team," Grunwald said, adding, "He felt that maybe it was time for another voice, another approach."

Assistant coaches Phil Webber and Dan D'Antoni, Mike D'Antoni's older brother, also stepped down.

Dolan made it clear he believes in the players and still expects a playoff berth. D'Antoni said before the season the Knicks should be a contender, but they haven't looked like one in the previous 10 games, going 2-8 before Wednesday night's win -- all since Anthony returned from a groin injury.

D'Antoni wasn't the only one who couldn't figure out why the Knicks couldn't win with their best player.

"It's hard to explain why we have struggled, and I don't really don't want to get too deep on that," Woodson said. "I think what's more important is that we move forward."

A message was left with D'Antoni seeking comment.

D'Antoni seemed upbeat after the morning practice and gave no indication of his plans. Asked the last thing he said to players, rookie Iman Shumpert said: "Well, this morning it was, 'See you tonight.' So like I said, it's a shock to us."

Anthony said after the shootaround he supported the coach "100 percent," denying a New York Post report that he would like a trade before Thursday's 3 p.m. deadline. The report also said Anthony was unhappy in part because he believed D'Antoni and Grunwald do not trust him.

D'Antoni acknowledged the media frenzy around the sinking club but believed the Knicks would handle it.

"You battle against it. I think we're cohesive enough to battle through this, and we expect to do that," he said.

His departure comes less than a month after he seemed rejuvenated by the emergence of Lin, the undrafted point guard from Harvard who came off the bench and proved to be the player who could properly run his offensive system.

But that was short-lived. Lin has still played well, but the defense was struggling and D'Antoni said the team wasn't giving a consistent effort after a home loss to Philadelphia on Sunday.

D'Antoni said at the start of the season he thought the Knicks could contend for the NBA title.

"If you have a center [Tyson Chandler] 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 [Anthony] and [Amare Stoudemire], obviously you've got to compete for a championship," D'Antoni said in December on ESPN 1050's "The Michael Kay Show."

A source close to the situation told ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher that Baron Davis, Stoudemire and Lin are not happy about the parting of D'Antoni.

"One of the reasons Amare went there was because of Mike," the source said. "Same for Baron."

Woodson, the former Atlanta Hawks coach who was hired this summer, is a longtime friend of Grunwald and former Knicks coach Isiah Thomas. Dolan said Woodson understood he would be evaluated at the end of the season.

Perhaps a call will be made to Phil Jackson or John Calipari. The latter, preparing his top-seeded Wildcats for the NCAA tournament, wrote on Twitter he was committed to Kentucky and reaffirmed that commitment at a news conference in Louisville.

"Every job that's open, including high school jobs and AAU jobs, my name is mentioned," he said. "But I just wanted to say I have a great job. The best in this profession."

Never able to duplicate his success in Phoenix, D'Antoni was headed to his third losing season since signing a $24 million, four-year contract in 2008 that made him one of the NBA's highest-paid coaches. He never won a playoff game in New York, where the Knicks were focused on the future during his first two years and made numerous changes that didn't give him much of a chance to compete.

But they spent big this season, bringing in Chandler to play between Anthony and Stoudemire, while adding players such as Davis and J.R. Smith during the season.

New York returned to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2004 but lost to the Boston Celtics in the first round. In the offseason, the Knicks radically changed the team, waiving point guard Chauncey Billups through the amnesty clause to free up salary-cap space to sign Chandler. They sputtered through January while trying three point guards to replace Billups.

D'Antoni finally turned to Lin on Feb. 4 and the Knicks took off, winning seven straight games and looking like a threat to the top teams in the East. But it all came to a halt when Anthony returned, reinforcing the notion that his desire to get the ball in isolation didn't fit in D'Antoni's offense that focused on pick-and-rolls and quick ball movement.

D'Antoni averaged 58 wins in four full seasons in Phoenix before he was hired to Isiah Thomas on May 13, 2008, walking right into a two-year rebuilding plan with an eye toward clearing salary-cap space for the summer of 2010.

D'Antoni always supported the plan, even though it came at the cost of his won-loss record. He was 267-172 when he arrived in New York but went 121-167 with the Knicks. Even Grunwald said he thought it had been a "rough go" of it for D'Antoni.

"We had a lot of changes, and a short season and all that stuff about the lockout, so it was a tough, tough thing to have a coach deal with all that over the course of four years," Grunwald said.

New York finished in the top 10 in scoring in each of D'Antoni's first three seasons while racking up the three highest 3-pointer totals in team history. But his offense-first style was never a natural fit in New York, where fans craved the hard-nosed, defense-first approach of the 1990s teams of Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason and John Starks. Worse for D'Antoni, he lost his biggest backer in the front office when team president Donnie Walsh opted not to return after last season.

D'Antoni became a coaching star in Phoenix, reaching two Western Conference finals. He won a coach of the year award and was an assistant coach to Mike Krzyzewski with the U.S. national team.

He seemed to have the Knicks on the rise last season after landing Stoudemire. But the Knicks didn't stop there, trading four of their top six players to acquire Anthony from Denver last February before the trade deadline.

The high price, paid when Dolan reportedly overruled Walsh, put enormous pressure on D'Antoni and Anthony to make it work, and they never really could. Anthony was shooting a career-low 40 percent and at times his frustration was evident. It was after Monday's loss in Chicago.

Woodson, who favors the isolation offense that Anthony has thrived in, said there would be some changes but didn't elaborate. Dolan expects them to pay off.

"The season is not over and this team can still be the team that our fans hope it can be," he said.

Information from ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley, ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher and The Associated Press was included in this report.

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