Commentary

D'Antoni too stubborn to make it work

Knicks' ex-coach wouldn't alter his system or rein in Lin to maximize Melo, Amare

Updated: March 15, 2012, 8:55 AM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

Back in 2008, when Mike D'Antoni first arrived, one of the first things he tried to convince New Yorkers was that he could make Knicks center Eddy Curry actually run up and down the court.

Seriously!

The Twinkies didn't matter, nor did the cheeseburgers. Neither did Curry's rotund figure, suspect work ethic and preference for slow-down, methodical ball. In the world of Coach D'Antoni, nothing would suffice unless it was done his way. Anything else was perceived as too confrontational.

[+] EnlargeMike D'Antoni and Carmelo Anthony
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesIn less than one full season together, Mike D'Antoni and Carmelo Anthony knew only limited success.

D'Antoni's coaching acumen should not be in question; the man went 267-172 in his previous coaching stint.

His stubbornness, however, is an entirely different matter.

So the result was inevitable: D'Antoni's resignation as coach of the reeling New York Knicks on Wednesday afternoon.

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

I'm wondering why a "long discussion" was necessary.

Carmelo Anthony swore until the end he was standing by his coach "100 percent." Ask Amare Stoudemire the same question, and you'd get the same answer. But I doubt either felt that way. They couldn't because D'Antoni wouldn't allow them to.

D'Antoni's insatiable appetite for small ball was so addictive, he felt no compunction about minimizing the impact of two stars owed more than $168 million combined in favor of a point guard making less than $1 million. In favor of a system that allowed unknowns to jack up one 3-pointer after another, barely running an offense in the process.

D'Antoni never believed Jeremy Lin shooting the ball more than Stoudemire was a problem. He never fathomed how insulting it was to Anthony for Lin to literally turn away from the Knicks' $85 million forward, refusing at times to give him the ball.

"In Coach's system, the point guard is the man," one Knicks player told me. "He runs the show. So long as Coach is happy with him, the point guard can do whatever the hell he wants, when he wants, to whomever he wants, including the stars. Even if the dude was just in the D-League around Christmas time."

No wonder D'Antoni is gone.

Contrary to popular belief, acrimony is not what plagued Melo's relationship with D'Antoni or caused Stoudemire's growing frustration. No one disliked D'Antoni. No one thought he was a bad person. It's just that some Knicks thought D'Antoni's system was an exercise in futility.

The D'Antoni detractors felt the Knicks' defense was porous at times not because they couldn't play it, but because they jacked up shots too quickly, too unexpectedly, preventing their defense from getting back and getting set. Then there was Melo being forced to play the point when he didn't want to. Stoudemire being forced to accept the role as a third wheel -- forced to watch Melo head to All-Star weekend while he sat home with everyone questioning whether he'd lost his skills -- was particularly piercing to the Knicks' $100 million power forward.

Neither star will say anything about it, of course. It wouldn't get them anywhere in a town constantly in search of villains. But their feelings were real. And if anyone noticed it, Dolan did.

"I believe in our players," Dolan said Wednesday. "I believe in our talent. I believe in their commitment to get the team together and get this right. I believe we have the talent and character to succeed."

Which is another way of saying D'Antoni never believed it. Primarily because he didn't want to believe it. Why? Because believing in his players the way Dolan swears he does would mean having to modify a system D'Antoni has never shown the slightest desire to modify.

That is why he is gone now.

The Knicks didn't need to romp the Blazers at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night to reveal their level of joy. Real players know, if nothing else, what does not contribute to winning on the NBA level.

Jacking up quick shots is one of them. Playing little-to-no defense is another. And forgetting to pacify stars will help you lose every time.

D'Antoni failed on all three counts.

Actually, before he even started on the job.

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."

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