Mike D’Antoni has spent three full seasons patrolling the New York Knicks’ sideline. In those three seasons, he’s gone 103-143. That’s not exactly going to instill a lot of confidence in your abilities. Of course, it’s not THAT simple. He took over for Isiah Thomas, who was an abomination. And it’s not like he had a roster that was capable of winning a lot more than the 32 games he won in his first season has head coach in New York.
Simply put, the Knicks were such a mess, very few coaches could have done much better. But that was three years ago. He’s now got Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. He had his first winning record with the Knicks last season (42-40) and the excuses are over. Any step backwards now could mean he’s out of a job.
“I think all coaches are on a one-year deal,” D’Antoni said on a conference call. “It’s whether you get a paid vacation, but we all have to do something to earn another year, especially with the Knicks.
“It’s not like they have to keep [you] around because they’re financially strapped. We have to produce. Whether it’s one or 10, it doesn’t matter. It’s going to come down to next year.”
The “Fire D’Antoni” sentiment has been out there for a while in New York. He is a bit of a divisive coach. His “seven seconds or less” offensive style is a little controversial, especially since it’s won exactly zero titles even with those talented Suns teams. A distinct lack of defense cost the Knicks many times over the past season, including in the sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics. The Knicks weren’t as good as the Celtics, but fans expected them to be a little more competitive.
Enter Mike Woodson, who was billed as a “defensive coordinator” for D’Antoni. He’ll assume that role, but he’s also more than that, and he seems to get agitated if you suggest he’s only a defensive guy:
“I’m not going to sit here and say that I’m just a defensive coach. I can help Mike, I think, offensively as well,” Woodson said during a conference call. “I’m just a coach and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to come in and do that.”
D’Antoni isn’t even pigeon-holing him.
“I don’t know where that came from, other than people writing about it. But he’s a good coach,” D’Antoni said. “We expect him to add in a very positive way: defensively, offensively, big guys, small guys. Whatever we need as the Knicks organization for him to do, he’ll be able to do. He’s an extremely talented coach.”
There are two key things with the Woodson hire. First, he’s there to help fix one of D’Antoni’s deficiencies: defense. Second, he’s there should things go south and the Knicks fire D’Antoni. He knows that and so does D’Antoni. It’s in D’Antoni’s best interests to pump Woodson up, work with him, integrate some of his defensive philosophies while sacrificing some of his own offensive philosophies, and work together to win games. If they can do that, then D’Antoni keeps his job and Woodson builds up a resume that will eventually get him hired somewhere else. If they don’t, though, then D’Antoni faces a “paid vacation” and then some time in the broadcast booth while Woodson gets a shot at bringing the Knicks to the next level.
D’Antoni knows he’s almost run out of chances. He can’t afford another 42 win season. This Knicks team, once it rebuilds the bench it traded away to get Melo, should at least be in a position to snag middle seed in the playoffs. And once they’re in, they need to win a series. That might not even be enough to win over agitated Knicks fans, but it would be enough to get him one more year to maybe add another player and keep moving forward.