Was D’Antoni Knicks Problem, Or Did Players Quit To Get Him Canned?

If you like roller-coaster rides, then you have to be enjoying the New York Knicks campaign through their first 45 games. The Knicks have gone through so many ups and downs during this season that they make Space Mountain seem like a merry-go-round. Their last turn on the downward track had them plunge into a six-game losing streak, as well as tossing former head coach Mike D’Antoni from his spot in the car.

As the smoke starts to dissipate from all the fireworks that went on just before the NBA trade deadline went into effect on Thursday afternoon, it seems that the transaction that has had the most impact so far, is not one involving an exchange of players from one team to another; instead it may have been when D’Antoni parted ways with the team last Wednesday in his fourth season as the club’s bench boss. Since former Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Woodson was promoted from assistant to interim head coach, the team has won all three of their games and all by very wide margins.

New York punished the Portland Trail Blazers by a final margin of 121-79, the night of D’Antoni’s departure; a common occurrence in the Association when there is a mid-season coaching change. Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger gave the Knicks a little more incentive to win their next two contests, as the All-Star indicated that he had little concern for the upcoming home and home series against New York on Friday and Saturday nights. The team responded with a 115-100 victory at MSG on Friday night, followed by beating the Pacers 102-88 Saturday.

It is only three games, a long way from the incredible streak that Lawrence Frank had when he took over the New Jersey Nets after the team fired Byron Scott in 2004 and went onto win his first 13 games. There is however, a definitive difference between the club that was in free-fall mode under D’Antoni and the squad that beat the Pacers in two straight games. You can see the difference in the box scores, or if you have the NBA Package; you can see it with how they are carrying themselves on the court,

New York has averaged 97.8 points per contest this season, yet they scored over 100 points in the last three games. The team has been led a by a different member of the roster in all three victories; J.R. Smith against Portland, Tyson Chandler in the home game against the Pacers and Jeremy Lin in the game on Saturday night.

That is a sign of team basketball; the opposite of having one player dominating the offense, game after game; which is what was the case as either Carmelo Anthony or Lin had been the focal point of the offense. The only problem with that scenario is you become so reliant on one player, that when he has a bad night you are toast.

New York is also back as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference Playoff chase as they lead the Milwaukee Bucks for the final slot by half a game. The Bucks had overtaken the Knicks for the spot as New York was in the midst of their six game skid.

So the question becomes, what has triggered the sudden resurgence? Was D’Antoni that ineffective as a coach in his last few weeks; or did the players simply quit on him to grease the skids for his departure? Or was it perhaps both scenarios combined, that D’Antoni was no longer properly communicating his message and the team had stopped trying to figure out what the message was?

The former New York head coach, certainly had his share of detractors during his almost four-year stint with the club. Former Knicks guard Stephon Marbury; who has played in China for the last couple of years, practically leapt for joy when he heard the news; most likely there are other former players from the club who shared the sentiments of “Starbury“. This season there had been persistent reports of a rift between D’Antoni and Anthony; including rumors that Carmelo was demanding that he be traded or fire the coach while allegedly the former bench boss wanted the team to trade him for Deron Williams.

The third scenario is the one that is most probably the one that led to the former Phoenix Suns head coach to now sitting on the sidelines and the sudden improvement in the team’s play on the court. A message tends to wear thin in a professional locker room after hearing it for three or four seasons and losing just adds fuel to an already simmering fire. Truth is that Anthony and D’Antoni are not a good fit; as the coach has a point guard oriented offense, while Melo is used to being the guy with the ball in his hands. It was a relationship really that was doomed from the start.

New York still controls their own destiny with 21 games left to play before the end of the regular season. Win or lose; they no longer have Mike D’Antoni to kick around anymore.

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