Early Monday morning, the basketball world found out that the struggling Lakers decided to sign Mike D’Antoni as their new head coach. Let me start by saying that the Lakers interim head coach, Bernie Bickerstaff, is 2-0 since the firing of Mike Brown and I think Bernie deserves a couple of more games to prove whether or not he can manage this juggernaut team. That being said, D’Antoni has been chosen as the Lakers front office’s first pick to fill the coaching void and now there is some questions and controversy surrounding their decision. Once Brown was fired, everyone in the world thought that the Zen Master himself would retake the helm and lead this team to his twelfth Championship ring. Well, Phil Jackson is still jobless and Mike D’Antoni is about to lead an ideal lineup for any coach in the league, but is this decision the right choice?
Obviously, as a Knicks fan I have my extreme skepticism’s about D’Antoni’s coaching ability. This is a guy who has made it abundantly clear over his two decades as an NBA coach, that he has no regard whatsoever for the defensive end of a basketball game. Sure, Mike won Coach of the Year for his 2004-2005 season managing the Phoenix Suns to their first year of relevancy since the days of Charles Barkley, but he did so by leading the league in scoring and he also had a PG named Steve Nash, in his prime might I add, on his way to his first of two NBA MVP’s. Don’t get me wrong, I think that D’Antoni is one of the smartest offensive basketball minds to ever grace the hardwood, but if you are a true NBA fan, you know that Championships are not won on the offensive end.
When there became a vacancy in the Lakers head coaching position, everyone’s first thought was that Phil was going to come back to help Kobe match the six rings he helped put on Michael’s hands. Even Kobe addressed the media saying how he thought “he never truly gave Phil a quality farewell season”. The Staples Center roared with chants of “We Want Phil! We Want Phil!” The only problem with that thought was no one thought Phil was going to want to come back to the NBA so soon; only 1 year removed from retirement. The Lakers front office, The Buss family and Mitch Kupchak, visited Phil early Saturday morning and after some short talks, Phil was under the impression that he would have until today to work out the kinks and make his decision. Well Phil, you snooze you lose!
Having found out about D’Antoni’s hiring yesterday, Phil told the media, “No contractual terms were discussed and we concluded with a hand shake and an understanding that I would have until Monday to come back to them with my decision. I did convey to the that I did have the confidence that I could do the job. I was awakened on Sunday by a phone call from Mitch Kupchak. He told me that the Lakers had signed Mike D’Antoni to a 3-year agreement and that they felt he was the best coach for the team.”
First off Phil, there is no way that the Lakers thought Mike was “the best coach” for the job. The way I see it is that Phil, in the final seasons of his coaching career, was very high maintenance with his restrictive traveling schedule and constant health issues. Mike, on the other hand, will be the perfect puppet for Jerry Buss to bounce on his knee and do whatever it is he wants done with his team. D’Antoni doesn’t have the type of pull that Jackson would demand and that is a lot more comforting for Kupchak and the Buss family. The truth of the matter is that D’Antoni and Phil can not even be mentioned in the same sentence when referring to their coaching abilities. Phil is arguably the greatest coach there ever was and Mike D’Antoni is just eh. D’Antoni has had a couple of successful regular seasons under his belt and he has proven that he can match anyone’s offense output, but the Lakers always make the playoffs so the regular season is not their problem. They need to win once in the postseason and Mike has proven time and again that he can not coach in the playoffs.
I do understand the signing of Mike though. He obviously has a report with Nash and when Kobe was growing up in Italy, D’antoni was his favorite player to watch. Add that to the fact that Mike coached both Dwight and Kobe on multiple Olympics teams and you have a coach who has pretty good chemistry with his core players. Kobe even went on to post on his Facebook page, “It’s been a wild week to say the least. I’m happy to have closure and can’t wait to get to work with Coach D’Antoni.. spacing, ball movement. And despite the chatter, I believe we will be phenomenal defensively. I’m looking forward to getting started with him and his staff this week. Mamba out.” Phenomenal defensively? I doubt it.
I honestly feel that anyone with the slightest bit of basketball knowledge can coach this Lakers team to the NBA Finals because of how talented their roster is. There was so much fuss over their 1-4 start, but lets not forget that the Miami Heat started with a 9-8 record when they first joined Lebron-Wade-Bosh. Chemistry takes time and I can assure all of the doubters out there that the Lakers will be a force to recon with for the rest of the season. As to whether or not Mike was the right choice to lead them to their successes, well that’s just something we will have to wait and see.
What a ride! Whether you were happy or sad, the Knicks gave us all a lot to follow this season. In what I can only describe as the craziest season I have ever witnessed in my 28 years of being a Knicks fan, New York was the headline of many sports news stories both good and bad. It was a strike-shortened season filled with free agent signings, an array of injuries, coaching changes, upsets and disappointments all wrapped around a once unknown Asian-American Harvard graduate that sparked a worldwide phenomenon known as “Linsanity.” With their season ending Wednesday night in Miami, in yet another first round playoff disappointment, the Knicks put their fans through a whirlwind of emotions and brought a spotlight to New York that has been missing since the days of Patrick Ewing and company. Although another losing season, Knicks fans can tell you that there is a lot to look forward to for the 2012-13 season. But before we get into that let’s talk about how this season unfolded.
As the summer rolled around I was struck with heart-breaking news that there might not be an NBA season due to a lockout. The players and owners were stuck in heated contract negotiation battles that played out through October and pinned the idea of a lost season in every fans minds. Luckily towards the end of November negotiations came to an end and a strike-shortened NBA season was slated to begin on Christmas weekend. Every owner in the league scrambled frantically to sign any available free agents to help solidify their respective teams, knowing full well that there would not be any time to truly develop chemistry. Some can argue that the Knicks acquired the most coveted free agent by signing the newly crowned world champion center, Tyson Chandler.Already starting two all-stars in Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, the Knicks looked like they added that final piece to complete their “Big 3” that seems to be essential towards making a playoff run (i.e. Boston’s Allen, Pierce, Garnett and Miami’s James, Wade and Bosh.) Unfortunately for the Knicks, it does not come that easily. Forgetting to address the immediate need for a PG proved to be detrimental to the Knicks early season. To end last season the Knicks had a veteran point guard in Chauncy Billups but they had to release him to open enough salary cap room for the Chandler signing. The Knicks scurried to find help for their newly appointed starting PG Toney Douglas and picked up veterans Mike Bibby and Baron Davis, whom was still rehabbing his back injury from the prior season.
The Knicks opening day starting lineup was Douglas and Fields in the back court and Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler filling out what was considered the best front court coming into the NBA season. The Knicks came out of their Christmas Day opener with a victory over their division rival Boston Celtics, but after that, all seemed to go haywire. In the opener, the Knicks saw huge potential in their rookie Iman Shumpert, but he was the first to be bitten by the injury bug that seemed to set up camp in the Knicks locker room this season. Having to fill the voids left by injury and incompetency, Knicks management brought in a couple of guys who had been waived by their teams to open the season. Steve Novak and Jeremy Lin were supposed to be bench fillers as they were relatively unknown among NBA fans. But on the day Novak was signed, New York’s former coach as well as Novak’s coach in Houston for a season, Jeff Van Gundy claimed that the Knicks just signed the best shooter in the NBA. It was a bold statement about someone who was now playing for his fifth team in as many years, but Van Gundy is a smart man and you will hear why as you read on.
This season was considered Mike D’Antoni’s last chance to have a successful season if he wanted to remain the Knicks head coach. It turns out that he was willing to try and do anything to find camaraderie among his team that would prove to be successful.
After an 8-15 start, D’Antoni’s “hot-seat” was scorching so he looked to the end of his bench for some answers.Enter “Linsanity!” He was a day away from being cut by his third team of the season and he had absolutely nothing to lose. He took advantage of that mentality by completely abusing the former New Jersey Nets by putting up a then career high 25 points. From that day on, Jeremy Lin became a household name and he took the NBA by storm. Jeremy and the Knicks assembled a 7 game winning streak a quickly became relevant once again. For the time being, D’Anotni’s job seemed secure and the Knicks looked to make a playoff push with their newly found PG.
Off his extremely auspicious season across seas in China, J.R Smith came to the Knicks with the hope to solidify their bench. As “Linsanity” grew to be the topic among every sports medium, the Knicks quickly compiled a new popular look on their bench that became known as “Mobb Deep.” With 3-point specialist Steve Novak, the entertaining but often erratic Smith, the defensive stud Jared Jeffries, the high energy Iman Shumpert, and the newly healthy veteran Baron Davis, the Knicks bench looked better than a lot of NBA team starting lineups. After injuries to Anthony and Stoudemire during this new and exciting stretch, some of Mobb Deep had to step up and fill in voids in the starting lineup. Everything seemed to be working just fine until the two superstars returned. Bill Nye would have been furious with the lack of chemistry from there because nothing seemed to work no matter what D’Antoni tried. They dropped 6 games in a row and D’Antoni couldn’t take it any more, so he handed in his resignation forms and said adios to the Knicks.
The Knicks had a back up plan and his name was Mike Woodson. The once noteworthy coach of the Atlanta Hawks, Woodson was brought in at the beginning of the season to help improve the Knicks defense. He did that and more. Once he took over the reigns of a slowly dissipating Knicks team, a new found effort seemed to be shown between the players. They went on a quick 6-game winning streak becoming a .500 team once again and they didn’t stop there. During this hot streak for the Knicks, Jeremy Lin suffered a devastating knee injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Once again the roll players were called upon to salvage their roller-coaster season.
The Knicks defense went from being a much improved defense from a year ago to the best defense in the NBA from the point that Woodson took over. Chandler showed why he was the most coveted free agent by completely shutting down the middle and making everyone around him play better. His tenacious defense led Chandler to become the first New York Knicks player to ever win Defensive Player of the Year. Chandler also finished the season with the best field goal percentage, not only in the NBA for the season but the third best of all time behind Wilt Chamberlain two separate times. Steve Novak was the other Knicks stand out roll player. Novak finished the regular season with an NBA best 47% from 3-point range. Steve Novak added a bolt of electricity through the Madison Square Garden faithful every time he touched the ball. It was really exciting to watch him perform his best “discount-double check” when he hit the big 3’s.
With these two star performers and Carmelo Anthony playing his best basketball ever as a member of the Knicks, all seemed to be looking alright.
With the team fighting off a late season injury to Amare Stoudemire they slowly prepared themselves for the playoffs. Late in the regular season, the Knicks were in a heated push to the playoffs with only two seeds left and three teams battling. The Knicks showed their heart and tenacity under Woodson by finishing the season with an 18-6 record and a 7th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Regrettably, that put them face-to-face with their long time rival and NBA hated, Miami Heat.
This was the first time that long time friends and former High School opponents Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony ever faced each other in the postseason. To make a long story short, the Knicks got their asses handed to them in game 1, where they not only lost their rookie phenom Iman Shumpert to injury, but they lost any hope of winning the series. Game 2 followed with the same frustrations and then Amare thought it would be wise to use glass as a punching bag. Game 3 came and went with no change in the outcome. As the fourth game approached, the Knicks grew some cojones and won a tight match-up which only delayed the inevitable and possibly ended Baron Davis’ career with a devastating knee injury. Does anyone see a common theme throughout this article? After losing game five, the Knicks were eliminated and left to think about their future.
A Future with many questions. Who will be the coach next season? Did Woodson do enough to keep his job, or will the Knicks recruit Phil Jackson? Will Jeremy Lin be the starting PG next year or will the Knicks try to bring in Steve Nash? All I know is that New York has all off-season to get healthy and regroup. Address the issues that require addressing and focus on becoming the Knicks team they should be. My emotions as a Knicks fan were played with all season but I never gave up hope.
There’s always next year!