New York has lost six in a row for the second time this season and has fallen into a tie for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. The decision came just hours after Anthony denied there was a rift with D'Antoni.
The Knicks have struggled since Anthony returned from a groin injury 10 games ago. There was speculation that he and D'Antoni did not get along, though the All-Star forward said Wednesday he supported the coach “100 percent.”
The surprise resignation first was reported by Yahoo Sports.
D'Antoni seemed in good spirits Wednesday morning at the team’s training center and said players were, too. He 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.
Instead assistant Mike Woodson was preparing to coach against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday. And certainly there’s already speculation that the Knicks will try to lure a big-name coach such as Phil Jackson or Kentucky’s John Calipari next season.
D'Antoni’s departure comes less than a month after he seemed rejuvenated by the emergence of Jeremy Lin, the undrafted point guard from Harvard who came off the end of the bench and proved to be the player who could properly run the offensive system.
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 Tyson Chandler to play between Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, while adding players such as Baron Davis and JR Smith during the season, and D'Antoni acknowledged Wednesday morning it was his responsibility to make everything work.
New York returned to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2004 and had its first winning record in a decade, losing to the Boston Celtics in the first round. But the Knicks radically changed the team in the offseason, waiving point guard Chauncey Billups through the amnesty clause to free up salary cap space to sign Chandler, and they sputtered through January while trying three point guards to replace him.
D'Antoni finally turned to Lin on Feb. 4 and the Knicks took off, winning seven games in a row 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 replace Isiah Thomas on May 13, 2008.
The Knicks got off to a quick start in his first season but broke up the team three weeks into it, trading Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford in separate deals on the same day. New York would make a series of moves over the first two years, all with an eye toward clearing salary cap space for the summer of 2010.
D'Antoni always supported the plan, even as it came at the cost of his won-loss record. He was 267-172 when he arrived in New York but went 121-167 here.
The Knicks finished in the top 10 in scoring in each of his 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 named an assistant coach to Mike Krzyzewski with the U.S. national team.
But the Suns let him talk to other clubs about their jobs after losing to San Antonio in the first round of the 2008 playoffs. He chose the Knicks over the Chicago Bulls, citing his comfort with Walsh, who had just been hired, and his desire to live in New York.
After two years in transition, the Knicks appeared to be a team on the rise after landing Stoudemire in the summer of 2010 to give New York its first superstar since Ewing. 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 Madison Square Garden chairman James 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, such as Monday’s loss in Chicago.
Asked about that Wednesday, D'Antoni said: “I’m sulking over on the bench, too. So I can understand the frustration. We’ve just got to a better job of blending things that we want to do and we haven’t done that.”
Now someone else will.
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