By: Maurice K Dixon
By just glancing through this file, three numbers stand out: 61, 52 and 55.
Sorry but these aren’t approximate win totals from three of Mike D’Antoni’s four successful seasons in Phoenix. Nor are they attached to an Al Harrington offensive outburst, David Lee’s double-double total or a rough count of verbal altercations Nate Robinson has been involved in this season.
Unfortunately, for New Yorkers, none of these numbers are tied to the New York Knicks’ win column for the previous three seasons or this past regular season.
Possibly after the 2009-10 campaign when many big-name free agents will be on the market and enticed by the idea of leading the Knicks back to prominence.
The “61” represents points from the reigning MVP (Kobe Bryant). And it is what it is.
But 52 from the MVP favorite (LeBron James) just two nights later is downright embarrassing, especially when James had 20 after 12 minutes.
Then 55 from another MVP candidate (Dwyane Wade) before the close of the regular season is…laughable.
Along with not making the playoffs in a weak conference, all three of these performances are on D’Antoni’s jacket, overshadowing his somewhat positive effect on the franchise – more wins (32 compared to 23 in 2007-08), an exciting offense and a boost in scoring average (from 96.9 points per game to 105.2 which was fourth best in the league) – in his first year.
But it is no secret that D’Antoni minimizes the importance of a strong defense since the Knicks were third worst in points allowed (107.8).
Part of his philosophy would probably read: “Let’s outscore them and not worry too much about stopping them,” making it easy to comprehend why he’s never coached in The Finals, why his departure from Phoenix was necessary and why he’s currently watching the “second” season instead of coaching in it like some of the other constant personalities – Phil Jackson, George Karl, Coach of the Year Mike Brown and Gregg Popovich.
So, what is D’Antoni’s mission? Advancing to the playoffs regularly and contending for a championship are obvious answers.
But what else does he want recognition for? Coaching outside of the box? Winning it all without following the unwritten rules? Sheer offensive entertainment?
During their run atop the West which was in large part due to the play of 2005 and 2006 MVP Steve Nash, the Suns had everyone in awe with their highlight-driven offense and third-quarter triple-digit scores.
Yet, on the flipside, these same Suns blew big leads late due to their lousy defense. Then in the 2006 Playoffs, they were pushed to brink and almost upset by the clearly inferior Lakers, who temporarily centered their offense around Kwame Brown of all players.
But more painful than anything was the Suns’ inability to get over that Spurs’ hump. The Spurs showed the Suns the exit ramp during three of their four postseason trips, proving D’Antoni’s method ineffective during the “real” season. (The Suns went 26-25 in the playoffs over that span.) Plus, being beaten convincingly by the boring, defensive-minded Spurs – your complete opposite – had to sting a little more.
Now with the Knicks, who are far less talented than the Suns, D’Antoni continues to shun the idea of sacrificing part of his high-powered, seven-seconds-or-less offense for at least a late-game defense, an adjustment that may have helped his team avoid a season-ending funk of 14 losses in 18 games.
Donald Faison from the sitcom Scrubs was quoted in an April edition of Sports Illustrated on how he would address his team, the Knicks. “And you know, I could fix the Knicks right now,” said the co-star of the comedy Next Day Air, premiering May 8 in theatres. “They didn’t play enough defense this season…That’s the real reason they lost. They’d get up by 20 (points) and then all of a sudden be down by 20. That’s the Knicks.”
Not totally disagreeing, but that’s D’Antoni’s MO. Check his paperwork.