Posted Mar 16 2012 1:51PM
NEW YORK -- Mike D'Antoni fell on his sword Wednesday morning, stepping down as coach of the New York Knicks after 3 ½ unstable seasons on the bench.
Just four weeks ago, the Knicks were riding the highs of Linsanity, re-energizing a long-frustrated fanbase, and threatening to soar up the Eastern Conference standings. But it didn't take long for them to reverse field and spiral back downward.
For a team as talented as the Knicks to be 19-24 is pretty ridiculous. But it's far too simple to think that D'Antoni is solely responsible for the Knicks struggles. And really, did D'Antoni ever get a real chance to coach the Knicks?
He was hired in May of 2008, resigned in March of 2012, and he never got a full season with the same group of core players. The Knicks, whether they've been breaking the roster down or building it back up, have been in a perpetual state of transition since D'Antoni took the job.
This season, the Knicks have kept adding players to a roster that was already filled with talent. And ironically, they were at their best when their roster was thinnest, when Anthony was injured, D'Antoni's rotation was simple, and Jeremy Lin had no choice but to take over.
In the 11 years since they last won a playoff game (when D'Antoni was in his second stint as an Italian League coach), that Lin-spired winning streak was one of the only times when the Knicks had real chemistry. And it ended as suddenly as it began.
For most of the 11 years, the Knicks have thrown money at their problems, with little regard to building a team that functioned properly. In 2004, there was the trade for Stephon Marbury, a talented point guard who did little to make his teammates better.
In 2007, they acquired Zach Randolph, who didn't learn how to be a winner in until he was long gone from New York. Jamal Crawford, Eddy Curry, Steve Francis, Al Harrington, David Lee, Nate Robinson, Quentin Richardson, Tim Thomas ... the list goes on and on.
All were talented and none had much interest in playing both ends of the floor. And as a result, the whole has always been less than the sum of the parts in New York.
Anthony is the latest offense-only star to seek the Garden spotlight and fail to galvanize the team around him. He has shown little ability to coexist with Amar'e Stoudemire and the Knicks are a disappointing 27-37 in games that he's played.
"I came here because I wanted the pressure and expectations," Anthony said Wednesday, adding that he had nothing to do with D'Antoni's decision to step down. "The expectations are not going nowhere. They're still high. So regardless of what happens, as a leader of this team, it's going to come back on me. I accept that."
Going forward, the Knicks aren't going to be able to keep spending like they have in the past. The trio of Anthony, Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler will be owed a total of $175 million over the next three seasons, making it impossible for the Knicks to stay under the luxury tax line and avoid the penalties and restrictions that come with being a tax team.
That won't make it easy to put quality role players around the Knicks' big three in the coming years. And the team will have to hope that Chandler can make up for the defensive deficiencies of Anthony and Stoudemire.
D'Antoni, of course, was not a defensive coach. So Mike Woodson, named interim coach in the wake of D'Antoni's departure, should be able to make an impact on that end.
On Woodson's first day on the job, "accountability" was a word used often at the Garden. Nobody would say that D'Antoni didn't keep his players in check, but everyone said that Woodson would.
"I'm going to be held accountable," Woodson said. "And I'm going to make damn sure that they're held accountable."
And Woodson plans on using his team's depth as leverage over his players, knowing that there's always someone else to turn to when a guy isn't giving maximum effort.
"You better cherish the minutes that you get and make the most of them," he said. "If you don't, I might not come back that way."
The Woodson era began with a disgustingly easy victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, who took home with the Most Dysfunctional Team in the League banner that had been hanging in the Knicks locker room. It was a good start to getting back on track, but the New York still has a lot of work to do to avoid the embarrassment of missing the playoffs.
If they can't avoid such a fate, the roster turnover may just continue. And the chemistry will never come.
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Anderson Varejao fights for the rebound and comes down awkwardly on his left leg and would sustain a leg injury.
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