Despite averaging just 28 wins over the last four years and bringing in Donnie Walsh for a change in direction, a change in culture and a change in success rate, the New York Knicks made only minor changes to their actual roster this summer. The guys on the floor come Oct. 29 will basically be the same guys that were on the floor back on April 16.
The 2004-05 Coach of the Year averaged 58 wins (that's 30 more than, and more than twice as much as, his new team) over his last four seasons in Phoenix. But while his attitude and aptitude will certainly improve the way the Knicks play, this is still the NBA. And in the NBA, the players make the coach more often than not.
And until D'Antoni gets the right personnel to work with, the Knicks will likely finish much closer to their own average than that of their new coach.
Of course, D'Antoni won't just sit on his hands until Walsh gets him the right players.
"You can't just say to wait until next year," he told the media at a pre-camp press conference. "My job is to win every night, and I'm going to play the guys that give me the best shot to win."
And until he gets more of those guys, he can make progress by getting started on that culture change thing and making the New York locker room a happier place to be. Dealing Zach Randolph to the Clippers or Grizzlies would likely have gone a long way in accomplishing that, but those deals fell through. And for some reason, Stephon Marbury is still around. The addition-by-subtraction plan is currently on hold.
So, D'Antoni will have to find another way to turn a group of talented but mismatched individuals into a cohesive team. And he insists that the roster ain't all bad.
"The thing that excites me is that there is a nucleus of good stuff that we have," he said. "There's enough stuff there where we can win some basketball games. We don't have to go get somebody. It's up to me to figure out how to do it."
He can start by getting his team to play a little defense.
Now, D'Antoni isn't exactly known as a defensive genius, but all the points that his team gave up in Phoenix were more a result of the pace that they played at than their inability to stop their opponent from scoring. When it came to points allowed per possession, they were actually an average defensive team with him at the helm.
Meanwhile, the Knicks have been one of the six worst defensive teams (per possession) in each of the last four seasons. Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy are long gone, and so is everything they taught.
Of course, D'Antoni's bread and butter is the other side of the ball. And there's no doubt that he has some offensive talent to work with in New York. He's just gotta get them working together.
To quote Norman Dale: "The five players on the floor function as one, single unit. Team, team, team. No one more important than the other."
That's easier said than done, of course. Especially with this group.
But no matter who's in the locker room, change in New York must start now.
-- John Schuhmann