D'Antoni resigns: Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks both got what they wanted
The Knicks and Carmelo Anthony both got what they asked for when New York traded for him 13 months ago: dysfunction, agendas and a coach fired because he was powerless to do anything about it.
When Mike D'Antoni resigned as coach of the Knicks Wednesday, one word came to mind.
What did anybody expect?
The Knicks are right at the crossroads where they were certain to arrive when they traded for Carmelo Anthony 13 months ago. They are right back at the intersection of ego, agenda and dysfunction, where they have resided for most of the past decade or more.
Understand a few things about the mess the Knicks find themselves in, having lost eight of 10 games and six in a row since Anthony returned to the lineup after a groin injury following a seven-game winning streak during which his teammates had been playing joyous, winning basketball without him. Understand these things, and you will understand why D'Antoni tendered his resignation Wednesday rather than stick around for his own execution:
• It isn't so much the results and the struggles, but the reactions to them, the size of the microscope analyzing them and the aura that was destined to surround a star-laden roster trying to do what everyone else in the NBA is trying to do -- win and get along -- but doing it in the nation's largest media market. Preconceived notions about who's at fault are bound to be tainted by the agendas of those who have all the answers -- especially when those answers benefit their agendas.
• When you give up the kind of assets the Knicks gave up for Carmelo, and when you give him the keys to the franchise in the form of a $65 million max extension (which no other NBA player will ever receive again under Carmelo's circumstances thanks to rules changes in the new CBA and, presumably, all future CBAs), you reap what you sow. Garden chairman James Dolan, who championed the Carmelo trade, should have known this -- having owned an NBA team for years and having sat in his baseline seat at the Garden observing the human condition and psychology of power and control that has always, and will always, permeate the sport.
• When you do all of that, and then ask a powerless coach on the last year of his contract to rein in the egos and make everything hum like the engine of one of his players' Bentleys, then shame on you again. On top of leaving D'Antoni with insufficient organizational clout to give Anthony the tough coaching he needs -- and, according to a person who has observed much of Anthony's career, the tough coaching he really wants -- the Knicks also pulled D'Antoni's biggest supporter out from under him by alienating former team president Donnie Walsh, leading to his departure into an undefined and absentee role as a consultant. There were players in the Knicks' locker room -- plenty of them, starting with Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Baron Davis, Jared Jeffries and others -- who came to New York specifically to play for D'Antoni, were more galvanized than ever in their support for him and respect him regardless of his contract or job status. But the modern NBA star, for better or worse, equates power and respect with money and contract length. So you tell me how D'Antoni, without job security or the man that hired him having his back, was going to tell Anthony that the way he's played basketball for his entire life wasn't going to fly anymore.
• Anthony did not do this on purpose. He doesn't want to be traded -- said so, in fact, on Wednesday -- and "doesn't have a mean bone in his body," according to the person who has been associated with him for several years. He honestly believes, because every coach and authority figure he's ever played for in basketball has told him, that demanding the ball and scoring a lot of points and taking the high-pressure shots is what he's supposed to do. Fulfilling all of those expectations, he believes, will help the team win. We in the media and in basketball fandom have only reinforced this belief among star players -- that they're supposed to embrace the challenge, the scoring load, the last shot -- because look what happens to LeBron James when he doesn't. But there's another edge to that sword. Look what happens to guys like Russell Westbrook and Anthony when they embrace it and don't deliver. It's the perfect storm for Anthony, really. He has arrived in the past few weeks at a defining moment in his career, when he needed a strong, credible, powerful voice to tell him he has to try something different. And at the very moment when Anthony needed to hear not what he wanted to hear, but what he needed to hear, there was no one around him with the voice or the clout to tell him. That's not his fault or D'Antoni's, and now the unenviable job shifts to interim coach Mike Woodson -- a loud, domineering figure who should have even less clout than D'Antoni did, if for nothing else than the word "interim" next to his job title. This is exactly what Anthony signed up for, however. And to a lesser degree, it's what D'Antoni accepted, too, along with the money and prestige of coaching in the Garden, long one of the most dysfunctional, agenda-ridden places to work in professional sports in America.
So what happens? Someone has to tell Anthony what is needed and expected from him in order for the Knicks to salvage whatever hope remains of making the playoffs and instilling some kind of hope that this assembly of stars can work. It should have been D'Antoni, who didn't have the power that was needed to back up the message. So I nominate Chandler to put on his newly minted championship ring and get worked up in a frenzy the way he does after blocking a shot or throwing down an alley-oop dunk in a game. He, and we, may be surprised by how Anthony responds. I believe Anthony needs this. Even some of his staunchest supporters believe he wants it, too.
To wake up Wednesday on a glorious, 65-degree day in New York and see that the Melodrama had returned was jarring, to say the least, considering that it's a whole different version than what the city experienced barely 13 months ago. To be honest, I recall vividly the day D'Antoni was introduced as Knicks coach, and it was exactly a day like this -- mild temperatures, sun beams blazing between the skyscrapers on Seventh Avenue as D'Antoni went outside to pose for some still photos, smiling ear to ear.
Then last February, New York was buzzing with the possibility of adding a second star, Anthony, to the Knicks and thus copying -- or at least approximating -- the blueprint set forth by the Miami Heat during the previous summer. "Melo or bust" was more or less the groundswell. Get Melo, no matter the cost, and everything would be fine.
On Wednesday, the back pages screamed two different tales, but both of them were crafted of woe and dysfunction, not the hysteria that accompanied Anthony's arrival.
"TRADE MELO!" trumpeted the New York Daily News.
"MELO WANTS OUT!" shouted the Post.
Even the Gray Lady, the staid New York Times, ran a column Wednesday that was raucous and provocative by Times standards, with the headline: "Anthony and Knicks can't play together."
Within hours, D'Antoni was gone.
The Knicks host the Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden -- a matchup of players who just got their coach thrown overboard against players who've evidently quit on theirs. If the Blazers played in New York instead of Portland, their own toxic brew of meddling ownership, a lame-duck coach and disgruntled players who'd managed to produce a mere five assists on 20 made field goals while shooting 31 percent in a 92-75 loss at Indiana Tuesday night would be getting the same treatment from the New York tabloid grist mill.
But they're not, life is unfair, and away we go into the vast wilderness of the NBA, where the star players will always reign supreme. The Knicks have been thrust into the eye of the storm that was inevitable once the power vortex formed by Creative Artists Agency delivered Anthony to New York -- for a king's ransom of assets and with a king's ransom of a contract.
Now Woodson, and then the next coach, must confront the same problems that beguiled D'Antoni. My money's on another CAA client, John Calipari, who will have the contract and the clout but not the political freedom to help Anthony redefine his perception of how he needs to play basketball. Which will pry open a whole other Pandora's box of dysfunction, agendas and catastrophes.
So yes, just as everyone believed in May 2008 when D'Antoni was hired, and again in February 2010 when Anthony was acquired, the Knicks are back. They're back, all right. Back in the stone age of their own self-imposed misery.
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