On May 13, 2008, the New York Knicks’ new President of Basketball Operations, Donnie Walsh, named Mike D’Antoni the 24th coach of the New York Knicks.
An outside observer would see nothing wrong with this appointment, after all, D’Antoni and his high octane offense dubbed (Seven Seconds or Less) SSOL was the toast of the NBA only two seasons earlier and held a career .608 winning percentage while also being an assistant coach on the 2008 Olympic “Redeem Team”. Knick fans however greeted the move with a collective groan, yours truly included.
It was not only the fan base however that critiqued the move, I recall Reggie Miller saying he didn’t “know what Donnie was thinking”. Of course Miller wasn’t the only analyst but his quote is the one I recall most vividly.
Fast-forward to the present day and the groans have turned into full-blown calls for the departure of D’Antoni. Now I don’t intend for this post to be a critique or review of the job that D’Antoni has done simply because he has had a new roster every year, rather I intend to discover the reasons that D’Antoni has such a negative reputation among fans from the day he was made head coach.
In my belief the fans “dislike”, if you will, for Mike D’Antoni goes back to his hiring.
At the time Knick fans that had just gone through the disastrous Isiah Thomas regime, and were excited for a new era captained by Walsh. Many Knick fans were longing for the days of the 90′s where the Knicks were a perennial force in the NBA and so it seemed only natural that Mark Jackson would be hired.Mark Jackson played on those 90′s teams and embodied everything about them. A defensive minded tough player who played with a certain NY swagger seemed to be a natural fit. However, it came as a major shock to the fan base when he was shunned in favor of Mike D’Antoni. Familiarity breeds content and the fans knew exactly what Jackson was all about. In essence D’Antoni is the exact opposite of Jackson.
Of course we don’t know what Jackson’s coaching philosophy would’ve been, but it is very likely that he would be much more defensive minded then D’Antoni, and Jackson’s coaching style would’ve embodied the way he played.
D’Antoni at the time and till this day is thought of as a coach who could care less about defense and is focused on his offensive system.
The drafting of Danilo Gallinari, and the subsequent injuries in his rookie-year, only increased the dislike for D’Antoni as Gallinari’s drafting was thought of as a favor by D’Antoni to Gallinari’s family. Of course the team on the court struggled during D’Antoni’s first two years, but Red Holzman wouldn’t have been able to take those rosters to the playoffs.
The disdain grew exponentially for D’Antoni with the benching of one, Nate Robinson. The consensus was that the benching was because of D’Antoni holding a personal grudge against Robinson. The calls for his head were louder then ever; chants of “We Want Nate” would erupt from the Garden rafters even in blowout wins. Robinson was eventually traded but even more fans had become weary of D’Antoni.
This season for the first time in 10 years, the Knicks have a winning roster but fans and everyone else voice the calls for D’Antoni’s head whenever there is a 2-3 game losing streak. The perception of fans hasn’t changed one bit.
The fans are still calling for their hero’s of the past, namely Jeff Van Gundy. Until the Knicks win playing Mike D’Antoni’s style, most of the fans will remain attached to the style that they remember last one their team games, the slow-it down grind of the 90′s.
Few recognize that the league has changed immensely since then. When the fans think of winning basketball they remember the style of the 90′s and want a coach who preaches 90′s basketball, but the league has become much more offensive minded and controlled by stars. It is essential these days to have a coach who players like playing for and D’Antoni definitely meets this criteria.
In 10-12 years, assuming this team goes on to be a success, don’t be surprised if the Knicks are recovering from a lean 2-3 years and fan’s want the coach at the time to be replaced with someone who shares D’Antoni’s coaching philosophy, because as we all know, familiarity breeds contempt and the fan’s are still getting used to D’Antoni’s style.