Pity poor Mike D’Antoni, former coach of the NY Knickerbockers.
While you’re at it, pity poor Larry Brown, and poor Lenny Wilkens, and poor Don Chaney, and poor Jeff Van Gundy.
These poor souls (once again, save for Zeke, that swine) have had to deal with an ever-changing roster of has-beens and never-will-bes, a fanbase and a media base that would praise you just as fast as they would tear you from limb to limb, and an owner who is, well, just the absolute worst.
That is, James Dolan, the “swaggering” vocalist of JD & The Straight Shot, head of Cablevision (his father Charles Dolan hired him for the position) and the miserable-looking fellow who can be found sitting courtside at Madison Square Garden, appearing as though he is waiting for his turn to tell his sobriety group how his week went. This is the man who calls the shots in the supposed “Mecca” of basketball.
For the past ten years, those shots have been really, truly, absolutely shitty.
He has brought in head coaches with Hall of Fame pedigrees and New York City roots: Lenny Wilkens, the pride of Bedford Stuy and the one-time winningnest coach in the NBA’s history (Don Nelson, another former Knick coach, now has that title), and Larry Brown, another Brooklyn-born Hall of Famer who is widely considered one of the all-time great basketball minds.
Both men came with great fanfare, expected to turn around a sputtering franchise that never seemed to regain its swagger since losing to the Indiana Pacers in the 2000 Eastern Conference finals.
Both men left in what has become a familiar exit: fired midseason and with a losing record (Knicks were 17-22 at the time of Wilkens’ firing, and 23-59 when Brown was tossed).
So surely Mr. D’Antoni, the offensive guru who turned Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns into one of the most exciting offenses in the past decade, knew what he was getting himself into when he signed a 4-year, $24 million deal to coach the Knicks?
For in Dolan’s world, having a revolutionary offensive system means bubkes in the scheme of things. In Phoenix, Mr. D’Antoni had a mainstay at the point guard position. In New York, he had Stephon Marbury and Nate Robinson and Jamal Crawford and Chris Duhon and Toney Douglas and Sergio Rodriguez and Raymond Felton and Chauncey Billups.
Then a miracle happened.
Jeremy Lin, the Harvard-educated scrub who was called up as a bench fill-in, eventually became that mainstay the offensive guru so desperately needed to survive in this town.
And for a brief, rapturous run, Mr. Lin and the Knicks did the unthinkable: They won, they became likable, and they were actually fun to watch (at least, only after Mr. Dolan and co. finally resolved their dispute with Time Warner Cable in February and New Yorkers could, you know, watch their hometown team on TV). They won while Carmelo Anthony, the marquee player who Dolan overturned a promising roster for (say what you will, but Felton-Fields-Gallo-Stoudemire-Mozgov had character), sat out.
But then Anthony returned, he largely played his own style of basketball instead of D’Antoni’s, and the Knicks lost. A lot.
Then yesterday, amid growing reports that the Anthony-D’Antoni rift was destroying all the goodwill that “Linsanity” had built up, Mr. D’Antoni resigned.
Like his predecessors, he left with a losing record (121-167 overall record) and a lot of money. He also left amid reports that he had argued with Dolan about trading Anthony for New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams, a move that made some basketball sense.
“Basketball sense” has never really mattered to Dolan. There are more important matters afoot.
Madison Square Garden is currently transforming itself from the “World’s Most Famous Arena® ” into a state-of-the-art arena, reportedly at a cost of $850 million. In Dolan’s mindset, having a balanced basketball roster (which wins) is not going to pay for the Garden’s facelift. Stars like Anthony will. He hiked the average price of a ticket by 49 percent after he traded for Anthony in 2011, and raised it again by 4.9 percent last week.
But the gloom surrounding D’Antoni’s departure was short-lived. With newly-installed head coach Mike Woodson at the helm, the Knicks throttled a listless Portland Trailblazers team and D’Antoni, the mustachioed maverick, was an afterthought. Stoudemire even slagged off his former Suns and Knicks coach by saying that “everyone wasn’t buying into his system.”
And why should they? There is no such thing as a system in the Dolan-owned Knicks. It’s not about winning basketball games. It’s about hiring coaches and bringing in players whose basketball pedigrees and New York City roots lure our sorry asses into the Garden. Marbury of Coney Island, Anthony of Red Hook (but really of Baltimore), Wilkins and Brown of Brooklyn… it works. We buy into the idea that a NYC-native will save this woeful franchise. (Everyone was wrong: A California native turned out to be our team’s savior).
So, the next question is: Why root for the Knicks? Why buy a Knicks t-shirt with, say, Timofey Mozgov’s name on it if the fella is just going to end up getting traded the next day?(Editorial note: That happened to me) Why root for Dolan, who refuses to speak to the press (save for a brief statement yesterday), jacks up our ticket prices and laughs all the way to the bank while we read the Daily News and groan?
Because it’s basketball. And because we still have Lin… unless Lin, like his old coach, gets the eff out of this circus.