D'Antoni accepts offer, chooses Knicks over Bulls

Updated: May 11, 2008, 10:52 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

The New York Knicks have agreed in principle with Mike D'Antoni to become the next coach, the team said Saturday. A news conference will be scheduled upon the completion of the contract.

The former Phoenix Suns coach, who was also sought by the Chicago Bulls, has accepted a four-year, $24 million deal to take over the Knicks. ESPN's Stephen A. Smith reported Saturday morning the terms of the contract, which will make D'Antoni the league's third-highest-paid coach based on annual salary.

Suns owner Robert Sarver wouldn't confirm that D'Antoni had taken the New York job, but told The Associated Press, "Mike called me this morning to thank me, so I figured this was up."

D'Antoni takes over coaching duties for one of the league's most high-profile franchises -- and one that has fallen into disarray over the past two seasons under former coach and team president Isiah Thomas. Following a messy divorce with former coach Larry Brown, the Knicks went 33-49 in 2006-07 and 23-59 last season, tying the franchise mark for losses in a season.

D'Antoni had two years and nearly $9 million remaining on his contract with the Suns, whom he led to two Western Conference finals. The Suns were eliminated in the first round of the NBA playoffs this season by the San Antonio Spurs after trading Shawn Marion to Miami for Shaquille O'Neal.

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The two-team chase for D'Antoni intensified when he talked to the Bulls in a late-evening conference call with team officials on Friday. The Chicago Tribune reported Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who owns a home in the Phoenix area, planned to meet face-to-face over the weekend with D'Antoni. It did not happen.

"[Saturday] morning, Jerry and I spoke and agreed that Mike was a good fit, and I placed a call to his agent," Bulls GM John Paxson said in a statement. "Jerry wanted to meet with Mike again [Saturday] and talk about a deal. Unfortunately, we were never given an opportunity to make an offer of any kind, which is the most disappointing thing in all of this right now. I thought it would have been fair to listen to what we had to say, but at the end of the day we simply weren't given the opportunity."

D'Antoni has a 267-172 career coaching record with the Suns and Denver Nuggets. The Suns won at least 54 games in four of his five seasons, and he has a 26-25 record in the playoffs.

The Suns wanted D'Antoni to remain in Phoenix, but they gave him permission to speak to other teams after he expressed his interest in pursuing other opportunities.

President and general manager Steve Kerr, hired a year ago, acknowledged differences in philosophy, and eventually gave D'Antoni permission to speak with other teams.

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"We appreciate all of Mike's efforts and contributions these past five years and wish him well in his next challenge," Kerr said in a statement issued by the team Saturday. "We will now be methodical in the process of finding our next head coach and we're excited about the potential candidates."

ESPN.com has been reporting since Thursday that D'Antoni was the Knicks' No. 1 coaching target. Sports Illustrated and The Boston Globe, both citing a league source, were the first to report the deal was done.

D'Antoni now becomes the Knicks' sixth different coach since the start of the 2002-03 season.

Knicks president Donnie Walsh had been looking for a coach since removing Thomas on April 18. He previously met with former Knicks guard and television analyst Mark Jackson and Knicks assistant Herb Williams. But he took his time to see what coaches would become available during the postseason.

He found one who has led his team to the playoffs in each of the past four seasons.

"I was obviously intersted in that job, but they went in another way," Jackson said during ESPN's telecast of Saturday's Celtics-Cavaliers playoff game. "I wish them nothing but the best as I look at other opportunities."

The Knicks, meanwhile, are coming off their seventh straight losing season and haven't won a playoff game since 2001.

They've been just as dysfunctional off the court, with Thomas and Madison Square Garden found to have sexually harassed a former team employee and forced to pay $11.5 million. The affable D'Antoni should improve the Knicks' image, even if it won't be easy to make a winner out of the team.

Good Luck In New York

Mike D'Antoni coached his first Suns game on Dec. 11, 2003 and since then, Phoenix has the fourth-best record in the NBA. In the same span, the Knicks have the NBA's third-worst record.

Best Record In NBA,
Since Dec. 11, 2003
Team W-L Win Pct.
Spurs 280-107 .724
Mavericks 275-114 .707
Pistons 270-118 .696
Suns 253-136 .650
Worst Record In NBA,
Since Dec. 11, 2003
Team W-L Win Pct.
Hawks 127-260 .328
Bobcats 109-219 .332
Knicks 144-243 .372
Trail Blazers 152-238 .390

Walsh acknowledges it will take time to rebuild the Knicks, and their roster seems ill-suited for D'Antoni's uptempo style. They are slow in the frontcourt with Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph, and the point guard situation is unclear with Stephon Marbury missing most of last season and coming off ankle surgery.

Marbury told the New York Post that he called D'Antoni to welcome him to the Knicks.

"We went with experience," Marbury told The Post. "It's a great move. We had a great relationship. I never had a problem with Mike D'Antoni. He said we have our work cut out for us and he's right. But I'm looking forward to running up and down the floor."

D'Antoni quickly made Phoenix a winner after becoming their coach 21 games into the 2003-04 season. A short time later, the Suns traded Marbury and Penny Hardaway to the Knicks, clearing the way for the offseason blockbuster signing of Steve Nash.

Nash was a perfect fit for D'Antoni, and the Suns quickly became NBA darlings, their refreshing style far more entertaining than the plodding game of most teams. In the 2004-05 season, the Suns won 62 games, tying a franchise record, leading to coach of the year honors for D'Antoni and the first of two MVP awards for Nash.

But the Suns never made it to the Finals under D'Antoni, losing to San Antonio three times and Dallas once. The acquisition of O'Neal in February was designed to toughen the team and a better match for the Spurs. But after the Suns' five-game loss to San Antonio, D'Antoni's future with the organization became a subject of speculation.

It's unclear where the Suns look now because they hoped D'Antoni would stay -- Nash said Friday he believed that would be the case. But Kerr most likely will go after a more defensive-minded coach since defense was the biggest weakness under D'Antoni.

ESPN.com senior writer Marc Stein contributed to this report. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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