Commentary

There's no defense for Mike D'Antoni

Amid the wreckage of a first-round sweep, it's clear the Knicks need a new head coach

Updated: May 9, 2011, 9:11 PM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

Now that the broomsticks have been unleashed and it has been emphatically established that the New York Knicks, for all their bluster and bloviating, are nothing more than an average franchise with an exorbitant payroll, it's time to move forward. To put legitimate pieces in place to preserve assets and eliminate liabilities.

And after watching the Knicks' first-round loss to the Boston Celtics -- how they spent most of Easter weekend stinking up Madison Square Garden before a 36-year-old journeyman point guard nearly came to the rescue -- priority No. 1 is too obvious to ignore any longer:

Mike D'Antoni has to go.

It is not easy to call for the exodus of a coach who averaged 58 wins a season in his previous job, who is as kind and decent as they come. Nor does it seem fair to call for the head of a coach who, some would say, helped resurrect this franchise and made the Knicks relevant again. But when players are devoid of respect for a coach's basketball acumen, when the opposition laughs over the transparency of his game plan -- so much so that D'Antoni's players intimated they had instituted their own changes at halftime of a close-out game -- the need for a change simply cannot be denied.

The rare display of heart and guts the Knicks exhibited in the second half of Sunday's Game 4 didn't happen just because they started hitting shots and the Celtics suddenly forgot how to defend them. "We got tired of the way things were going," one player explained in the wee hours of Sunday night, long after everyone had departed from the Garden.

"We walked in at halftime and said 'We can't go out this way.' We were pretty ticked off, especially at us not seeming to have any answers scheme-wise. We knew Boston knew everything we were going to do, how we were going to do it, so we needed to do something differently. We just couldn't keep going the way we were going."

As coach of the Knicks, D'Antoni deserves credit for inserting Anthony Carter into the game, allowing him to defend Rajon Rondo. He also deserves credit for allowing the team to go zone on occasion, for switching on shooters Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, with Carter serving as the catalyst. But if D'Antoni deserves credit for allowing those things to take place, he also harbors culpability for going a full game-and-a-half without a true point guard on the floor, for making little to no adjustments, for leaving the players to essentially decide for themselves at halftime Sunday that swinging back wouldn't entail just jacking up 3s inside of 10 seconds.

Notwithstanding the tremendous effort displayed in Games 1 and 2, the New York Knicks cannot play defense, folks! Primarily because schematically it's never important, nor has it ever been a priority in D'Antoni's mind.

The same coach who's being paid $6 million per season here was out in Phoenix because he would not heed former Suns executive Steve Kerr's advice that he simply couldn't win a championship with his system. Fast-forward to three full seasons later and nothing has changed.

There are high pick-and-rolls. There's Amare Stoudemire coming from the corner, getting the ball near the elbow, with everyone and their grandmother knowing that's exactly what is going to occur. Or there's Stoudemire coming from the low block to set screens -- except everyone knows he's getting the ball and that he's not going to set a screen. And intertwined with it all is the arrival of Carmelo Anthony, assigned to doing pretty much the same thing.

"Coach knows offense," one player explained. "It would be nice to set plays, control pace and not jack up shots just because you're open. But that's what Coach does. You could live with it if we played defense. But obviously, we haven't done that much. Good, bad or otherwise, all I can say is that I've never seen anything like this."

Who has?

What team has a 6-foot-9, 230-pound player like Shawne Williams assigned to stand around and shoot 3s? What team has an athlete like Bill Walker, who's 6-6, 220, programmed to do the same? How can such a haphazard, frenetic brand of basketball -- you constantly hear D'Antoni screaming at players to shoot whenever open, no matter how much time is on the shot clock -- be permitted to continue when your $100 million franchise player just completed his ninth season? When Anthony, your other franchise player, just completed his eighth season? When both are signed for more than $80 million apiece over the next four seasons, yet based on the fatigue and injuries, neither looked as if he was physically conditioned to go another game in this series?

Just as important, what kind of players will you draft if this system remains in place? Knowing D'Antoni won't play guys who don't fit in?

The New York Knicks need a coach -- not a system. Coaches smirk at the luxury of preparing a game plan against it. Even folks like Charles Barkley have characterized D'Antoni's refusal to recognize the futility of his ways as "pure stubbornness."

This city will have plenty of time to debate the future of Donnie Walsh as the president of the franchise, and whether he should stay so he can hire former St. John's star and present ESPN/ABC analyst Mark Jackson -- or whether MSG chairman James Dolan should let Walsh go and offer the coaching job and all of the basketball operations to a man in the last year of his deal, who just finished beating up on the Knicks: Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

What's not open for debate is that it's time for D'Antoni to go.

Lest we want Amare and Melo to expire a helluva lot quicker than their contracts will.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, host of a weekday show for ESPN New York 98.7 and a regular on "SportsCenter" and "First Take."

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

MORE NBA HEADLINES