Despite having the talents of Jeremy Lin, center, and Carmelo Anthony, right, on his team, Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni hasn’t met expectations of New York in his 3 1/2 seasons as head coach. On Wednesday, he resigned.
NEW YORK — Maybe there’s a big-name coach out there who can bring out the best in Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks.
Mike D’Antoni decided Wednesday he wasn’t that guy. And so, he resigned, surprising even his bosses.
“It wasn’t just Carmelo,” interim general manager Glen Grunwald said. “I think it was our whole team was not playing up to where we thought they could be and I know Mike was as frustrated as anyone about that and that’s what led him to that decision, that maybe there needs to be a new approach and look at it.”
Assistant Mike Woodson served as interim head coach in Wednesday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks snapped their losing streak with a 121-79 win.
The Knicks’ brief resurgence in a wave of Linsanity last month has been replaced by a six-game losing streak that has dropped them into a tie for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, along of speculation of friction between D’Antoni and his All-Star forward.
D’Antoni ran the Knicks through their morning shootaround, but not before stopping into Grunwald’s office at the Knicks’ training center and telling him and fellow executive Allan Houston of his intentions.
Grunwald called MSG chairman James Dolan, who went up to the Westchester training center for what he called a “very honest” conversation with the D’Antoni. He later said the parting was mutual.
“He clearly felt it was best for the organization if he were not to continue as coach of the team. He did offer to stay,” Dolan said during a press conference. “After a long discussion, we did agree it was best for the organization to have new voice moving forward.”
Dolan made it clear that he believes in the players and still expects a playoff berth. D’Antoni said before the season that the Knicks should be a contender, but they haven’t looked like one in the last 10 games — all since Anthony returned from a groin injury.
New York is just 2-8 in that span, and D’Antoni wasn’t the only one who couldn’t figure out why the Knicks couldn’t win with their best player.
“It’s hard to explain why we have struggled and I don’t really don’t want to get too deep on that,” Woodson said. “I think what’s more important is that we move forward.”
A message was left with D’Antoni seeking comment.
He seemed upbeat after the morning practice and gave no indication of his plans. Asked the last thing he said to players, rookie Iman Shumpert said: “Well, this morning it was, ‘See you tonight.’ So like I said, it’s a shock to us.”
Anthony said after the shootaround he supported the coach “100 percent,” denying a New York Post report that he would like a trade before Thursday’s deadline.
D’Antoni acknowledged the media frenzy around the sinking club but believed the Knicks would handle it.
“You battle against it. I think we’re cohesive enough to battle through this, and we expect to do that,” he said.
His departure comes less than a month after he seemed rejuvenated by the emergence of Jeremy Lin, the undrafted point guard from Harvard who came off the end of the bench and proved to be the player who could properly run his offensive system.
But that was short-lived. Lin has still played well, but the defensive was struggling and D’Antoni said the team wasn’t giving a consistent effort after a home loss to Philadelphia on Sunday.
Woodson, the former Atlanta Hawks coach who was hired this summer, is a longtime friend of Grunwald and former Knicks coach Isiah Thomas. Dolan said Woodson understood he would be evaluated at the end of the season.
Perhaps a call will go out to Phil Jackson or John Calipari. The latter, preparing his top-seeded Wildcats for the NCAA tournament, wrote on Twitter that he was committed to Kentucky and reaffirmed that commitment at a press conference in Louisville.
“Every job that’s open, including high school jobs and AAU jobs, my name is mentioned,” he said. “But I just wanted to say I have a great job. The best in this profession.”
Never able to duplicate his success in Phoenix, D’Antoni was headed to his third losing season since signing a $24 million, four-year contract in 2008 that made him one of the NBA’s highest-paid coaches. He never won a playoff game in New York, where the Knicks were focused on the future during his first two years and made numerous changes that didn’t give him much of a chance to compete.
But they spent big this season, bringing in Tyson Chandler to play between Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, while adding players such as Baron Davis and JR Smith during the season.
New York returned to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2004 but lost to the Boston Celtics in the first round. In the offseason, the Knicks radically changed the team, waiving point guard Chauncey Billups through the amnesty clause to free up salary cap space to sign Chandler. They sputtered through January while trying three point guards to replace him.
D’Antoni finally turned to Lin on Feb. 4 and the Knicks took off, winning seven games in a row and looking like a threat to the top teams in the East. But it all came to a halt when Anthony returned, reinforcing the notion that his desire to get the ball in isolation didn’t fit in D’Antoni’s offense that focused on pick-and-rolls and quick ball movement.
D’Antoni averaged 58 wins in four full seasons in Phoenix before he was hired to replace Isiah Thomas on May 13, 2008, walking right into a two-year rebuilding plan with an eye toward clearing salary cap space for the summer of 2010.
D’Antoni always supported the plan, even though it came at the cost of his won-loss record. He was 267-172 when he arrived in New York but went 121-167 with the Knicks. Even Grunwald said he thought it had been a “rough go” of it for D’Antoni.
“We had a lot of changes, and a short season and all that stuff about the lockout, so it was a tough, tough thing to have a coach deal with all that over the course of four years,” Grunwald said.
Assistant coaches Dan D’Antoni, Mike’s brother, and Phil Weber also departed.
New York finished in the top 10 in scoring in each of D’Antoni’s first three seasons while racking up the three highest 3-pointer totals in team history. But his offense-first style was never a natural fit in New York, where fans craved the hard-nosed, defense-first approach of the 1990s teams of Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason and John Starks. Worse for D’Antoni, he lost his biggest backer in the front office when team president Donnie Walsh opted not to return after last season.
D’Antoni became a coaching star in Phoenix, reaching two Western Conference finals. He won a Coach of the Year award and was an assistant coach to Mike Krzyzewski with the U.S. national team.
He seemed to have the Knicks on the rise last season after landing Stoudemire. But the Knicks didn’t stop there, trading four of their top six players to acquire Anthony from Denver last February before the trade deadline.
The high price, paid when Dolan reportedly overruled Walsh, put enormous pressure on D’Antoni and Anthony to make it work, and they never really could. Anthony was shooting a career-low 40 percent and at times his frustration was evident. It was after Monday’s loss in Chicago.
Woodson, who favors the isolation offense that Anthony has thrived in, said there would be some changes, but didn’t elaborate. Dolan expects them to pay off.
“The season is not over and this team can still be the team that our fans hope it can be,” he said.