March 22, 2010
This has to be Mike D'Antoni's low point. This has to be as bad as it gets. Has to be. Otherwise, he's got some ‘splainin' to do.
He's tried before, mind you. With the "‘splainin'." D'Antoni has never been shy about going on record regarding why, exactly, he's not playing this guy, didn't play this guy, won't play this guy or any potential combination of the myriad things the Knicks coach can or did do to his various guys. He's been vague, he's been wrong, he's been petty, he's been right, he's been churlish and he's been charming in his explanations.
But this has to be the end of it. A month left in the season, the Knicks falling short of the playoffs, the last year of the Great Do-Over, and with Jordan Hill(notes) now having passed through town - this has to be it. OK, April 6 might have to be the end of it. That's the day Nate Robinson(notes) and the Celtics pass through New York. But that has to be the end of it. It has to be D'Antoni's low point. The last chance anyone has to question him.
We're allowed to question him today because D'Antoni pulled off that right/wrong/jerk-ish/petty thing yesterday while discussing the limited playing time he gave Jordan Hill in the rookie forward's first four months with the Knicks. D'Antoni made a point to clarify something that has obviously been getting to him, the idea that he doesn't play rookies, and needlessly decided to qualify that on record with "I don't play bad rookies." Classy. Not wrong, but not right, either.
Hill, who was traded to Houston last month as a throw-in needed to convince the Rockets to take the last year of Jared Jeffries'(notes) contract, was a pretty bad rookie under D'Antoni. He took bad shots, didn't rebound or board much to make up for that, was a terrible defender and clearly didn't know where he was supposed to be on the court on both sides of the ball. He was a bad rookie.
But why do this, D'Antoni? What's the point? Allowing yourself to feel better about the way you handled a player who might be a seven-man rotation guy for the next 10 years ... at best? How do these clarifications help in any way?
Clearly struck with what he was saying, D'Antoni went on to point out that Hill was caught in a rotation crunch with Jeffries, Al Harrington(notes), Danilo Gallinari(notes), David Lee(notes) and even "[Darko] Milicic for a while." Sure. Now it's a numbers thing. You weren't wrong in calling Jordan Hill a bad rookie, Mike, now you're looking worse for trying to qualify the qualification. To clarify what was pretty clear from the get-go, in about 10 1/2 minutes per game.
For every person you've sat, Mike (if you don't mind the shift to the second person), it's been pretty clear. Stephon Marbury(notes) was a team-killing exercise in $15 sneakers. Eddy Curry(notes) hurts you on both ends, in any shape. Nate Robinson's a kid, even at 25 years old. We get it. What we don't get is your way of making everything right and the way you go from one extreme (Nate Rob can't be seen, Nate Rob's winnin' the game; Steph is sent away, Steph is asked to start) to the other.
And this has to be the end of what we don't get.
Because you left Phoenix with a whiff that didn't quite suit you. You weren't happy with what Steve Kerr did to your team and you couldn't wait to get out of there after the 2007-08 season. And despite being given teams that were designed to lose, designed to bide time until 2010, with all the (rightful) excuses for 29-53 that could possibly be fostered, you still ran out of excuses. Early. You still could have run it better.
You've got a few weeks left of this. Thirteen games. Then you're going to be asked to do what you nearly did with the Suns. You're going to be given what will be a team with a championship payroll. Even if it's just overpaying Joe Johnson(notes) and extending David Lee, plus a few parts, a few runners, a few finishers, doesn't matter. Your time starts in 2010-11, and this nonsense? This junk that Knick fans have had to put up with over the last few years? And the clarifications that followed? They have to go.
Because people are doubting you. They're doubting the way you coach, they're doubting the way you handle players of any type (to say nothing of the good or bad versions of those types), and with Steve Nash(notes) out pushing a team full of 90-year-olds and Robin Lopez(notes) on a 52-win pace in a West that's harder than ever, they're wondering what it is, exactly, that you do.
And that's always going to be the case in the NBA. Because, for reasons that are clearly wrong in many, many ways, people assume that a team that works well offensively but falls short defensively must be working that way due to a lack of effort from both the coaching staff and the players involved.
Scott Skiles can be thought of as a taskmaster for tossing out a team that's third in defense and 23rd in offense, but when you rolled out a squad that was first in offense and 16th (2005), 13th (2006), 16th (2007) and 18th (2008) in defense, you were Mr. Laissez-Faire. And you weren't. That was wrong.
And Jordan Hill was a bad rookie. And Stephon Marbury's a bad teammate. And Nate Robinson's a bad influence. And Eddy Curry's a bad player. Darko Milicic(notes) has a bad mustache, milk was a bad choice. You're not wrong in any of these things.
But the way you've handled these things? It leaves room for doubt. And the vacation, as hellish and as Chris Duhon(notes)-driven as it's been, ends in a month. Then the expectations hit. Mixed with those swirling doubts? We could have a problem.
OK, it's New York. There's always going to be a problem, especially with all those back pages to fill up.
But this line of doubt? It has to become part of your back story. Starting, well, right about now.