It is widely thought that Mike D'Antoni wanted nothing to do with the trade 13 months ago that brought Carmelo Anthony to New York, and that Knicks owner James Dolan forced the deal upon D'Antoni and president Donnie Walsh.
In fact, D'Antoni was ambivalent about the blockbuster trade that likely wound up forcing him to resign Wednesday in his fourth year as coach of the Knicks.
He understood that the trade was a necessary move for the Knicks, who dealt a quartet of role players to the Nuggets for Anthony, a four-time All-NBA forward. "You've got to make that deal," D'Antoni told a friend near the end of last season. "If you're a fan of the Knicks then you should be happy with that trade and where the franchise is going. It may not be good for me personally, but it's good for the Knicks."
He was right on both counts. The Knicks now have a talented core of assets in Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Jeremy Lin. But the arrival of Anthony was not good for D'Antoni, whose floor-spacing offense is based on ball-movement and teamwork that has consistently brought out the best in his players, whether it's been Steve Nash, Stoudemire or Lin. Looking back on D'Antoni's last nine years in New York and Phoenix, a strong case can be made that Anthony is the only skilled talent who failed to improve his value while playing more than a half-season for D'Antoni.
The failure of Anthony and D'Antoni to work together leaves Anthony at a crossroad in his career. This is his ninth NBA season, he has won no more than two playoff series, and the Nuggets have gone 42-26 since trading him -- while the Knicks have gone 32-38 overall since acquiring him. Fair or not, Anthony will be the fall guy now that D'Antoni is gone. If the Knicks are unable to win next season, then Anthony will be the leading candidate to be moved, because Stoudemire and Chandler are unlikely to return equal value in a trade.
D'Antoni, on the other hand, promises to be in high demand at the end of this season. He should become an obvious candidate to take over the Wizards, where his offense would surely bring out the best in John Wall, the frustrated point guard who was the No. 1 pick overall in 2010. The absence of a strong point guard in New York was a killer for D'Antoni, who often told friends that he would have accepted the Bulls' offer to become head coach in 2008 if he had known they were going to win the lottery and the rights to Derrick Rose.
At that time, D'Antoni was the hottest coach on the market following four straight years of 54-or-more wins in Phoenix. For the first two years in New York, he was charged with a roster that was being dismantled, as the contracts of Zach Randolph, Jamal Crawford and other expensive talents were unloaded in order to create free-agent room for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and/or Chris Bosh. The Knicks struck out on all of their main targets before settling for Stoudemire, who received a max offer from no other team. In the opening months of his first season in New York with D'Antoni, Stoudemire was outplaying his rival free agents to become an early MVP candidate.
New Yorkers may decry his 121-167 record with the Knicks, but when did D'Antoni have a chance to win in New York? There are complaints that the Knicks gave up too much in the trade for Anthony, but that's only because the value of the players sent to Denver had been inflated by D'Antoni. Point guard Raymond Felton looked like an All-Star while playing for D'Antoni, but he has since been moved onto Portland, where he is struggling to keep his starting job. The shooting percentage and production of Wilson Chandler dropped last season after he moved to Denver; the Nuggets have gone 24-19 this year while he's been in China. Timofey Mozgov is averaging 5.7 points and 4.6 rebounds in 17.0 minutes this season as a starter for the Nuggets. Danilo Gallinari is the only asset in the Anthony trade who has maintained the level of play he showed in New York for D'Antoni.
D'Antoni endorsed the trade for Anthony because he understood the Knicks were receiving more talent than they were giving up. He also understood that he may have neither the time nor the juice, being a lame-duck coach, to compel Anthony to space the floor and move the ball alongside Stoudemire, Lin and Chandler.
Over the last two seasons (including the playoffs) D'Antoni was 26-37 in games played by Anthony, and 34-31 without him.
Based on his record for maximizing the abilities of everyone from Nash to Boris Diaw to Lin, D'Antoni will coach again. If you want to raise the value of your players, entertain your fans and go deep in the playoffs (as D'Antoni was 5-1 in series against Western teams other than the Spurs, who were winning championships every other year during the Suns' run), then D'Antoni will be at the top of your list.
Reports out of New York insist that the Knicks players want a disciplinarian coach who will hold them accountable. They should ask themselves two questions: Will owner James Dolan empower the next coach with that authority? And if the next coach does have the authority to make changes, then how many of the current players will he view as winners?