SI.com caught up with Sports Illustrated senior writer Jack McCallum to discuss the hiring of Mike D'Antoni by the Knicks, who officially introduced their new coach Tuesday.
SI.com: It was widely believed that the Bulls would be a better fit for D'Antoni than the Knicks. Why isn't he the Bulls' coach right now?
McCallum: The D'Antoni camp insists that it never had a formal offer from Chicago. And although I'm almost positive that D'Antoni was Bulls general manager John Paxson's first choice, I'm really not sure he was ever the choice of chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. I don't think Reinsdorf wanted to pay him big money, and I think he wants a more defensive-oriented coach. D'Antoni let it be known that he likes the Bulls' roster, and if the Bulls really wanted him, they never came strong enough, in his opinion, to really get him.
SI.com: The Chicago Tribunequoted Reinsdorf as saying that D'Antoni "misled" the Bulls during their discussions. Reinsdorf also said D'Antoni told him that he didn't want to coach the Knicks. Was D'Antoni taken aback by Reinsdorf's criticism?
McCallum: Nothing really surprises anybody in this coach-recruitment game, but D'Antoni's side certainly didn't think it was fair. The key in all of this was that the Knicks actively recruited D'Antoni. He didn't feel like he was being interviewed and that had to prove himself. And because Phoenix, as well as New York, wanted D'Antoni to make a decision, the time constraint became an issue.
SI.com: What do you think about the notion that D'Antoni is "too nice" to thrive New York?
McCallum: Of all the things that have been said about D'Antoni, the most utterly nonsensical is that he's not tough. He's easygoing and friendly for the most part, but he can be extremely competitive and hard-boiled when he has to be. He'll challenge players and tell them what he expects from them, but he'll do it behind closed doors. That's not to say it won't be a monumental challenge to do that in New York City, both to manage this team and keep some of that stuff behind closed doors.
SI.com: How do you think D'Antoni will adapt to a rebuilding situation after winning at least 54 games in each of the last four seasons with Phoenix?
McCallum:Despite what I said about his competitiveness, D'Antoni completely understands the situation. In fact, one of the things that's always been said about him as a coach is that he had a Steve Nash, and that's why he was successful. He wants to have the chance to show that he can build a team and that he can do it without a player like that.
I compare it to Jerry Sloan in Utah. Everybody thought Sloan would go off and be content to drive his John Deere tractor after John Stockton and Karl Malone left. In point of fact, even before they left, Sloan always told me how much he was looking forward to the challenge of coaching without them. Yes, New York is a little more insane than Salt Lake City, but I still think D'Antoni is looking forward to it.
SI.com: D'Antoni was promoted to Suns head coach in December 2003. A month later, the Suns traded Stephon Marbury to the Knicks. Did they have trouble getting along?
McCallum: I never heard D'Antoni say anything negative about Marbury. And I think he thought neither of them really had the chance to prove themselves in that brief time they spent together. However -- and this is just my opinion -- I don't think Marbury, a shoot-first point guard, is the ideal fit for a D'Antoni system, not after four years with Nash. But whether he remains on the Knicks' roster will have as much or more to do with team president Donnie Walsh than it will with D'Antoni.
SI.com: Will D'Antoni bring in a defensive specialist as his lead assistant?
McCallum: D'Antoni really bristles at the notion that there are all kinds of available defensive gurus. He just doesn't buy it. That said, the assistant situation is unresolved. The only certainty is that his brother, Dan, will be coming with him. Dan D'Antoni is defensive-oriented, but he hasn't been in the league long enough to be a "guru."
SI.com: Does the hiring of D'Antoni mean that the Knicks become a playoff team in the East?
McCallum: God, no. If they get a player at a position they really want in the draft lottery -- my idea would be Memphis point guard Derrick Rose -- maybe they have a chance. But you're talking about a team that won 23 games last season.
SI.com: How negative are D'Antoni's feeling toward Phoenix?
McCallum: What you have to remember about the fracture between D'Antoni and general manager Steve Kerr is that it didn't suddenly start in the playoffs during the Suns' disappointing showing against San Antonio in the first round. It started back as early as November and it's been festering. D'Antoni felt that although he forced the issue, the Suns' management really didn't want him back as coach. Managing partner Robert Sarver and Kerr say that's not true, and they may honestly believe they could've worked it out. But I think they're happy to also be opening a new chapter.
The one thing that D'Antoni's agent, Warren LeGarie, said about the Suns was that they were absolutely scrupulous in not looking for a head coach until D'Antoni told them he was taking the Knicks' job.
SI.com: Who will coach the Suns?
McCallum: I don't know that, but the most interesting name I've seen floated out there is Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis. He's a proven winner who has coached in a proven system, and he has a Phoenix connection since he played for the Suns from 1990-92.
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