The Knicks finally made the transition most people were expecting since the start of the 2011-12 season when they accepted the abrupt resignation of head coach Mike D’Antoni.
The veteran coach decided to call it quits when he came to a “mutually agreed decision” prior to the team’s Wednesday morning shootaround. D’Antoni, who went 121-167 during his three-plus seasons in New York, wasn’t made available for comment as the Knicks prepared to face the Trail Blazers Wednesday night.
His former bosses, team owner James Dolan and team president Glen Grunwald, addressed the media and tried their best to make it seem like this was all D’Antoni’s idea. The duo pumped up the now-fallen coach as an unselfish team player who decided to fall on his own sword. They also made it a point to tell all that superstar Carmelo Anthony had nothing to do with D’Antoni now being unemployed.
“It wasn’t just Carmelo. It was the whole team not playing up to where we wanted to be. Maybe there needed to be a new approach,” said Grunwald, who said the move was a total shock. “There was no called meeting. It was a surprise this morning when Mike came to this decision and would no longer coach the Knicks.”
Dolan, who read a prepared statement and declined to answer questions afterwards, tried his best to back up Grunwald’s assertions that it was a surprise, but sounded as if the team had no desire to let the coach finish out his lame-duck tenure.
“This was not an event that was planned in any way. It just happened,” said Dolan. “[D’Antoni] felt it was for the best for the organization if he was not to coach the team. … He offered to stay, but after a long discussion we agreed it was for the best that he didn’t coach the team.”
Now leading the circus is assistant coach Mike Woodson. Thought by many to be the heir for D’Antoni upon being hired last August, Woodson has the task of getting the sliding Knicks back into playoff contention during the team’s final 24 games.
Woodson, who coached the Hawks from 2004-10 and led them to the playoffs from 2008-10, said he still believes the Knicks can make a push.
“There’s still a lot at stake here that needs to be done,” Woodson said. “Expectations are still high and that’s the only way it should be. We still have a great opportunity to do something special and I’ll hold those guys accountable to it.”
One guy who wasn’t made accountable for media obligations was Anthony. The superstar reportedly had it in for D’Antoni ever since the trade for the star last February. D’Antoni preached an offense of ball movement, everyone touching the ball and everyone getting the green light to shoot. Anthony, however, is a ball-dominant swingman who likes isolations and controlling the tempo in his own way. It was a matchup brewed for disaster, which only bubbled with contention during the recent six-game slide. The tipping point in the star-coach relationship apparently blew up during Linsanity and the team’s winning streak — all while Anthony sat out with injury.
D’Antoni was never a fan of the Anthony trade to begin with, so it came as no surprise when the coach proposed a Anthony for Deron Williams trade as recently as a week ago, according to TNT’s David Aldridge. Dolan nixed that idea, however, as it was Dolan who brought Anthony over from Denver in the first place.
Obviously the superstar won this tug-of-war, which means Woodson should be leery of trying to get Anthony to conform too much to his defensive style, unless incur the same wrath that D’Antoni felt. That isn’t speculation because Dolan already put Woodson’s feet to the fire when he basically put the interim coach on notice, before Woodson even coached a game.
“When we all talked this morning we agreed he [Woodson] would take over for the rest of the season, [but] he understands that he will be reevaluated at the end of the season,” Dolan said. “I believe in our players and their talent and their commitment to get this right. I believe we have a lot of talent and the right characters to succeed. … I understand it’s been a tough stretch, but the season is not over. This team can still be the team that everyone hopes they can be.”
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.