On March 8, 1996 offensive genius Don Nelson resigned as Knicks head coach and was replaced by scrappy assistant Jeff Van Gundy. Sixteen years later, Mike D'Antoni resigned only to be replaced by defensively oriented coach Mike Woodson? Is Woodson the long term solution or is the Knicks permanent coach also nearby?
Carmelo Anthony has been extremely this season but did anybody realize he could brew intense infighting within the organization more efficiently than he could score on the hardwood? Just one year after his arrival Anthony has played so far below expectations that trade rumors began began popping up as the trade deadline nears. At the same time conflicting reports of Anthony wanting D’Antoni to get fired have been reported all week.
If you were planning on watching the Civil-War era film, John Carter last weekend in IMAX you could have saved your money and watched the Knicks tragic civil war play out. As of today, you can roll the credits on the D’Antoni era because Carmelo Anthony won the war after Mike D’Antoni unexpectedly resigned as head coach.
D’Antoni and Carmelo entered this season on the same page but as the season progressed it became increasingly apparent that only one would survive with Knicks employment intact. It was obvious who would emerge victorious. D’Antoni is the NBA’s equivalent to a Run & Shoot NFL offensive coordinator. His teams are fun to watch but in the end he’s a one-trick pony that struggles to make adjustments on the fly and couldn’t find the same success without his once in a generation point guard, Steve Nash. More importantly he began the season in the final year of his contract while Anthony is in the middle of a three-year $65 million deal.
Yes, Anthony has struggled but there’s no explanation as to why an All-Star that was the pseudo-MVP of the Beijing and that won 50 games regularly as the Denver Nuggets number one scoring option should be an albatross on a sub-.500 Knicks team. Olympics. The blame had to fall on their lame duck head coach.
After taking over as head coach, Nelson began phasing out Patrick Ewing in his up-tempo offense. Conversely, Anthony is averaging just 40% from the field, shooting a career-low 40% from the field and has spent crucial moments in games planted firmly on the bench. The 1996 Knicks front office chose the 33-year old Ewing over Nelson. On March 8, 1996, Nelson resigned despite a 35-24 record. He thought the team would be better off pursuing free agent-to-be, Shaquille O'Neal and didn't think they could win a title with Ewing.
Besides hoping D'Antoni wasn't as right about Carmelo as Nelson was about Ewing, the other question is who will be the Knicks long-term head coach?
Rick Adelman would have been a perfect replacement last summer but he’s too busy orchestrating an exciting young nucleus in Minnesota. Meanwhile, the equally grey haired Phil Jackson is enjoying retirement in Montana while discussing 18th century American Literature over the phone with Bill Walton.
Former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan reportedly has interest in the Knicks hot seat but he’d probably become distracted by finding an accurate sightline into Deron Williams’ potential Brooklyn condo without obstruction than he is with coddling the Knicks personalities. Plus, the Knicks Larry Brown experiment likely turned Dolan off to hiring any aging coaching legends who have a propensity for standing up to authority. Let’s not forget how Sloan’s 25-year coaching stint with the Jazz ended.
Nelson’s replacement during the 1996 NBA season was a scrappy defensive assistant named Jeff Van Gundy. He wasn't too shabby. At the time of his announcement, D’Antoni’s "defensive coach" Mike Woodson has been named interim head coach. Woodson improved the dismal Atlanta Hawks record in every single season he was head coach but he won’t have long to tryout for the position permanently. In his six seasons as Hawks head coach he sculpted a 13-win lottery disaster into a 53-win Eastern Conference contender. Unfortunately, he was not retained partly because of squabbles with star forward Josh Smith. Sound familiar?
He will have his first chance tonight against the slumping Portland Trailblazers who are experiencing a mutiny of their own. While a contingent of Trailblazers players may want Nate McMillan fired he is still considered one of the brightest young coaches in the league and despite being only 47-years old he already has 11 years of head coaching ability under his belt. However, he is on the verge of becoming another victim of the Blazers unfortunate circumstances. If you can see where I’m going with this, I can already hear the deafening boos of disapproval and silent nods on both sides.
His Blazers were a rising force in the West until serious knee injuries halted the careers of Brandon Roy and Greg Oden. Most importantly, he has a Popavich-like ability to coach any style. While he was perceived as a half-court coach for much of his career, this season he adjusted to his personnel by quickening the Blazers offensive pace and had them competing with the league’s elite for the first month of the season.
After the Blazers hot start, McMillan shortened rotation has taken its toll and his starters have begun to wear down. McMillan won’t have that problem with the Knicks. New York’s issue may be the complete opposite as the bench has outplayed the starters in the fourth quarter and reportedly in practice. However, he's still a great head coach whom the Knicks should buy into while his stock is low.
I’m not so sure the Knicks can compete for an NBA championship with Carmelo Anthony but he deserves another crack at it next season under the leadership of a new coach. If the Trailblazers are foolish enough to let their players declare mutiny and boot McMillan, the Knicks should be more than willing to put him in charge of their roster. Mike Woodson better come with is best game plan tonight because across the scorer’s table is a serious candidate for the Knicks head coaching job. Tryouts begin tonight. Bring your clipboards.