Head coach Rick Carlisle of the Dallas Mavericks. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Back in 2008, the Knicks interviewed then-jobless Rick Carlisle for their vacant head coach position. They went with Mike D'Antoni.
If you like high-scoring, run-and-gun, no-defense basketball, you're either a fan of Mike D'Antoni or streetball, or maybe both. But if that's your cup of tea, then you haven't seen much meaningful, winning basketball - at least in the NBA in the past twenty years or so.
When the New York Knicks offered D'Antoni a four year contract on May 10, 2008, which he of course took, they had a very specific plan in mind. For the first two years of his contract, D'Antoni was supposed to make basketball exciting in New York again; put up a lot of points, turn some heads, and make it an attractive place to play again. There was only one player the Knicks were trying to attract - LeBron James - and we all know how that worked out. Now, hindsight is 20/20, and no one knew that James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had colluded to join up in the summer (except them), but the Knicks whiffed on LeBron and were stuck with D'Antoni.
But let's rewind to May of 2008, when the Knicks interviewed many candidates for their head coaching position. One of those was Rick Carlisle. While D'Antoni prepares for the draft, Carlisle is three wins away from leading the Dallas Mavericks to an NBA title. Was Carlisle a no-brainer hire back in 2008? No. But if the Knicks weren't simply trying to score a lot of points to sell seats and attract players for two years down the road, would Carlisle have been the better hire?
Carlisle was victimized by coaching a terrible Indiana Pacers team in the 2006-07 season. That team went 35-47, but if you look at the roster, that's not really shocking. In mid-season, the Pacers completed an eight-player trade with Golden State, mainly sending Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington to the Warriors for Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy. So post trade, the Pacers were led by an injured and aging Jermaine O'Neal, Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy, Jamaal Tinsley and a second-year Danny Granger. Prior to that season, Carlisle led the Pacers to these records:
2003-04: 61-21 - best record in the NBA, and took the Pacers to sixth game of East Finals against his former team the Detroit Pistons, who went on to win the title.
2004-05: 44-38, sixth game of the second round. Don't discount this coaching job. This was the same season of the Malice at the Palace - when Stephen Jackson decided to start unloading on unsuspecting fans (watch the video, Ron Artest is crazy, but the whole thing is Jackson's fault), so there was high drama around the team all season, on top of suspensions.
2005-06: 41-41, lost in first round to New Jersey Nets. No one on the roster played all 82 games. Jermaine O'Neal only played 51 games, and was officially starting to fall apart.
Prior to his Pacers tenure, Carlisle coached two 50-plus win seasons for the Pistons before being dumped for Larry Brown - who he eliminated in the playoffs in his final year in Detroit when Brown was still coaching the Sixers. Good move obviously for the Pistons, as they won a title, but Carlisle was certainly capable of winning with that Pistons team.
D'Antoni did coach the Suns to two 60-plus win seasons, and was unlucky not to get to the Finals in 05-06. But the obvious knock on D'Antoni's teams was always that they didn't play enough defense to get over the hump, and that was true. On top of that, in Phoenix, D'Antoni had the luxury of Steve Nash, the picture-perfect point guard for his offensive style. D'Antoni's coaching record in seasons he didn't have Steve Nash? 138-219.
The fact of the matter is the Knicks could have had Carlisle, and while he may not have put butts in seats before the Knicks got under the cap, he would have instilled fundamental basketball in the Knicks young players, so when they were able to get the likes of Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony the Knicks would have been a solid, formidable, sound team. Instead, Carlisle is in Dallas and is just a few victories from an incredible run that would have taken out Kobe's Lakers, Durant's Thunder and LeBron and Wade's Heat.
Carlisle is defintiely one that got away from the Knicks.