The death watch for the career of Mike D'Antoni as head coach of the New York Knicks was put on hold during the height of Linsanity a few short weeks ago. Well, Linsanity is dead with the Knicks having lost five straight and eight of their last 11. D'Antoni's career as the Knicks' coach may also be nearing its death.
A loss by the Knicks on the road Monday against the Chicago Bulls would be six straight for New York. A Knick loss and a Milwaukee Bucks victory over New Jersey would mean the Knicks and Bucks would be tied for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Cleveland is also just one game behind the 18-23 Knicks.
This is not how things were supposed to be for the Knicks.
When Jeremy Lin emerged from what seemed like nowhere to electrify the Knicks -- and seemingly much of the world -- it looked like the Knicks had found the point guard they needed to run their offense and distribute the ball to Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and the other Knick scorers. Experts everywhere figured there would be an adjustment period with Anthony, who sat out the Linsanity phase with injuries, but that by playoff time the Knicks would be a dangerous team capable of making a deep playoff run.
Only now it seems the Knicks will have to scratch and claw just to get to the NBA post-season.
The "Fire D'Antoni" chants reverberated around Madison Square Garden Sunday during a disheartening 106-94 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Knicks, from all accounts, were sloppy, listless and not competitive for most of the game.
D'Antoni seems to have no answers.
You knew Lin could not keep playing like a Hall of Fame point guard forever. Teams have adjusted to him and are taking advantage of his propensity to force the ball into the lane and turn it over.
Getting the right shots for Anthony and Stoudemire with the offense being orchestrated by Lin is only part of the problem.
The Knicks have scorers who need the basketball everywhere -- too many scorers, in fact. Carmelo Anthony was right not to want J.R. Smith, because he simply does not add anything the Knicks did not already have. He's just another guy who needs minutes and doesn't help a team unless he is knocking down shots. This was Glen Grunwald's brainchild, and a bad one.
The problem with the roster isn't just Smith, though. Watch a Knicks game lately and see a different starting lineup every night. Some of that has been due to injuries, but D'Antoni seems completely befuddled as to how to fit these pieces together.
The Knicks don't defend and have surrendered more than 100 points in six of their past seven games. Yet, the team's best defensive guard -- Iman Shumpert -- seems to play less and less while D'Antoni fiddles around with Lin and Baron Davis playing together. Some lineups include Smith and Steve Novak, both shooters, and nothing more, on the floor. How are the Knicks supposed to defend with a lineup on the floor of Davis, Lin, Smith, Novak and Josh Harrellson or Stoudemire?
D'Antoni seems to have a permanently perplexed look on his face during games.
Monday morning, ESPN New York wrote that D'Antoni had begun building the case for his firing all by himself, talking about the team's lack of "spirit," how it seems to "wither" in the face of adversity and how the Knicks have "to play harder."
Those, unfortunately, for D'Antoni, are all signs of a team that has lost its way, lost its will and lost its belief in the coach.
There is some merit to the argument that the Knicks are a jigsaw puzzle gone awry, as pointed out above. They should, however, be better than the listless, clueless team they resemble right now.
D'Antoni's Knicks tenure will -- justifiably -- be over if that does not change soon.