Today’s news that Carmelo Anthony is unhappy with the current situation on the Knicks and Mike D’Antoni has lost control of the team came as a shock only to fans who have not watched a Knicks game in the last two weeks. ‘Melo made it clear Wednesday that he does not want to be traded, which can only mean that the team’s star player (whom it gave up three quality players and Timofey Mosgov get) wants D’Antoni to get the hell out of Dodge — no matter how much ‘Melo plays nice in the press.
Stephen A. Smith said on ESPN this week that D’Antoni, whose four-year contract expires at the end of the season, is a “lame duck coach,” and of course he’s right. But assuming tomorrow’s trade deadline passes without a major deal for the Knicks, owner James Dolan should not wait until the spring — he should fire D’Antoni right now and hand the reins to assistant coach/defensive guru and former Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Woodson.
Why? Because all the intangible BS about “losing control of the clubhouse” and players “liking but not respecting” the coach gets manifested in several very tangible ways, three of which were on display during the Knicks’ 104-99 loss to the Bulls on Tuesday.
1. Defensive Rebounding. The Knicks had 13 more shot attempts than the Bulls and still lost, in large part because of a staggering 22 offensive rebounds by Chicago. At least 6-7 of the rebounds came on three possessions in the fourth quarter, when Bulls got so many rebounds on a single possession that the United Center crowd actually gave them a standing ovation during the possession. This happened more than once in a one- or two-possession game in the fourth quarter. Defensive rebounding, outside of pure athletic ability, is pretty much about fundamentals and effort, both of which tend to slip when a coach isn’t getting through to his players.
2. Free Throw Shooting. Shaq and Dwight Howard notwithstanding, shooting free throws well is a direct result of practicing them a lot — like one of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outsiders a lot. The Knicks are just 17th in the league in FT% this season, and only some of that can be chalked up to Tyson Chandler’s traditionally poor foul shooting and Jeremy Lin’s struggles at the line. Though ‘Melo is shooting about his career of 81% from the line, he’s dipped to below 77% since returning from injury and missed critical foul shots in the team’s five-point loss to the Bucks last week. When free throw shooting starts to slide, a lack of discipline and/or effort is usually the cause.
3. Third-Quarter Woes. In their last five games, the Knicks have been outscored 163-121 in the quarter (32.6-24.2 on average). They’ve been outscored in the third quarter in all five contests, and despite coming out five minutes early during halftime to change things up against Chicago, they still opened the quarter on the short end of a 20-11 run. Not only is the funk a sign of poor halftime adjustments (a coaching failure), but it’s a sign of general lethargy, that the team is unable to summon the competitive spirit after cooling down at the break. That’s a failure of motivation, which is also a failure of coaching.
The rumor for the past few months has been that the Knicks will make a run at Phil Jackson in the offseason, and of course I’m all for that. But in the meantime, this squad has the talent to be a serious playoff threat in the early rounds of the playoffs and could even make Miami or Chicago sweat a little. At the moment, though, the Knicks’ whole is less than the sum of its parts. We don’t know if Woodson can motivate the team to gel together or get recalcitrant players like ‘Melo on board. But we DO know that D’Antoni CAN’T. Isn’t that enough?