The Knicks, Carmelo, D’Antoni, and being set up for success vs. failure


It’s panic time in New York.

Not across the board, mind you. There are always those that seek calmer seas, that urge for patience, that understand that all teams go through winning and losing streaks, and just because times are rough it does not mean you throw out the mustached baby with the What-Toney-Dougalas-Do bathwater. But in general? Yeah, it’s a four-alarm, women-and-Shumperts-first nightmare scenario down at ol’ MSG. The Knicks are losing, and worse, looking like a trainwreck while losing, despite the star power, despite the pay roll, despite the big market, and someone’s got to pay.

Can’t blame Amar’e, the problems go beyond him, and it’s hard to say he’s getting opportunities and blowing them. Can’t blame Chandler, he is what he is, and is doing what he was brought in to do. Can’t blame Toney Douglas, it’s not like anyone thought he was anything other than Toney Douglas. And you definitely can’t blame Melo. Because Melo is the star New York demands, Melo scores a lot of points, and Knicks fans had to defend the trade far too much to pin anything on the All-Star icon.

So naturally, it’s Mike D’Antoni’s fault.


My wife worked at Starbucks for several years when she was younger, and soulless, uniqueness-crushing, overpaid-beans corporate overlords that you may think they are, they treat their employees fairly well for service industry. One of the things she took away from that experience was a tenet they use with their employees, the idea of being set up for success. It’s nothing new or original, it’s an old business edict that has been passed down and filtered (wocka-wocka-wocka) for the brewing behemoth. But my wife liked the idea so much she’s kept it with her throughout her career and it’s rubbed off on me as well. The concept is simple. You have to put people in a position that sets them up to use their talents and strengths to succeed, not place them into a set of conditions conducive to failure and hope they muscle through it. There are challenges in any situation, but you have to be given the tools and opportunity to thrive, not dropped into the ocean without a life vest and told to make your way to Pearl Harbor, good luck.

The Knicks didn’t so much drop D’Antoni in the water, as they asked him to do what he does best, climb mountains, gave him a bunch of climbing gear, rations, cold weather clothes and all the technology needed to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro and then when he reached the tree line, kidnapped him, and airlifted him and all his equipment to the desert, then said “Now, survive for a month and build an oasis using what you have. What? Adapt to your environment!”

D’Antoni’s a mountain climber. He’s not a desert survivor. He wants to reach the summit, not build Burning Man. And the result is a disaster that sets him up perfectly for failure.

Numbers are tricky. I read the other day that the Knicks have a better record at this point in the season than they did last year, with a worse overall roster. And if that’s the case, why is there so much panic? How can we pin the Knicks’ troubles on the roster and not D’Antoni if he had a better team last year and did less with them? That’s when the word “feel” comes into play. I’m all for advanced metrics. I’m for analysis and point differential and PER and Synergy and taking every single metric you can use to evaluate players and teams and combining that with as much anecdotal information as you can get. But there are times when you need to trust the numbers and times when you need to trust the eyes and discerning between the two is not so much as an art as it is trying to harness magic with an erector set.

All that said, the Knicks last year at this time were a much better team than what is being thrown out on the Garden floor each night.

If you’re building a Mike D’Antoni team, one that can win, with everything we know about him, here’s essentially what you need. Point guard with pure passing skills and a decent jumper. He doesn’t have to be Nash’s lights out 50-40-90 from the field, because D’Antoni’s offense is going to bump his numbers. We’ve seen it across the board over the years. You want a power forward who understands the pick and roll, who can operate from the elbow. You want a wing who can play shooting guard or small forward, and a forward who can play either spot. You want passers, but you want that point guard to be the primary ball-handler and creator. You need playmakers, because the entire system is built on options and decision making. What you do not want is a ball-stopper. And if you have a power forward who is very much the tip of the spear and not a great passer? You want someone who’s going to create opportunities for him without letting him swallow up usage like Godzilla.

“But what about defense?” you cry. “D’Antoni never cares about defense!” That riddle’s more complicated than it seems because while D’Antoni’s system never places defense first in front of offense, a large part of the problems involves the athletic bigs leaking out in transition after a miss to enable the fast break instead of crashing the boards. The focus on creating fast break opportunities diminishes the defense. But yeah, you’re going to want to bring in two key defensive proponents. A wing defender who can lock down the best perimeter weapon, and, essentially, Tyson Chandler. You want a big who can run the floor but is also a beast down low.

You want to share the ball. You want to light up the scoreboard. You want to play smart, efficient, and fast.

And D’Antoni had that team, or at least the foundation of that team.

Then, depending on who you believe, Isiah Thomas got involved, or James Dolan micromanaged.

The reality of Isiah Thomas’ continued involvement in the Knicks franchise is probably somewhere between two extremes. On one side, there are those that say he occasionally advises, remains a close friend of Dolan’s, and isn’t nearly the force he’s made out to be. On the other, he’s the one hosting stars at multiple events and at FIU over the summer, the one who constantly comments on players and who, according to multiple reports, is who pushed the Knicks into giving up the King’s ransom for Anthony. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

But it’s nearly impossible to believe that this was what D’Antoni wanted. He’s made the requisite comments of support, just as he did in Phoenix when Steve Kerr made the move to trade Shawn Marion for Shaq. Six months later, D’Antoni was gone. And just like then, the pressure and blame for the team losing has turned not on the roster gutting that was made in order to acquire an elite scorer, a genius in ISO, a big time player and a decent rebounder who is a horrid fit for D’antoni’s system has been placed on D’Antoni.

This isn’t to say Anthony could never work under D’Antoni. Using him as the tip of the spear along with Amar’e Stoudemire would work fine. As long as there was a single guard to make it work. A single point guard to initiate the offense, to run the pick and roll, to make the defense respect the ball handler, to run the offense. There isn’t. And because of the gap between Melo and everyone else, there’s deferral. “Get the ball to Melo and let him work.” That’s the polar opposite of everything that has made D’Antoni successful in the past.

The response is usually that the coach needs to adapt to his personnel. Two problems with this. One, the Knicks have. They play slow. They play in a half-court set. They run the ball through Anthony. D’Antoni has done what should be prescribed if you had Anthony, Stoudemire and a bunch of scrubs along with non-offense Chandler. The problem is that team is not built to succeed. The only system that fits this particular team? The triangle. I’ve never been a proponent of the triangle. It’s never succeeded without Phil Jackson. It’s never succeeded without Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, two singular once-in-a-lifetime talents who also had no problem breaking the offense in tiny pieces when they wanted to. But Anthony is just the player to do just that. Chandler low, Stoudemire at the elbow, Melo on the perimeter. It fits snugly. And yet the only man that can run it is staring at moose in Montana and enjoying a heaping helping of peyote. (Not really, but that’s how you prefer to envision Phil, isn’t it?)

The other popular line of thought is that D’Antoni simply isn’t successful. But the Suns were a perennial 50-win team with D’Antoni running the team he wanted, when he was set up for success. You can point to Steve Nash all you want, but Nash wasn’t Nash in Dallas. It was a relationship that transformed the Suns, between personnel and D’Antoni, and D’Antoni was as involved as anyone in building the roster. Right on down to making players like Boris Diaw into key cogs.

So what’s the answer for New York? Baron Davis could help. For all the problems with Davis, he posted 8.7 assists per 36 minutes last year on a dreadful Cleveland club and a 40+% assist rate. Iman Shumpert’s development will help. More time will help. And the Knicks won’t be this bad continually. The Wizards, for example, got a win this week and then followed it up with a competitive showing against Denver. The Knicks will have a run.

But as the Knicks family begins to etch out D’Antoni’s tombstone, the Denver Nuggets enter town Saturday night as the kind of team D’Anoni would do wonders with. The Nuggets had a wealth of options after the trade, and fine-tuned it to what was best for George Karl. They set up Karl to succeed and the returns are impressive. Meanwhile, look at what’s happened since the trade. An uninspiring finish to the season. A dreadful sweep to the Celtics. Donnie Walsh bailing. And D’Antoni left to answer for decisions he didn’t make. Consider the following from the New York Post:

“They traded chemistry for celebrity,’’ one Walsh confidant said. “It wasn’t a basketball trade.’’

“I just miss the energy and free-spirited way the team played,’’ one person close to Walsh said of the pre-Melo Knicks. “On any given night, it was anyone’s game to be hot.’’

via Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni should not be fired over team’s 6-9 start and their ugly loss to the woeful Milwaukee Bucks –


That’s the team that D’Antoni wanted to coach, that he needed to coach. That roster, even minus a few players but with Chandler added, would not be here. We evaluate trades in terms of winners and losers, even though the returns take time to sort out and it’s all dependent on what direction the teams are headed. But a few things are clear as we head into Saturday night’s visit of the Nuggets to MSG.

Carmelo Anthony won, getting what he wanted and none of the scorn LeBron James took on.

And Mike D’Antoni lost the worst thing for someone in a work environment. He lost being set up to succeed.

Jeff Hornacek says he wants to know future with Knicks, doesn’t

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A couple months ago, Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said he believed he had the backing of president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry.

Now, Hornacek isn’t being quite so presumptuous.

Hornacek, via Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

“At the end of the season I’m sure we’ll sit down with (president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry) and figure out what we’re doing,” said Hornacek, whose two-season coaching record with the Knicks fell to 55-96 following Thursday’s loss to the Sixers. “As a coach you’d like to know if you’re going to be here next year. But our job right now is take the guys that we have on this team and try to get them better.”

Hornacek then acknowledged that the conversation with the front office about his future has not yet happened.

The Suns fired two of Hornacek’s assistants in 2015 then fired Hornacek about a month later. He knows what the writing on the wall looks like.

And there’s plenty of writing on the wall in New York, even if the Knicks aren’t firing shots across Hornacek’s bow quite so aggressively.

The since-ousted Phil Jackson hired Hornacek. Most executives in Mills’ position want to hire their own coach.

Notice how hard Hornacek is trying to frame this Knicks season as about player development, not their record (which, incidentally, is the correct way to view it). But here’s betting Mills uses Hornacek’s dismal record as cover to fire him.

That isn’t exactly fair to Hornacek, but he’s also the one who started Jarrett Jack at point guard most of the season. Hornacek tried to win with a flawed roster and didn’t. Hornacek’s player-development credentials are hardly impeccable, either. Coaches in his position usually take the fall.

There’s still a chance the end-of-season conversation leads to the Knicks keeping Hornacek. But, at this point, that’d be surprising.

Likely lottery pick Trae Young leaving Oklahoma for NBA draft

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LeBron James said Trae Young better go pro.

The freshman Oklahoma point guard listened.

Young, as told to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I’ve been preparing most of my life to join the NBA, and that time has come for me now: After an unforgettable year at the University of Oklahoma, I will enter the June NBA draft and fully immerse myself in the pursuit of a pro basketball career.

Young is one of the NBA draft’s most polarizing prospects. He should still go in the lottery, but where will likely depend on the order of teams.

His fans see him as the next Stephen Curry, and Young has certainly shown flashes. He handled a huge load of the Sooners’ offense, because he was comfortable pulling up for deep 3-pointers and passing out of the pick-and-roll.

But he can be too sloppy with the ball, and NBA defenses will take away some of the simpler passes he made with great consistency at Oklahoma.

There’s also concern about his diminutive 6-foot-2 frame, especially defensively. If Young isn’t a lights-out shooter, that deficiency becomes a much bigger concern.

Young made 41% of his 3-pointers through December then just 33% this calendar year. His overall percentage – 36% – is still strong, especially coupled with an 86% mark on free throws. But he’s not the sure thing from outside he appeared to be when perception took hold.

Young’s reputation is probably ahead of his ability. But that can be true right now, and the 19-year-old could still have an NBA career worthy of a very high pick.

Reports: Stephen Curry targeting Friday return to Warriors

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For the second half of Monday’s loss to the Spurs, the Warriors were without Kevin Durant (ribs), Stephen Curry (ankle), and Klay Thompson (thumb), and Draymond Green (hip contusion) — all four All-Stars sidelined with injuries.

That’s about to change — Curry is expected back Friday night against Atlanta. Chris Haynes of ESPN was first with the story, and Monty Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area fills us in with the details.

Curry could, however, return as soon as Friday when the Atlanta Hawks visit Oracle Arena, multiple sources disclosed to NBC Sports Bay Area on Monday night. ESPN, citing league sources, was first to report the team’s plan.

The two-time MVP’s right ankle is scheduled to be re-evaluated Tuesday, after which time a firm return date is expected.

Curry was physically able to play — and actually pushed to return — last weekend, according to league sources. But the Warriors, looking ahead to the playoffs and seeing diminished value in the remaining regular-season games, opted to continue rehabilitation in hopes of maximizing support for the area around his ankle.

If this were the playoffs, Curry would have been back three games ago. However, the Warriors have all but conceded the No. 1 seed to the Rockets and the focus now is on getting Curry and the other All-Stars back and healthy for another deep playoff run.

Curry has played at a first-team All-NBA level when healthy this season, averaging 26.3 points and 6.2 assists per game, shooting 42.4 percent from three. The other three All-Stars are needed for the Warriors to be the team to beat in the NBA, however, Curry is the guy the system was built around and they need him right. It’s his gravity to draw defenders out — whether he has the ball or not — that opens up everything in the offense. When Curry is on the court, the Warriors offense is 14 points per 100 possessions better this season, and when he sits their offense tends to be about league average.

The Warriors expect to have all their stars healthy are ready for the postseason, but it’s something to watch as we move through the final weeks of the season.

Three Things to Know: Kevin Love is back, but it’s still all about LeBron in Cleveland

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Kevin Love returns, but it’s still LeBron James’ night in Cavaliers win. Kevin Love is back — and he didn’t look bad considering the time off. Love had 18 points on 5-of-13 shooting, and seven rebounds (two offensive), but most importantly he was aggressive on the glass and worked hard on defense. He had four assists and the Cavaliers offense is just more dynamic with him because of his passing and ability to space the floor.

That said, Love needs to work on his form getting back on defense.

Love’s return is nice and all, but Cleveland goes as LeBron James goes — and he went off on Milwaukee. He always seems to get up for Giannis Antetokounmpo the Bucks. LeBron had 40 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists — all while guarded by Antetokounmpo (one of the leagues better defensive forwards because of his length). Take a moment on that: That’s three triple-doubles in four games, and LeBron became the third-oldest NBA player to have a 40-point triple double (Hall of Famers Larry Bird and Elgin Baylor are the two ahead of him). What LeBron has done this season at age 33, with 15 seasons of miles on him, is stunning.

The win has the Cavaliers back as the three seed in the East.

Antetokounmpo had a good night of his own, 37 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, but the Bucks continue to stumble, losing 8-of-12. Milwaukee appears destined for the eight seed in the East and a trip to Toronto to start the postseason.

2) Tyronn Lue is out as Cavaliers coach for “a while” in an effort to get control of health issues. There are things — frankly, a lot of things — more important than NBA basketball. Health is certainly one of them — for an NBA coach the long hours, stress, travel, eating on the go, all combine to form a far from a healthy lifestyle.

All of that caught up with the Cavaliers’ Tyronn Lue this season, who is stepping away from the team temporarily to get control of health issues.

“After many conversations with our doctors and Koby (Altman, Cavs GM) and much thought given to what is best for the team and my health, I need to step back from coaching for the time being and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation from which to coach for the rest of the season,” Lue said in a statement.

“I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a battery of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is.”

That’s scary (and the reports from people close to the team are worse — like coughing up blood worse). Reports out of Cleveland are that Lue will return before the playoffs, in fact, he’d like to be back on the sidelines in a week, but someone needs to slow his roll a little. Lue needs to prioritize himself and his health above a playoff run. Steve Clifford, the Charlotte coach to missed 21 games this season to get a handle on severe headaches and issues related to sleep deprivation, and Clifford has already reached out to Lue and the pair are expected to talk. That is a good start.

As for what happens to the Cavaliers while Lue is out… probably not that much. Assistant coach Larry Drew takes over, but this team’s systems and coverages are not about to change. The Cavaliers are who they are, the challenge is integrating all the new bodies — that includes Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and the rest coming off injuries — and to get some cohesion before the playoffs start. Right now, the Cavaliers are nowhere near that on the defensive end, and they don’t have a lot of time to sort it out.

3) Draymond Green leaves Warriors loss with a hip contusion — joining Curry, Durant, Thompson on sidelines — in Warriors loss. Curry could return Friday. The Spurs looked like a team about to drop out of the playoffs a couple of weeks ago — and Kawhi Leonard’s return remains a mystery — but the Spurs playoff streak looks like it will reach 21 seasons.

San Antonio has won four in a row and moved up to the fifth seed in the West following an 89-75 win over Golden State Tuesday. has San Antonio with an 89 percent chance of making the postseason now, as they are full three games clear of the nine-seed Clippers.

The Spurs took advantage of a banged-up Warriors team — Kevin Durant (ribs), Stephen Curry (ankle), and Klay Thompson (thumb) were already sidelined for this one, and in the second quarter Draymond Green left the game with a hip contusion. X-rays were negative, he’s not expected to miss much time. Without their four All-Stars, the Warriors scored just 12 points in the fourth quarter, and that allowed the Spurs to pull away for a low-scoring win 89-75.

Curry is reportedly targeting a Friday return to the court, against Atlanta. All of the Warriors injuries are not expected to linger into the postseason — it’s something to watch, if Golden State is not at 100 percent the Rockets threat grows (and it’s already very real), but as of right now the Warriors should be a fully formed Voltron by the start of the playoffs.