Yes, Knicks fans -- the company loyalists, the leery, weary Fanatics and the Gullibles (who believe LeBron thinks the Knicks have a better core than Cleveland) alike -- are all wondering or considering how the Knicks can be so competitive against the world champs one night and receive a total, raw, naked, historic beat-down against wannabe champions the next game.
The Dallas Mavericks just simply dismantled any semblance of a winning culture at the Garden by beating the Knicks by 50 points. Why? Are we that bad? Are we as good as we were against the Lakers? Are we somewhere in between, which is the simple pat explanation for such wild inconsistency?
The answer is simple, and we will discuss it in greater detail in a two-part series entitled "Burning The Book of D'Antoni." The Knicks are a bad "team" with a collection of talented players without a superstar or talented leader who can disguise their deficiencies against well coached teams that can run the break and play stifling D for 12+ minutes. There are three primary reasons for the state of this team.
1. Mike D'Antoni is in his "bad coaching" period. This is not to say that D'Antoni can't coach. He showed he could coach under certain circumstances just like Isiah Thomas showed he could coach in Indiana and Lenny Wilkens showed he could coach in Seattle. But, right now, right here, D'Antoni is horrible.
After losses, D'Antoni always makes reference to the team's "lack of energy." He doesn't talk about the defense or the team's preparedness first; he always blames the loss on the team's energy. To some that may sound like a cop-out since it puts total blame on the players and ignores the more concrete measurable problems. In some ways D'Antoni's reasoning is a public cop-out, but in a very fundamental and important way it is true that the nicks lack energy; but the Knicks' lack energy as a team because of their coach and management not because of the team.
D'Antoni's team consistently lacks energy because he, despite his positive rhetoric, infuses his team with negative energy reflected in poor communication, conflicting standards and double standards for players when there are no stars on the team, spiteful snarkiness and poor team preparedness.
All of this is not his fault, but a good coach is the only one who can bring consistency of action and purpose to a team under these circumstances. Of course the negative energy, as reflected in the team's 1-9 start, comes from management's failure to exhibit concern for this group of expiring contracts with eyes clearly focused on the future and some savior from Cleveland. Although, the Knicks eventually gave their own free agents reasonable incentive-filled one-year contracts and Chris Duhon was able to keep his job by default, the players were already aware that this is not a "team." Management did little to dispel the disregard and neglect the players felt as a unit. The Knicks entered the season as a bunch of expiring contracts. It was not until Walsh publicly made it clear that management would publicly focus on the season at hand and until LeBron stated he would not answer anymore questions about the Knicks so he and his team could focus on his 2010 Championship quest that the Knicks started to win as a team, albeit inconsistently.
The players are also not without blame. Certainly all 15 players are professional and are responsible for their own level of energy as individuals, but as professionals it is not their responsibility to build the team. That is D'Antoni's job. Critics point to the job done by Doc Rivers in an almost identical situation regarding expiring ocntracts when he coached the Magic. The critics point ot the professionalism of the players instead of the coaching skill of Rivers who turned a common situation into an uncommon winning atmosphere by helping the players care for the entire team.
There are many who want to point to this mythical image of how a group of professionals are supposed to create a team. That's incorrect. These professionals are simply employees, many of them young and impressionable. It is the job of the elder leader to set the tone, the goals and the system. It is the job of the Coach to then delegate responsiblity and trust in his players but D'Antoni has failed to give his team the energy of a team as opposed to a disparate group of contracts and short term contrators.
2. The Knicks are defensively deficient. Without question, once D'Antoni publicly acknowledged that this was really a half-court offensive team, instead of pretending that he was still employing his fast break system, the Knicks became better. Once he gave more leadership power to his most self-energized defensive player, Jared Jeffries and gave Jared offensive confidence, he improved the team's defense. That is why they win games. However, they lose games because their defenders can't defend the paint -- they are too slow and too short -- against good teams and they have absolutely no transition defense which means that teams that run and play defense, like Charlotte and Dallas, will always beat the Knicks. This is no different from years past when teams with similar qualities of players but a running philosophy, like the 76ers, could beat the Knicks. The 76ers won't beat the Knicks now because they don't break with the same ferocity they did when Andre Miller ran the point and Eddie Jordan was not the coach.
3. The Knicks' rotations are unnecessarily illogical and perpetuate uncertainty and confusion amongst the team and fan base. As a fan, it was nice to see the team of the future get some blow, but the game was lost early in the second quarter when D'Antoni put in the unit of Al Harrington, Danillo Gallinari, Tony Douglas, Jared Jeffries and Jordan Hill against a well-coached and cohesive (albeit minus two starters) team. That group is not even one of D'Antoni's top 10 units and putting it in against the Mavericks is wrong on so many levels from the conflicting message it reinforces amongst the team to the fact that this is not a regular rotation unit after 43 games. One has got to believe that D'Antoni has no clue what he is doing as a coach or a manager of men.