Wednesday was no more than a formality, a good man cutting his losses after a brief but short-lived romance with Linsanity.
After nearly four years in the chronically dysfunctional house of Dolan, the brief window where Jeremy Lin emerged to make the Knicks a fluid and watchable team within the trademark D’Antoni offense is the door prize the newly unemployed D’Antoni gets to take home. Those games become part of the portfolio to go along with the job applications.
Give me a point guard with peripheral vision and players who will spread the floor and move without the ball, D’Antoni can say. And forget Steve Nash, here is the proof my system will work, even with a greenhorn from Harvard and a handful of guys whose salaries didn’t equal Carmelo Anthony’s.
This is not to suggest that D’Antoni is the best coach in the pro game, or even in the top five. Red Holzman used to say that basketball was basketball, and the championship-caliber teams were those capable of executing in any style. Holzman — winner of the only two championships in Knicks history — believed that coaches known for their systems were usually looking to have it both ways: if the system works, the coach is a genius. If the system fails, it is because the players don’t fit the system.
In this case, the player who was the worst fit for D’Antoni happened to be Anthony, whom Dolan moved heaven, earth and half his roster for last season — largely to put in significant ticket price increases to pay for the Garden’s sleek renovation. Because the building remains packed every night, Anthony has been a rousing success as a business proposition. As a basketball player, he has been everything sophisticated fans abhor: self-absorbed, underachieving and impossible to live with — and now a certified coach-killer.
Maybe he gets much better now that he has apparently won the power struggle with D’Antoni. Anthony was always the clear favorite because under most circumstances, a superstar — even one anointed mainly by shoe company executives — always gets at least one coach to can.
Anthony denied there was friction with D’Antoni, but his body language said otherwise almost from the day he walked through the door — and why not? He came empowered by the knowledge that Dolan was willing to embarrass one of the most respected men in the business in Walsh to get him.
As they were when the season began — when they couldn’t beat the Charlotte Bobcats at home — these Knicks are Anthony’s team, at least until Dolan decides he has to sell something else. If Mike Woodson, the interim coach, would like to have any chance of holding the job into next season (though John Calipari is likely to be the next Big Name), he will run his offense through the pouting Anthony because look what happened when D’Antoni tried something else.
Linsanity was fun while it lasted — but Baron Davis might yet be the starting point guard by playoff time, as long as he promises to give up the ball much sooner in the shot clock.
Anthony, meanwhile, should be happy now and is skilled enough to go on a tear that might even elevate the Knicks into a more secure playoff standing. But such genuflections by management seldom work out in the long run, at least with players of questionable leadership skills. They ultimately lose the trust of their less-talented teammates, especially when they are not among the hardest workers on the team.
So this is where the Knicks are now. Far from the vision Walsh once had to not only build a contender but also to make the Knicks an organization that functioned like a team and not some drunken fraternity house. But Walsh never stood a chance once Dolan decided he had to have Anthony. And D’Antoni was gone once Walsh decided that being a consultant in Indianapolis until his contract was finished was the right way to go.
It wasn’t a waste of time for D’Antoni to stay on, though. He leaves with the satisfaction of knowing that he won more without Anthony than with him.