For three years, tried to restore respectability in the face of profound instability. From his arrival in 2008, through the end of last season, he coached 49 players — the most in the N.B.A. over that period, and the equivalent of four teams.
For all of this, D’Antoni has been rewarded with the best roster of his Knicks tenure — and an implied four-month mandate to forge a title contender from a brand-new team, or perhaps lose his job.
“I think it’s a little unsettling, obviously, when you put it like that,” D’Antoni said, breaking into his signature staccato laugh, before adding, “We’re just going to embrace it.”
D’Antoni is in the final year of a four-year, $24 million contract, with no assurances of a fifth year and no room for error. Expectations are as high as the Manhattan skyline because of a dazzling new frontcourt starring Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler.
Giddy fans expect the Knicks to challenge the Miami Heat, the Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics — their opening day opponent on Sunday — for Eastern Conference supremacy. Team ownership has championship aspirations.
D’Antoni himself has been caught up in the buzz, recently telling a talk-show host, “I think we do have the ability to win it all.”
In true New York style, expectations are quickly outpacing reality.
The truth is, the Knicks are effectively a brand-new team, with no established chemistry, a thin bench and precious little time to work out the kinks because of the lockout-shortened schedule.
The Knicks have seven new players, two new starters and a former All-Star point guard — Baron Davis — waiting to join the fray once his back heals. Even Anthony, the new face of the team, just arrived in February.
The starting backcourt features a third-year point guard, Toney Douglas, and a second-year shooting guard, Landry Fields. Two rookies could be in the rotation.
Every team is dealing with a short two-week training camp and a compressed 66-game schedule that will hardly allow for practice time. But it will be harder on teams with multiple new faces.
Yet when ESPN polled its N.B.A. experts, 11 out of 30 chose the Knicks to win the Atlantic Division over Boston. Contending for the title seems premature. The Heat and the Bulls, last season’s conference finalists, have returned largely intact and with valuable additions — Richard Hamilton in Chicago and Shane Battier in Miami.
The Knicks should reasonably expect to finish in the top four in the East. But title contention seems premature.
“I don’t feel like they have enough depth at this point,” said Steve Kerr, the TNT analyst. “I think they’ve done everything they possibly can; they’ve spent every dollar. You have to extend yourself to get guys like Amar’e and Carmelo and Chandler. Unfortunately, it leaves the cupboard a little bare. That’s the next stage for them.”
Reinforcements probably will not arrive until next summer. By then, D’Antoni could be looking for a new job, unless the Knicks overachieve.
Madison Square Garden officials never offered D’Antoni a contract extension last summer. It is unclear what standard the Knicks must meet for D’Antoni to return. James Dolan, the Garden chairman, has not spoken to reporters since March 2007. Glen Grunwald, the team’s highest-ranking basketball official, has been kept away from the news media.
No team has had more turnover than the Knicks since D’Antoni’s arrival in 2008, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The other teams that used at least 40 players in that span — Washington, Charlotte, Toronto and Sacramento — were losing teams as well.
“We had to do what we did,” D’Antoni said. “And I think it was a great move by management.”