Mike D'Antoni has accepted the New York Knicks' lucrative job offer, ending a week-long battle with the Chicago Bulls, who also pursued the Phoenix Suns' coach, a league source told SI.com.
The Knicks reportedly gave D'Antoni a four-year deal worth about $24 million. He had two years and close to $9 million remaining on his contract with the Suns, whom he led to two Western Conference finals and an average of 58 victories in four full seasons.
The hiring completes a whirlwind week for D'Antoni, whom many thought would land with the Bulls, believing their roster better matched his fast-break style. But D'Antoni had been saying quietly all along that New York was as attractive an option for him as Chicago.
The affable D'Antoni certainly was an attractive option to new Knicks president Donnie Walsh, who is looking to change not only the team's on-court style after four consecutive seasons of 33 victories or fewer but also the unpleasant off-court culture that alienated the media -- and almost anyone else who was around -- during the Isiah Thomas days.
Walsh entered the picture last Monday when he interviewed D'Antoni at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. That talk was sandwiched between D'Antoni's two interviews with Chicago Bulls general manager John Paxson, who spoke with the 2004-05 Coach of the Year on Sunday night and again on Monday morning in Phoenix. On Friday afternoon, at his home in Scottsdale, D'Antoni also talked to Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who has a home about 200 yards away from D'Antoni's. But in the end, Chicago couldn't match the New York offer. Walsh also interviewed Avery Johnson, early favorite Mark Jackson and Rick Carlisle, who has landed the Dallas Mavericks' opening.
D'Antoni's teams look to run, get jump shots off a high pick-and-roll offense and throw up three-pointers when there are openings ... and sometimes when there are not. D'Antoni, then, is not known as a coach who screams at his players for taking bad shots, but then again, he hasn't coached the Knicks' personnel. His big challenge would seem to be either reestablishing a connection with point guard Stephon Marbury, whom he coached briefly in Phoenix during the 2003-04 season, or turning shooting guard Jamal Crawford into more of a point guard. D'Antoni likes big men who run the floor, but it remains to be seen if power forward Zach Randolph would fit that mold, as center Eddy Curry certainly does not. In short, this is a roster that needs work, but that would be the case no matter who got the coaching job.
Where D'Antoni's departure leaves the Suns is a question mark. With the midseason acquisition of Shaquille O'Neal (an addition that D'Antoni advocated) and the possible slowing of 34-year-old point guard Steve Nash (at least that's the way it looked in the Suns' first-round, five-game loss to the San Antonio Spurs), the personnel doesn't suggest a certain style, as it did when D'Antoni and Nash first teamed up to bring fast-break basketball back to the NBA.
But the Phoenix job is still a plum one, with a nucleus of Nash, Shaq, Amaré Stoudemire, Raja Bell, Boris Diaw, Grant Hill and Leandro Barbosa. And with the approximately $9 million owed D'Antoni over the next two years now available, majority owner Robert Sarver and general manager Steve Kerr should be able to land a good coach.
Respected TNT analyst and former NBA coach Doug Collins, a confidant of Kerr's who lives in the Phoenix area, has been mentioned as a potential replacement for D'Antoni. A league source said a Suns player even contacted Collins (it's not known whether he did so on his own or on behalf of the team). But Collins told SI.com that he is not interested in returning to the hot seat. "I like my life the way it is," he said.
One possibility might be Jeff Van Gundy, who preaches a defensive-oriented, slow-down style but has also coached scoring big men like Patrick Ewing in New York and Yao Ming in Houston. With Stoudemire, the offense is already there, and Van Gundy would have to stress defense. But Van Gundy would take some persuading because he has said he doesn't want to coach next season.
Kerr, whose season-long rift with D'Antoni was probably the biggest single factor in the coach's exit, told SI.com that he does not want to coach, at least not now. (His son is a promising scholastic basketball player and Kerr would like to keep tabs on him.)
While it appears as if the situation unraveled quickly in Phoenix, the relationship between D'Antoni and Kerr took an early wrong turn and never got back on track. They had a blowup in November about Stoudemire's placement in the offense -- Kerr believed he should get more post-ups and planned touches -- and D'Antoni felt that on several occasions he was being undercut by Kerr, in subtle ways, in the media. "Oh, hell, maybe I'm paranoid," D'Antoni would say from time to time. But he didn't seem to believe that.
A divide also developed between D'Antoni and the Suns' personnel people, assistant general manager Vinny Del Negro and senior vice president of basketball operations Dave Griffin, who were aligned with Kerr. Management believed that D'Antoni didn't have nearly enough confidence in his bench and that his refusal to open up his rotation hurt the team. The coach maintained that he wasn't given the proper players and therefore did not trust his bench. D'Antoni also believed that the front office did not have full confidence in his assistant coaches, a group including veteran Alvin Gentry, newcomer Jay Humphries, Phil Weber (who specialized in individual workouts with players) and Dan D'Antoni, Mike's older brother.
Still, most of the turmoil remained hidden, partly because D'Antoni and Kerr are both pleasant men, adept at dealing with the media and even with each other, smoldering internal resentments notwithstanding. But in the cauldron of the playoffs against the Spurs, when some of management's dissatisfaction with D'Antoni's defensive schemes and strategy began to find their way into the papers and the blogosphere, the situation devolved.
A devastating double-overtime loss in Game 1, a standard loss in Game 2 and a galling blowout loss at home in Game 3 all but ended the Suns' season and exposed a team in disarray. It had become evident by then that the season had worn on D'Antoni and that the chances of the coach and Kerr repairing their relationship were infinitesimal. After the Suns were eliminated in Game 5, SI.com reported that D'Antoni would not return as coach because of what he considered to be a lack of support from upper management.