Knicks staying patient as D'Antoni tries to get New York up to speed
Despite a sluggish 7-12 start, sources say Mike D'Antoni's job in New York is safe
Without a veteran PG, Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony are struggling
Knicks fans are calling for Phil Jackson, but the Knicks will give D'Antoni a chance
If Knicks fans were deciding the fate of coach Mike D'Antoni, you get the sense he'd be gone and the Phil Jackson era would already have begun.
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It's not just that D'Antoni's squad is losing, but that he's having such a hard time helping stars Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony align or following through on the unofficial promises made when New York landed Tyson Chandler. There was talk of titles in the Big Apple again when the champion center arrived, or at least talk that the Knicks' new front line would be enough to take them deep into the playoffs. Six weeks later, even making the playoffs isn't a certainty. With Friday's 99-89 loss in Miami, the Knicks have dropped eight of their last nine games and sit in 10th place in the Eastern Conference with a 7-12 record.
But sources close to the situation say that D'Antoni is safe for now and the foreseeable future. Owner James Dolan is remaining patient, and D'Antoni, who is in the final year of his contract, will be given an opportunity to make the most of the Baron Davis experiment that is about to begin.
Davis, who was picked up via amnesty on Dec. 20 and insists he's up for the challenge, began practicing this week and is expected to soon make his debut after being out with a back injury. He is, as the Knicks see it, the missing driver to the race car they have spent the last few years building. And until the hot rod goes around the track a few times, no one will be looking at the D'Antoni-led pit crew for answers.
The loss of Chauncey Billups, who was amnestied to create the necessary salary cap room for Chandler, has been huge. With Billups on board for the second half of last season, the Knicks averaged 107 points per game while allowing 105.6 points per game and going 14-14. Entering Friday, the team was on the wrong side of its own point differential this season, allowing 95.3 points per game (ranked 16th) while scoring an average of 94.5 points (15th). It comes as no surprise to anyone who has tracked D'Antoni's career. The high-octane offensive system he perfected during his Phoenix days is dependent on having a high-level point guard to keep the pedal to the floor.
As for the stars, Stoudemire and Anthony have only been teammates for approximately half of a season (54 regular-season Knicks games combined) and there's an internal belief that momentum and cohesion down the stretch could be enough to make for an impactful showing in the playoffs. Still, the lackluster starts for both players simply can't continue.
Anthony -- who missed Friday's loss at Miami and will miss Saturday's game at Houston because of ankle, wrist and thumb ailments -- has seen his scoring dip (26.3 points per game with the Knicks last season to 23.6 this season) along with his field-goal percentage (46.1 percent last season, down to a career-low 39.4 percent). Stoudemire is having his worst season since he was a rookie in 2002-03: He's averaging 17.8 points per game on 42.6 percent shooting this season, a sharp decline from the 25.3 points and 50.2 percent shooting of last season.
The schedule, if not the critics, will be kind to the Knicks in the immediate future. Only five of their next 14 opponents currently have winning records, and nine of the games are at home. It'll be worth listening closely to the public message of the Knicks players, as the continued support of the players (chief among them Stoudemire and Anthony) is paramount to D'Antoni's survival.
Dolan, who is notoriously stubborn when it comes to ignoring the pressure from the public that surrounds his team (see Thomas, Isiah), wants to see where this goes but cares far more about the mood in his locker room than he does the fans. But if there's no improvement a month from now and the rumblings that Jackson wants out of retirement and into Madison Square Garden continue to grow louder? Those Knicks fans who want D'Antoni gone in seven seconds or less might finally get their way.
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