Four off the floor: Key decisions for the summer Decision #1 — Should the Knicks keep D’Antoni?

With one year left on his contract, Mike D’Antoni’s future with the Knicks remains uncertain. While he managed to turn in the Bockers’ first winning season in a decade, the horror of the last ten years have understandably rendered Knick Nation incapable of tapping into a reserve of patience. Because there isn’t one. All indications are that D’Antoni has the backing of his players. The rest of New York? That’s a little more of a mixed bag.

Should the Knicks keep Mike D’Antoni, or try and find another coach?

 

Mike Kurylo: Of course they should keep him. Sure he’s had his fair share of mistakes, and I laid into him for leaving Jeffries on the court during a critical possession in Game 2. However, it’s unlikely that the Knicks will find a better coach on the open market. The downside for getting rid of D’Antoni is greater than the downside of keeping him. The only way New York should get rid of Mike D is if they have a coach that will, without a doubt, give them more wins next year. And how many coaches are there like that in the league?

 

Max Fisher-Cohen: The Knicks are stuck between a rock and a hard place. D’Antoni’s system maximizes Amaré’s talents. Unfortunately, because it gets great value out of cheap wing players, under D’Antoni Anthony is a waste of money. That said, with ‘Melo’s improvements from distance and on defense, I am confident that he can be effective in SSOL, and the lost value from our investment in him is outweighed by the loss we would see were Amaré forced to play in a system centered around ‘Melo. Therefore, I say keep D’Antoni. The roster will still need big adjustments, but Mike’s system is the best fit for our stars.

 

Jim Cavan: Mike D’Antoni has coached 63 players since he arrived from Phoenix in 2008. Sixty three. That’s more than 20 per season. And still there are many who believe Mike D’Antoni has had enough of a chance, and ought to be taken to pasture. Sure, late game blunders in the first two games of the Boston series certainly didn’t help his cause. If anything, it merely added a bitter icing to a calloused cake his critics had long since baked.

The elephant in the gym – and the cause célèbre of his detractors – continues to be D’Antoni’s… how do I say this… defensive indifference? The Bockers showed flashes of lock-down D, but flashes are not, and will never be, good enough. When you look at the teams who have won championships over the last 30 or so years, it’s hard to find one who didn’t take just as much – if not more – pride on the defensive end as they did on offense. Sure, it would be to watch the Knicks be the exception to this rule. But such a scenario is about as likely as JD and the Straight Shots headlining Lollapalooza.

The defense deficit wasn’t lost on the front office, which has “asked” D’Antoni to hire a defensive assistant. Steve Kerr tried that very thing during D’Antoni’s final season in Phoenix, recommending Tom Thibadeau for the roll of bad cop. D’Antoni ended up walking, clearly insulted by the notion that a really good offense doesn’t qualify as defense. But after a season – as promising as it was – in which they finished 22nd in the league in defensive efficiency, and with the pressure cooker of New York having made itself more than known, D’Antoni can’t afford to not listen this time.

That said, D’Antoni deserves a chance to finish what he started. Hopefully that means taking the team deep into the Playoffs in 2012. But if next April we find ourselves lamenting another sub-50 win season and subsequent first round exit, the cries from more critical corners won’t be silenced so easily.

 

John Kenney: Barring Bill Simmons’ dream scenario of Phil Jackson returning to coach his old team, I say keep d’Antoni.  Judging a coach off of half a season coaching a roster that was more gutted than a fish caught by Jared Jeffries is not a good move. If we need a coaching change, there will be time after next season to evaluate that. But does anyone think we will be a title-contending team next season? Why not allow the team to grow, see if Billups and Anthony can grow into a semi-SSOL system, and let the results determine whether or not d’Antoni’s contract deserves to be extended. There is little downside to the move, and as Mike says, there is not a coach available at this point who represents a clear upgrade from d’Antoni. One step I would like to see taken? Hiring a defensive coach to implement a more effective scheme.

Knicks pick up Chauncey’s option

The good news is that the Knicks know who their point guard will be in 2011-12. The better news is it’s also looking like Donnie Walsh will be in New York for at least two more years, although nothing official has been released.

The bad news is that no less than six K-Bloggers put in a good amount of muscle analyzing the ins and outs, pros and cons of the Chauncey decision, which was going to be posted tonight. Instead, we’ve included a sort of Greatest Hits from the Chauncey analysis we had going before today’s announcement.

Also, stay tuned for a series of discussion points regarding the plethora of decisions the Knicks have in front of them heading into next season. We should have our first installment up by Friday.

Mike Kurylo: I’m torn on the issue. From my understanding there would have been a penalty for choosing not to re-sign Chauncey Billups. If the Knicks hadn’t picked up his contract for next year, he would have been on the books for his guaranteed $3.7M. Hence New York would only have saved about $10.5M. For 2012, the Knicks have 6 contracts, 1 player option (Turiaf), and 1 other team option (Walker), which leaves 7 roster spots open. Considering they’ll probably resign Shawne, and some other guys (Jeffries?, Carter?, Jerome Jordan?, draft picks?) there isn’t a lot of money leftover to grab a big free agent.

The unknowns of releasing Billups outweigh the unknowns of keeping him, so this is the safer choice. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice. Does he really fit this team? Not really. Can New York move his contract for yet another disgruntled superstar? Unlikely. Wouldn’t it be great to know what the new CBA holds before making this decision? Yes, but it ain’t gonna happen. A great team might find the right player to fit the $10M that New York is going to pay Billups over the next season. But the rest of the league else would probably blow it on a multi-year deal for some unworthy player.

Max Fisher-Cohen: Billups is a good player, but he’s old, and his game does not mesh well with the style the Knicks need to play in order to be a better team when Amaré and ‘Melo share the floor.

Perhaps part of this is that old habits die hard. Denver’s offense was centered around ‘Melo isolations, and Chauncey was a part of that. Maybe training camp will transform him into a pick and roll ninja. Maybe the reason he has struggled in the pick and roll has more to do with the diminished offensive weaponry the Knicks have.

Too many maybes for me…

Jim Cavan: During Billups’ six years in Detroit, the team netted an average pace of 87.2, finishing in the bottom five all five years. Four times they had the absolute slowest pace. Based largely on his tenure in the Motor City, many think Billups is entering a world he’s neither known nor seen in SSOL. Sure, the Nuggets finished with the 6th, 5th, and 2nd fastest pace in the league in their three years with Chauncey at the helm. But SSOL is a breed apart – a much more intricate and split-second dependent system than anything he saw in Denver.

The question isn’t whether Chauncey Billups is smart or talented enough to learn the system. Clearly he is. Rather, the question is whether a 35-year old Chauncey Billups can handle an entire season of SSOL without the kind of injuries that hampered him throughout this last stretch.

Robert Silverman: One thing I think everyone would conclude from the broom-fest with the hated Celts (I don’t think I’ve ever loathed two teams in the playoffs as much as the upcoming Boston-Miami tilt. Can I root for an airborne, radically contagious, Ebola-like flesh-eating virus to consume them both?) is that the ‘Bockers are more than one player away from contention. There are holes at Center, on the bench, and in the backcourt. If they kick Chauncey to the curb, it leaves about 8 million to spend this off-season, meaning, basically they can fill one of those holes, but not all of them. Considering the free agent PG’s that are out there — Andre Miller, T.J. Ford, etc — re-upping Chauncey’s a no-brainer.

David Crockett: This is one of those situations where the market really does not provide many good options. All things considered, Billups is the best of a set of high risk options. Regardless, New York will need to be in the backup point guard market this summer.

Thomas B.:  If we were looking at a much better free agency class, I might lament the loss of cap space, but with this class I’d rather stand pat and explore trading for better players, which might work really well if Kevin Pritchard is calling the shots [Ed. note: Looks like he won’t be].  The expiring deals of Billups and Turiaf might be great trade chips depending on the new CBA. I agree with Mike that it is unlikely that Billups will be part of a trade for a disgruntled star, but finding a better point on a one year deal seems just as unlikely to me.  Letting Billups walk might have meant signing a point to a longer term deal. I’d rather not add longer contracts this year, that reduce the nearly 21 million set to expire June 30, 2012.  While they have not improved at the point, they have not hurt their options for off season trades or free agent offers come July 2012.

John Kenney: The news that the Knicks will not waive Chauncey Billups should not come as a surprise. For the numerous reasons mentioned, including maintaining cap flexibility entering the offseason of 2012 and the lack of other suitable options at PG, keeping Chauncey was in the best interests of the team. What I’m most interested to see is how Chauncey can do in SSOL with a training camp/season to play in it. If he can adapt, Knicks fans will be quite happy they didn’t abandon his 3pt shooting, just so we could set the price that the Grizzlies and the Clippers would pay to Marc Gasol and DeAndre Jordan.

Easter Famine: Celtics end series, Knicks’ season

On an Easter Sunday that had New York praying for its own basketball resurrection, Boston’s sweep-clinching 101-89 win instead sent the Knicks back to an untimely tomb – and into a summer that will pose as many questions as fond looks forward.

Will Chauncey be resigned? Donnie Walsh? Will Mike D’Antoni be patrolling the Garden sidelines next season? What are the Knicks’ draft priorities? What about the six players whose contracts are up? Can we expect improvement from TD and Fields?

All questions that will be answered in due time. Today, it’s about licking wounds, what-ifs, and attempts at perspective – something that’s not always easy to summon after a four-game sweep.

As he had been throughout the series, Carmelo Anthony was the Knicks’ only semi-reliable option, finishing with 32 points on 10-24 shooting and nine rebounds.

Anthony averaged 26 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists for the series, leading the Knicks in all three categories. And while his 51% TS% certainly left much to be desired, his game 2 performance alone – “possessed” is a term that comes immediately to mind – left little question what kind of weapon he can be, given more time under D’Antoni’s tutelage.

Despite more Celtic double teams on Melo, the Knicks were unable to make Boston pay from the outside, finishing just 8-27 from behind the arc. It was the fitting statistical end to a series in which the Knicks netted an underwhelming eFG% of just 43%. The Celtics, meanwhile, finished just a hair under 50.

Amar’e Stoudemire, whom many thought would err on the side of caution and sit out New York’s swan song entirely, gutted through a horrendous first half (not to mention a few untimely fourth quarter turnovers) to finish with 19 points and 12 rebounds.

Toney Douglas again struggled to find his groove, finishing with a team low -14 to go along with six points, three rebounds and just two assists in 23 minutes.

Anthony Carter’s second half spark helped make up for TD’s lackluster play – he scored 7 straight points during a key fourth quarter stretch – but it wasn’t nearly enough to make up for a point guard deficit as glaring in this game as it’s been all series, as Rajon Rondo posted yet another sparkling stat line with 21 points, 12 assists and five rebounds.

Like Game 3’s more convincing blowout, the Knicks once again put up a horrific first half stat line, shooting 22% and falling behind 55-38 at the break.

For a while it looked like the Knicks might end up bookending with boos a weekend that started with an energy and enthusiasm not seen in the Garden in years, particularly when they fell behind by 23 early in the third.

Instead, they would make one final push, cutting the Celtic lead to four mid-way through the fourth. But key baskets by Boston’s Big Three down the stretch – coupled with a questionable charging call negating a potential three point play by Shawne Williams that would’ve cut the lead to two – kept the ‘Bockers at bay.

Hobbled, harried and humbled, the Knicks’ last stand wasn’t lost on the Garden crowd, who thanked their heroes with a classy chorus of cheers as the final buzzer sounded. In a series where almost everything seemed to go wrong for the orange and blue, it was a welcome showing of perspective and appreciation — one that will do more than any press clipping or highlight reel in proving to our two new stars that they brought their talents to the right place.

Only a week ago, many saw a series destined to go the distance. Instead, the Celtics laid bare exactly how far these New York Knicks have to go before the mantle of Eastern Conference contender can be theirs.

Still, for Knick fans, the fact that there’s a mantle to grab at all will no doubt become a prospect as welcome as the challenge of seizing it.

Recap: I Believe the Word I’m Looking for is ‘Oof’

Welp fellow Knickerbloggers,

I’ll admit it. I’m stuck somewhere between maintaining my perspective, one that values baby steps, and a ‘meet the new Knicks–same as the old Knicks’ cynicism. I watched the game in Columbia with friends and colleagues at a local eatery. One charming but frustrating thing about Columbia, South Cackalack is that it is truly a college sports town. At one point during the first half, the good people at the Wild Wing Cafe changed the big screen in our section from Knicks-Celtics to the LSU-Mississippi softball game, which was 7-0 at the time. Mind you, Boston’s lead was less than 10 when the TV changed to softball. My beloved Knicks, playing a home playoff game for the first time since I was a much younger and thinner man, were unceremoniously replaced on the big screen by a blowout softball game–and by SEC softball at that, when everyone knows that Pac10 softball is the only softball worth watching. The channel change squashed that last little bit of I-dare-not-speak-it hope. (“If Amare can–oh, he has no lift. Well then, maybe Melo–oh, he looks completely exhausted. I guess I’ll sit here, watch the game on this much smaller screen, eat my blah fish tacos, and like it.”)

And so it would be that Boston, a team that struggles to contain offenses that spaces the floor, found itself facing a club with no spacing, no point guard to create spacing, one hobbled superstar, and one would-be superstar who looked like he’d dropped his entire load in the previous game. Like the championship caliber hunters they are, the Cs quickly de-fanged our beloved Knicks and began leisurely picking at the bleeding carcass. (A quick aside on the Cs: one freaky-but-marvelous thing about Boston’s core is how healthy they have remained at playoff time every year. I’m not sure of the precise combo of good fortune and toughness but it is impressive.) The bartender, quickly recognizing the unfolding slaughter, wasted little time switching the Knicks off the big screen so as not to miss any of the ESPN lead-in to the (#2) South Carolina-Mississippi State baseball game following softball.

So, to recap. We pretty much stunk, but the Gamecocks were well on their way to a romp when the Knicks game ended. So there’s that. I have the boxscore up and my calculator out but I don’t have the heart to whip up an eFG or TS%. I said to a friend prior to the game that I thought we’d lose a close one on Friday, get a win on Sunday, then lose the next. I hope we get the one win, if for no other reason than spare us all the snark of stupid people who would only take note of the series if it is a sweep. Some of those people work for ESPN.

Some questions to contemplate this off-season:

1. Will D’Antoni be back? I think it’s silly to discuss firing him, and I’ve been fairly critical of the guy. Every NBA coach commits fire-worthy offenses. The question to ponder is, can NY find a self-evident upgrade–one who can work with the core–worth the inevitable transition costs that come with switching regimes?

2. Will Donnie Basketball be back? You would think the guy has done enough to have earned the right to try to put the finishing touches on this roster. Yet, Dolan is unpredictable as we know, and frankly Donnie’s health must be a concern regardless.

3. Whither Landry Fields? I get the concerns about where his shots come from with Melo on the floor, but he’s been missing open looks for some time now and his rebounding seems to have tailed off. I think it is a legitimate question when contemplating the upcoming draft, which if nothing else is chock-full-o’ swingmen. (I will say this on behalf of his defense in this series, I think he’s done the best job of running Ray Allen off shots. Making Ray miss is another matter entirely. Nevertheless, my possibly biased eye sees Ray sinking most of his jumpers over late rotating defenders or over Toney Douglas.)

4. Where can NY find some useful size? Thanks to Gian for talking us back in off the ledge re: Jared Jeffries. He’s a useful piece now that he’s not criminally overpaid. Nevertheless, he and Rony Turiaf are not enough. Finding a Tyson Chandler or a Robin Lopez is probably the biggest challenge for Donnie (or whomever) this off-season. Don’t expect much help from this draft either. Virtually all of the PF/Cs are either undersized or perimeter players.