No one would argue that Mike D'Antoni has an easy job these days. His players aren't very good, his future is filled with uncertainty and he's got to face tough questions from reporters even after a rare victory.
The Knicks actually won Friday, although the task was made more difficult when they allowed the Wizards to shoot a three pointer with seconds to play instead of fouling and keeping some of their three-point lead intact. This has happened before and even after the Knicks won in overtime, reporters like Frank Isola of the Daily News were interested to find out why D'Antoni employed this particular strategy.
This is less about D’Antoni’s strategy and more with how he is dealing with the slightest criticism. On Saturday, D’Antoni grew increasingly agitated when he addressed the matter before finally looking at me and saying, "Oh that’s right, you’re undefeated as a coach."
Like we said, D'Antoni doesn't have an easy job but that's no excuse to act like you're somehow above criticism. That's not the way it works, not when you're 36 games below .500 in your second year in a job and making no progress. Let's be honest, whatever the shortcomings of the team, D'Antoni has left more than a few wins on the table since he's gotten here. The team employs dreadful strategy late in games, he's stuck with players who can't play for far too long and exiled guys who could have helped the team for reasons known only to him.
And that's all fine and dandy. There's never been another coach in New York who has gotten a freer pass for so much losing as D'Antoni has gotten from the fans and media. Everyone knows the score and are willing participants in the charade that has made winning basketball games less significant than a free agent signing that may never happen. That's left D'Antoni fairly free of scrutiny, so while losing is surely difficult on him he should stop and realize how much worse things could be around here.
Just ask Jeff Van Gundy. He used to be regularly tarred, showing up on the back page with people calling for his head while coaching teams with far better records than D'Antoni's. When he resigned with a 10-9 record in 2001, people actually thought it was a good thing because his message had gone stale. Maybe so, but that was also the last moment that the Knicks mattered in the NBA.
Criticism comes with this job, at least it used to come with this job. And the people who had the job used to be big enough men to accept that it was part of earning their salary. That changed when James Dolan started running the show. Criticism, like accountability and good judgment, took a back seat to stony silence and a complete bliss about being a basketball team synonymous with the bottom of the barrel.
Expectations aren't the same anymore, just look at the fact that everyone shrugged their shoulders when the Knicks gave up the last 11 points on Saturday night while watching the Grizzlies do whatever they wanted near the basket. Zach Randolph had 31 points and 25 rebounds and he did it without breaking a sweat, the only way Randolph does anything, because D'Antoni's team refuses to play defense for him. And no one bats an eye because why bother sweating this loss with the promised better days getting closer and closer.
Things are going to change this summer no matter who comes to town. If D'Antoni can't take a couple of questions after a victory now, it's going to get mighty ugly when he's running a team that people won't accept as losers the way the Knicks have accepted it for the last 10 years.