Appreciating Mike D'Antoni's First Season

The Knicks may not have made a quantum leap forward, but that's just fine.

Bethlehem Shoals, the fine basketball writer who helped found Free Darko, takes a look at five NBA stories that never developed this season in a column at The Sporting Blog on Thursday. One of the non-stories is one titled "The Knicks Will Rise Again" and Shoals details how notions of overnight success for Mike D'Antoni wound up unrealized.

It's impossible to argue with that conclusion, especially with the team staring down the barrel of another 50-loss season. Just because that ended up being a non-story, though, doesn't mean that the Knicks failed to achieve anything this season. The mess that Isiah Thomas left behind couldn't simply be swept under the rug. It was too systemic, from the salary cap to the roster to the very psyche of the franchise and the fans, and making fundamental changes to the way the Knicks do business had to come before the team was going to return to prominence in the standings.

D'Antoni has done a fine job on that front. Every time he reminds the team that playing stupid, effortless basketball and accepting losing won't cut it, he tears down a bit of what came before. From his stand on Stephon Marbury to his repeated recent calls for leadership, he's made it clear that there is an immutable, firm hand on the rudder of the team. And he's done it all without losing a pleasant countenance, something that has helped making losing easier to swallow.

Shoals realizes this as well, extending the compliment to the deserving Donnie Walsh in the process.

There's a new culture there, and people take this organization seriously now, but this isn't the Suns. This isn't a legit playoff team. It's a mediocre team with a lot of upside, with brains behind it that have proven they know how to put together something worth expending word count on.

That isn't a story, it's backstory and that's rarely as interesting to talk about because you can't see where this road winds up. Life as a non-story sure beats the hell out of life as a horror story, though, and for that alone D'Antoni's first season has to be given a passing grade.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to and in addition to his duties for

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