The Phoenix Suns were lauded for many things during Mike D'Antoni's tenure as their coach, but toughness wasn't one of them. They were lax defensively and got pushed around by San Antonio in three playoff losses that served as their epitaph. In his first game as Knicks coach, however, Mike D'Antoni proved that they didn't inherit that trait from their coach.
Benching Stephon Marbury was a bold move. Unlike Eddy Curry, Marbury fits D'Antoni's system and could help the Knicks win games this season. He isn't going to be around the next time the Knicks have a good team, something that D'Antoni is charged with summoning, but he's so much better than Mardy Collins that the benching seemed like a punitive move. Not so, said the coach.
“I hate it, and I hate it for Steph,” D’Antoni said after the game. “He hasn’t done anything wrong."
The benching had a strange effect on the crowd. Used to booing his every move, the fans took up Marbury's cause. Chants of "We Want Steph" rang around the arena throughout the second half. I was at the game and asked one of the chanters why he was so bullish on Marbury. He's paid too much to sit on the bench was the first point and then he meandered a bit before winding up by telling me that Marbury would be an All-Star. A confusing answer but it was a confusing situation.
D'Antoni was making the same point Eddie Murphy made in the cowboy bar during 48 Hrs. There's a new sherriff in town. The old way of doing things is gone, even at the potential expense of a few wins. You need job security to make that move, which D'Antoni has, but you also need toughness to see it through. D'Antoni proved he's got that too.