Mike D’Antoni didn’t really have to confirm that he quit the New York Knicks in 2012. We anticipated as much back then, when D’Antoni and New York announced a mutual parting of the ways partway through a tumultuous and thrilling 2011-12 run. Your guess was as good as any journalist’s in Madison Square Garden at the time (working with a MSG representative hovering over shoulders) as to how much of a role Carmelo Anthony played in D’Antoni’s departure from the squad.
Loving life as a Houston Rockets coach in 2016-17 after stops in NYC, Los Angeles, Denver and Phoenix, D’Antoni put another grinning characterization of his last days in New York City in a feature by ESPN’s Tim Keown recently:
In New York in 2012, after Anthony said the team needed to choose between him and D’Antoni, Mike made it easy.
“I just went in and quit,” he says.
“Don’t say ‘quit,'” Laurel says. “I hate that word. You resigned. You walked away. Mutually walked away.”
Mike rolls his eyes and turns to me.
“I quit,” he says.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because D’Antoni touched on the subject in a discussion with Adrian Wojnarowski at The Vertical in 2016, soon after his hiring in Houston.
The 2011-12 campaign began with a lockout, continued with New York’s signing of eventual Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, which contributed (along with injury woes) to Amar’e Stoudemire’s significant demise just a year after his last great season. Jeremy Lin’s brilliant play midseason helped push the Knicks from the back to front pages, but 42 games into a 66-contest season, a break was badly needed.
“It was there, it’s real. The problem that we had was that for Jeremy to be really good, which he was, he had to play a certain way. It was hard for him to adapt. Amare, Melo, whatever, had to play a certain way too to be really, really good.
“So there was that inherent conflict of what’s better for the team, what isn’t. Can they co-exist? Can they not? And again, they could have co-existed if Melo went to the 4, which he really didn’t want to.”
D’Antoni went 18-24 as Knicks coach that season, notching a 121-167 record overall from 2008 through 2012 while working through two rebuilding seasons prior to a 2011 return to the playoffs under Anthony. Interim head coach Mike Woodson finished 2011-12 with an 18-6 spurt for the Knicks, who lost in the first round to the eventual champs from Miami in the 2012 postseason.
In The Vertical podcast, Woj referred to D’Antoni’s resignation several times without the coach correcting him. It appears as if the NBA’s strongest journalist juice card was no match for the presence of D’Antoni’s wife and partner of three decades, Laurel, whom D’Antoni seemed keen on lovingly annoying in this feature.
The confirmation of a successful, 55-win regular season (and New York’s continued irrelevancy) certainly helped D’Antoni’s confidence in this 2017 revelation, as well, but nothing beats the presence of a mortified better half when it comes to trying to secure dirt on a dad lookin’ for laughs:
Laurel keeps shaking her head. She has her opinion of what went wrong in New York. And Denver. And Phoenix. And Los Angeles.
“And if it doesn’t work here, I’ll just walk away,” Mike jokes. “That’s what I always do.”
Laurel doesn’t like this answer, even if it’s clearly meant to agitate her.
“I’ve got a motto,” he says. “When the posse’s chasing you out of town, you just act like you’re the head of a parade.”
D’Antoni’s been the head of that parade in media markets both massive (New York, Los Angeles) and middling (Phoenix, Denver, now Houston), much to Laurel D’Antoni’s laughing chagrin.
Denver didn’t work out because his team mostly stunk, rebuilt by half-measure following an unexpected, second rebuild around a returning Antonio McDyess after a lockout-truncated season in 1999.
Phoenix had to end because it was time. As D’Antoni points out, the team “blinked” in dealing for Shaquille O’Neal back in 2008, one last attempt at orthodoxy before D’Antoni left for New York.
Los Angeles? D’Antoni didn’t deserve that mess. Nobody did, as the Lakers should have hired Phil Jackson (or, more likely, Kurt Rambis) to handle the collective dotted by Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash’s various talents and mitigating influences.
By 2017 – with Carmelo either still clinging to a future in New York that will never come to fruition or, worse, happy with his lot as a Knick – D’Antoni appears easy to pry open:
“For sure,” he says. “I don’t have any restraints. I’m not worried about pissing anybody off. I’m not worried about my next job. I told the players, ‘You can do it this way or do it the way y’all want to do it. I don’t care. This way will work. Y’all’s way is not going to work, so figure it out. If you want to have a bad season, have a bad season.'”
“You didn’t really …” Laurel says.
He probably did. Mike D’Antoni is all about the jokes these days.
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