That Y in the Road

By Ryan Trapasso

As the Knicks’ front office starts to re-form itself, Mike D’Antoni may be
having flashbacks. It was the summer of 2007. The D’Antoni-coached
Phoenix Suns were coming off of a Western Conference Finals run mired
in controversy. The team looked to be in its prime, ready to finally
beat the Spurs, much as their fans felt they would have if not for ‘The
Suspensions.’ That’s when Phoenix brought in Steve Kerr to be GM.

It was Kerr’s first gig in the front office, and, in hindsight, he
certainly made a splash. On July 11th, he signed Grant Hill in free
agency and traded two three-point shooters – Rudy Fernandez and James
Jones – to Portland for cash. A few days later, he ‘paid’ Seattle to
take Kurt Thomas off his hands, sending Oklahoma City – then, Seattle –
his 2008 [Serge Ibaka] and 2010 first-round picks for a 2009
second-rounder. Depending on your view, because of, or in spite of,
those transactions, the Suns opened up the season 16-4 in their first
twenty games, but by the time February 6th rolled around, a 34-14
record wasn’t good enough for GM Kerr. That day, the Suns traded Shawn
Marion and Marcus Banks to Miami for Superman himself, Shaquille O’Neal.

It was certainly an odd pairing: The plodding, and aging, bruiser center
teaming up with the league’s gold standard for explosive, fast-paced
offense. But to make a long story short: It didn’t bring great success
in that season, as the Suns lost 4-1 in the first round to their
nemesis, the Spurs. Little was it realized, though, that the Shaq trade
was not just a chance to acquire championship talent; it was the brute
beginning of a philosophy change for Phoenix. That off-season, Mike
D’Antoni was asked to hire a defensive assistant and refused, sticking
to his guns and his system, but not sticking with the Suns. We all know
where he went from there.

It does have to be a very tricky place to be; to hold a belief, a system,
a philosophy so strongly and to be told by your new boss that it isn’t
good enough, despite your successes and being so close to winning that
O’Brien trophy; the same philosophy that won him championships
overseas. But that very well could be something Mike will have to deal
with again. He’s reached another Y in the road, and I think it’s fair
to wonder if the pressure is on in his own mind. Not to keep his job,
but to finally win a ring. Is the love-him-or-hate-him 60 year-old
ready to win by any means necessary? Does he feel that any means ARE
necessary?

Well, it depends on who you read. It stands reasonable to assume that Mike
will be allowed his status quo if any of his allies remain in power in
the Knicks’ front office. But he just lost his biggest in Donnie Walsh.
So, who are his allies, anymore? Some people feel Scott O’Neil, the
current President of MSG, is one of them, but this is the same Scott
O’Neil who reportedly became very close with CAA during the Summer of
LeBron, and we all know CAA has its own interests it’d like to take
care of. [John Calipari, anyone?] Is Glen Grunwald, the new interim GM,
an ally? What about Allan Houston or Mark Warkentien, two other CAA
clients who are in the running to replace Donnie? How does Jim Dolan
really feel about Mike? The questions are numerous, and the answers are
hidden.

At this point, does it really benefit Mike to change? For this writer, it
does, but only if it’s because D’Antoni does it because he feels he has
to to win, not to just keep his job. Because some things are for sure
now in MSG: The blueprint is set; CAA is entrenched; the superstars are
here, and another may be coming. It’s win by any means necessary, and
D’Antoni will not be spared a casualty. And if he’s gonna go down, my
guess is that he’s gonna go down with the system. History wouldn’t have
it any other way.