1:07 pm Nov. 12, 2012
If the New York Knicks ever falter in their so-far undefeated season, fans will have plenty of places to ponder what might have been.
The Knicks are 4-0 following Friday night's 104-94 victory over the Dallas Mavericks, and are off to their best start since beginning 7-0 in 1993-94, a season which ended in Game 7 of the N.B.A. Finals.
And yet, windows into what the Knicks could have done, but chose not to do, are available everywhere. There's the Jeremy Lin saga (the point guard who got away), now happening with the Houston Rockets. There's the Denver Nuggets, whose roster contains five players (of 13 who have played this season) acquired from the Knicks in the Carmelo Anthony trade (the team who got away).
And now there's the Los Angeles Lakers, who announced today that they have hired Mike D'Antoni, who left the Knicks last spring.
It appeared this weekend that Phil Jackson, the coach who has perpetually gotten away from the Knicks, would take over the Lakers. The Knicks and Jackson seemed destined for each other for—well, 25 years, but once again this summer.
For both teams, the rumored Jackson marriages didn't take, with Jackson taking shots at the Knicks once he was passed over in New York, and the Lakers indicating that Jackson wanted too much to return this past weekend.
Exactly what D'Antoni will mean for the Lakers remains unclear, but one popular argument against keeping him in New York was that his up-tempo offense wasn't well-suited for the Knicks. An older Lakers team would seem to be equally unsuited, and in Kobe Bryant, the Lakers have a ball-stopper every bit as significant as Carmelo Anthony.
The constant knock on D'Antoni is that his teams don't play defense, but those criticisms miss the fact that the Knicks were a very good defensive team last season before Mike Woodson took over, better under D'Antoni by some measures, actually. That defense depended quite a bit on Tyson Chandler, but the Lakers have a similar anchor in Dwight Howard. So D'Antoni is in a perfectly reasonable place to succeed, roster-wise.
And there's one other point: D'Antoni was in the final year of his contract last season, undermined by Anthony, and then set free by ownership in New York.
In Los Angeles, he's gotten a four-year deal, has a relationship with Bryant dating back to Bryant's childhood, and his point guard is Steve Nash, whose best seasons came under D'Antoni in Phoenix.
Come to think of it, Nash, who strongly considered coming to the Knicks this summer, could well have chosen the Knicks if D'Antoni had still been the team's coach. There were even rumors of the Knicks trading Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler for Howard last season.
If this is the best possible version of the Knicks, we'll soon find out. Meanwhile, plenty of other scenarios will play out in real time around the league.