NEW YORK – If there were any questions about who is in charge of the Knicks, they quickly answered last night.
All you would have to do is look at the end of the bench to see Eddie Curry and Stephon Marbury – the poster boys of the Isiah Thomas regime – watching the game, but not being invited to participate.
This is Mike D’Antoni’s team now and the new coach is looking to build a likable franchise – one that will come to play every night, while leaving the drama and stain of the Isiah Era behind.
And the final result on opening night – a 120-115 win over the Miami Heat – signaled more than just a nice victory to begin D’Antoni’s tenure. More importantly, the inmates no longer run the asylum at Madison Square Garden. Under the new coach, there will be a meritocracy, where playing time is earned by performance and not dictated by the size of a paycheck.
D’Antoni, though, was quick to point out Marbury was not at fault here, but just wanted to move the franchise along. “It’s just that I think going forward, [Danilo] Gallinari, Will Chandler, [Chris] Duhon, David Lee, just go down through, Nate [Robinson] – we’ve got to know certain things as we go forward,” he said. “We’re trying to build a team. It’s not this year. It’s a two- or three-year project, and I don’t want to get started next year on the project. I want to get started right now.”
D’Antoni needs to look past Marbury. Although he’s owed $21.9 million this season, the erstwhile starter is not going to be re-signed. Because D’Antoni is in a honeymoon period right now, the coach needs to concentrate on his long term players in order to put together a winning team.
And to his credit Marbury was very diplomatic. “”If that’s what the coach says for me to do, then I’m fine with that.”
Sounds good after one game, but what if the Knicks are, say, 9-11 after 20 games, will Marbury still be fine with not playing? And what if his name comes up in a trade rumor or two, will he force his way off the team, even if it means the Knicks will lose the cap space next year?
Obviously those answers are for another day, as is Curry, who sat on the bench the first half and then went into the locker room for the second. After coming into camp out of shape, D’Antoni refused to play the center, instead allowing him to rot on the pine next to Marbury.
Before the game the coach said, “You’re not going to play yourself in (the rotation) during the games. You’re going to do it at practice. And it’s not just (Curry). It’s everybody.”
In his high tempo system, D’Antoni needs his players to be in the best shape possible. For it to work in New York there can’t be any loafing, because it will slow down the whole game plan.
Maybe that’s why it worked in the absence of Curry and Marbury. The Knicks looked good, despite the fact they almost blew a 26 point lead by allowing 40 Heat points in the fourth quarter.
“I think those last five minutes, it’s just a matter of ‘Oh, gosh.’ We kind of shut it down,” D’Antoni said. “We can’t do that. We’re not that good to be able to do that.”
Even with the near collapse, the Knicks really seemed to like the system, especially Jamal Crawford, who led the Knicks with 29 points, and Zack Randolph, who put in 20.
“I love it,” Crawford said. “It’s wide open. It’s equal opportunity and it’s great for us.”
“I like it,” added Randolph. “Guys get open shots. It’s a good system.”
Sure there will be growing pains and the Knicks won’t look this good every night. But D’Antoni wants to build something here. If that means Curry and Marbury have to sit, so be it. His system worked on opening night, when the Garden was filled with hope. Now let’s see if the Knicks can build on this victory.