When Mike D’Antoni and the New York Knicks come to town tonight it will be an awkward situation waiting to happen.
Of course, D’Antoni was the mastermind behind the “Seven Seconds or Less” Suns of the last four years that averaged a 58-24 but never reached the NBA Finals.
History would tell us that D’Antoni clashed with general manager Steve Kerr – who wanted him to bring on a defensive coordinator assistant, make defense more of a priority, practice harder, etc. – and thus the four years of bliss, dominant regular seasons and the most exciting team in the NBA ended just like that.
I think seeing D’Antoni pace the visitors’ sideline at US Airways Center is going to be kind of like breaking up with a beautiful girl whom you loved very dearly and always thought would be “the one” but then one day you both realized the relationship just wasn’t working although there’s no good reason for that to be the case.
Then she moves away and you stop talking but you never stop wondering what could have been.
One day you finally see each other again you with your new girlfriend, her with her new beau and you keep glancing over at her thinking of all the good times.
In that vein, you know D’Antoni is going to desperately want to run the Suns out of the building and beat his former employers the way he beat so many teams at US Airways Center the past four years, and you know Sarver, Kerr and Co. badly need a win to validate their decision to make all the changes that they did.
With D’Antoni in town, of course everybody should expect the scoreboard to light up, especially with the Suns speeding up their offense the past week or so.
The game within the game will be incredibly interesting to see how Suns like Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire and Leandro Barbosa defend against a system that they know far better than what they’re running now.
And how will Mike D’Antoni devise a defense (no that wasn’t a joke to put D’Antoni and defense in the same sentence) to stop that trio he knows so well?
Watching Nash and D’Antoni interact will be high drama, as the duo used to enjoy a quarterback-coach relationship in which they were always on the same page. Will Nash be jealous of Duhon?
In advance of this game, D’Antoni stirred the pot in a recent much-publicized article by the New York Post’s Peter Vecsey in which he reversed course from his original story and said he did not support the Shaq trade for purely basketball reasons:
“Had Shawn’s contract not become an issue, I would not have done it. You cannot tell a player he’s not as good as he thinks he is (Kerr’s message the first time Kerr met Marion to negotiate an extension) and expect no carryover of negative feelings. We needed Shawn 110 percent. That’s where the unhappiness started.
“Shawn deserves blame, too. He was in a great situation and earning a great salary. At some point you’ve to understand what a great life you have. On the other hand, you’ve got to make him feel important. That’s when we got stale. If he were happy, we wouldn’t have gotten Shaq. We had a great style and players who were perfectly compatible with it.”
D’Antoni had always spun the Shaq trade as a deal he was 100 percent behind, saying he needed to convince Kerr to pull the trigger.
But that never made sense, because the day the Suns swapped Marion for Shaq the “Seven Seconds or Less” Suns effectively died, and so did a little piece of D’Antoni. And instead of the system players “were perfectly compatible with,” the Shaq Suns are still figuring themselves out.
Shaq was the antithesis of D’Antoni’s system, so much so the Suns always used to run him off the floor when he was with the Miami Heat. I wonder if the Knicks will do that tonight, forcing the Suns to go with more small ball than usual.
D’Antoni also went on to tell Vecsey, “It really burned that we had four straight years of competing at the highest level, yet, in the end, (management’s) attitude was like we didn’t win a championship so we didn’t do nothing. That really burned me more than anything.”
I don’t completely agree with this because everybody appreciated the Suns for their artistic beauty if nothing else, just from Kerr’s experience of winning five NBA titles he felt Phoenix needed to put a greater emphasis on defense to win it all.
The jury’s still out on if his tinkering is ultimately what the Suns needed to become a better playoff team, but Kerr’s demands eventually forced this relationship to expire in its prime.
Tonight I expect a game at least in the 110s, maybe in the 120s if guys catch fire. We know the pace will be pushed, and the new-look Suns will likely be happy to oblige at times, although they won’t be going as fast as the Knicks.
For one night, US Airways Center will likely remind us of a time when the Suns ran their opponents off the floor with the most exciting team in the NBA, a night to remind us of what used to be and what still could have been.