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The D’Antoni Derby

The game’s afoot, and the game is the hunt for (presumably) ex-Phoenix Suns coach Mike D’Antoni. The Knicks want him. The Bulls want him. The Suns may or may not want him. And now the game has progressed to the point where the various players are trying to reel him in.

A lot of this game is rumor and innuendo. ESPN, among other sources, has reported that D’Antoni’s preference is to coach the Chicago Bulls. This makes a lot of sense, given the Bulls roster. They’ve got a lot of young, mobile talent. Tyrus Thomas, an incredibly gifted athlete whom I consider horribly mis-coached, looks like he could be a pure stud in D’Antoni’s brand of open court, up tempo basketball. Noah is a center who can run the court, and you could always put Drew Gooden at the 5 in a fast break system. Deng, if he stays is fine at the 3. Plenty of options at the 2, even if Ben Gordon goes away mad (which would be a crime, him missing out on that style of ball). Really, the only slow player is the ever-promising back-up center, Aaron Gray. The big question is whether the Bulls have, or can acquire, enough of a pure point guard to handle D’Antoni’s system. Much like there are questions about how well the triangle works without Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, we’ve only really seen the Suns with Steve Nash. The Bulls, assuming Chris Duhon is still running, not walking, away from Chicago, lack a pure point.

That’s all well and good until you start talking money. Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf is not known for liking to spend a lot on coaches and is already eating $4 million next season from the contract of ex-Bulls coach Scott Skiles. If you add D’Antoni’s current contract (assuming he doesn’t want a raise) to that buy-out, Reinsdorf would be looking at $8-8.5M in coaching payments next season. I’m not saying that’s how he should look at it, but that’s how he would.

And this is where the Knicks enter the picture. ESPN is also reporting the Knicks have coughed up a big offer. Supposedly in the $6 million/year range. D’Antoni’s been clocking in pretty darn regular with 50+ win seasons, and has been to the conference finals, so that’s not necessarily over-paying, especially when you figure the next Knicks coach may require extra compensation for dealing with that franchise’s baggage. 

The Knicks roster is also a better fit for D’Antoni’s system than a lot of pundits give it credit for. Eddy Curry runs the floor very well for a big man of his size. David Lee is plenty fast, though not Marion or Tyrus Thomas fast, for a power forward. You could also stick Jared Jeffries at the 4 if you needed speed. Plenty of fast guards and D’Antoni knows how to use Quentin Richardson (if he’s healthy). Your issues are what to do with Zach Randolph, who’d be a better fit at center, ala Amare Stoudemire, the lack of a true shooting guard, combo-guard-itis at the point, and the eternal question of how Marbury’s going to act. The point guard issues are similar to what he’d face with the Bulls, Marbury notwithstanding. Isiah was trying to build a running team, he just didn’t demonstrate he knew how to coach one. With the added bonus that D’Antoni doesn’t emphasis defense and most of the Knicks dislike playing defense, this hire does make sense for GM Donnie Walsh. Perhaps a bit less tailor-made than the Bulls, but there are some tools for D’Antoni to work with.

So now starts the poker game. The Knicks have anted up. If the Bulls are running true to form, they’re going to be playing the “do you love us or are you just in it for the money” card. Are the Bulls sufficiently interested to reach into their pockets and match the Knicks? For that matter, are the Bulls sufficiently interested to reach into their pockets and match D’Antoni’s current salary? How badly does D’Antoni really want out of Phoenix? If he decides the Knicks are too much of a project and the Bulls are cheap, will Phoenix really take him back?

Nobody really knows the answers to those questions yet, but those are the parameters the negotiations will operate under. I like D’Antoni in Chicago, but I don’t like the Bulls getting the opportunity to throw up their arms, say “we can’t compete” with New York’s offer, not make a legitimate offer to D’Antoni, and hire a current assistant coach at a discounted rate.

Stay tuned as the Bulls are reportedly going to make their pitch over the weekend, so this could be over next week.

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