NEW YORK — Mike D’Antoni resigned Wednesday as coach of the New York Knicks, whose brief resurgence in a wave of Linsanity quickly gave way to a late-season skid that puts them in danger of even making the NBA playoffs.
Assistant coach Mike Woodson will serve as interim head coach starting with Wednesday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Madison Square Garden.
Knicks owner Jim Dolan said he and D’Antoni had a “very honest” conversation Wednesday morning.
“He clearly felt it was best for the organization if he were not to continue as coach of the team. He did offer to stay,” Dolan said during a press conference. “After a long discussion, we did agree it was best for the organization to have new voice moving forward.”
Facing a barrage of questions about his relationship with Carmelo Anthony, D’Antoni put the Knicks through a morning workout before stepping aside. The Knicks have struggled since Anthony returned from a groin injury 10 games ago, losing six in a row for the second time this season and falling into a tie for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
There was speculation that he and D’Antoni did not get along, though the All-Star forward said Wednesday he supported the coach “100 percent.”
The surprise resignation first was reported by Yahoo Sports.
There’s already speculation that the Knicks will try to lure a big-name coach such as Phil Jackson or Kentucky’s John Calipari next season.
But Dolan insisted the Knicks can still contend this season.
“I believe in our players. I believe in our talent. I believe in their commitment to get the team together and get this right,” he said. “I believe we have the talent and character to succeed. I believe we can do it.”
D’Antoni seemed in good spirits at the team’s training center and said players were, too. He acknowledged the media frenzy around the sinking club but believed the Knicks would handle it.
“You battle against it. I think we’re cohesive enough to battle through this, and we expect to do that,” he said.
D’Antoni’s departure comes less than a month after he seemed rejuvenated by the emergence of Jeremy Lin, the undrafted point guard from Harvard who came off the end of the bench and proved to be the player who could properly run the offensive system.
But the success didn’t last once Anthony returned, with the Knicks going 2-8 in a season that D’Antoni had hoped would be one with where they had a shot at a championship.
Never able to duplicate his success in Phoenix, D’Antoni was headed to his third losing season since signing a $24 million, four-year contract in 2008 that made him one of the NBA’s highest-paid coaches. He never won a playoff game in New York, where the Knicks were focused on the future during his first two years and made numerous changes that didn’t give him much of a chance to compete.
But they spent big this season, bringing in Tyson Chandler to play between Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, while adding players such as Baron Davis and JR Smith during the season.
New York returned to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2004 but lost to the Boston Celtics in the first round. In the offseason, the Knicks radically changed the team, waiving point guard Chauncey Billups through the amnesty clause to free up salary cap space to sign Chandler. They sputtered through January while trying three point guards to replace him.
D’Antoni finally turned to Lin on Feb. 4 and the Knicks took off, winning seven games in a row and looking like a threat to the top teams in the East. But it all came to a halt when Anthony returned, reinforcing the notion that his desire to get the ball in isolation didn’t fit in D’Antoni’s offense that focused on pick-and-rolls and quick ball movement.
D’Antoni averaged 58 wins in four full seasons in Phoenix before he was hired to replace Isiah Thomas on May 13, 2008.
The Knicks got off to a quick start in his first season but broke up the team three weeks into it, trading Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford in separate deals on the same day. New York would make a series of moves over the first two years, all with an eye toward clearing salary cap space for the summer of 2010.
D’Antoni always supported the plan, even though it came at the cost of his won-loss record. He was 267-172 when he arrived in New York but went 121-167 with the Knicks.
New York finished in the top 10 in scoring in each of his first three seasons while racking up the three highest 3-pointer totals in team history. But his offense-first style was never a natural fit in New York, where fans craved the hard-nosed, defense-first approach of the 1990s teams of Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason and John Starks. Worse for D’Antoni, he lost his biggest backer in the front office when team president Donnie Walsh opted not to return after last season.
D’Antoni became a coaching star in Phoenix, reaching two Western Conference finals. He won a Coach of the Year award and was an assistant coach to Mike Krzyzewski with the U.S. national team.
But the Suns let him talk to other clubs after losing to San Antonio in the first round of the 2008 playoffs. He chose the Knicks over the Chicago Bulls, citing his comfort with Walsh, who had just been hired, and his desire to live in New York.
After two years in transition, the Knicks appeared to be a team on the rise after landing Stoudemire in the summer of 2010 to give New York its first superstar since Ewing. But the Knicks didn’t stop there, trading four of their top six players to acquire Anthony from Denver last February before the trade deadline.
The high price, paid when MSG chairman James Dolan reportedly overruled Walsh, put enormous pressure on D’Antoni and Anthony to make it work, and they never really could. Anthony was shooting a career-low 40 percent and at times his frustration was evident. It was after Monday’s loss in Chicago.