On the phone recently from Myrtle Beach, S.C., where he scouted high school players in his role as the head coach at Marshall University, Dan D’Antoni added: “I don’t think Mike’s backed off at all on how the game should be played.”
In other words, for the sake of a reunion for which negotiations have at least temporarily stalled over what the Knicks would take back in a trade, Anthony would have to be the one making the modifications.
Obviously for the sake of his team and logically for the security of his body.
To that end, Dan D’Antoni would like us to know that he coined an enduring Anthony-inspired phrase while working for Mike in Phoenix, where he would remind the Suns before a game against Anthony’s Denver Nuggets: “Don’t let Melo play Bully Ball.”
That referred to the clear-out approach that made Anthony a lethal scoring force in Denver, where he utilized his size and strength to back his man into a preferred shooting area, and draw fouls and double teams. It was also a taxing style that has in recent years taken its toll on Anthony’s 33-year-old body, specifically his shoulders and knees.
According to Dan D’Antoni, easing the physical burden that Anthony had carried was part of his brother’s sales pitch when Anthony arrived in New York in early 2011. Better spacing, less stress. Anthony didn’t buy it. He chafed at the brief, but stunning, success D’Antoni had in handing the ball to Jeremy Lin when Anthony was injured in early 2012, and privately cheered D’Antoni’s departure soon after.
“Melo left Denver for New York thinking the old way of playing — give it to your best player, hold the ball, one on one,” Dan D’Antoni said, rehashing the now-deposed Phil Jackson’s ill-timed, but common, critiques of Anthony while he was the Knicks’ president. “But things were changing all around Melo. Bigger guys shooting 3’s, quick penetration, ball movement, to the point where it’s hard to even have one player on the floor that can’t score.”
Not to be overlooked, he said, in the rift that led to his brother’s resignation from the Knicks was the usual Madison Square Garden scourge, regardless of regime.
“It wasn’t all Melo — probably a little bit Mike, too,” he said. “But it was a lot more the unsettled situation from ownership on through. Melo came into an environment where there was no support for the coaches in ownership, no stability, and Melo got caught up in a position he took. He didn’t believe Mike’s way was right for him, but I think it fit him then and it fits him now. Isn’t that the way he’s played so well on the Olympic team?”
Who knows what might have resulted had Anthony embraced the D’Antoni way in New York, had the Knicks continued to herald the speedball wave the Warriors have ridden to double championship acclaim? Maybe Anthony doesn’t endure all the losing and lamentation of the last three years because Phil Jackson never happens in the first place. Maybe the Garden doesn’t become so toxic to free agents and Anthony’s reputation as a team player doesn’t pale compared to his standing as a spokesman on social ills.
Asked why his brother — the 2017 N.B.A. coach of the year — has reportedly been willing to reconnect with the man who, he publicly admitted this past season, forced him out in New York, Dan D’Antoni offered several reasons, all ringing true.
“Mike doesn’t hold grudges,” he said. “Our family is like that – we don’t dwell; the next day is going to be better. And Mike doesn’t think he has all the answers. I tell him sometimes he’s too self-deprecating. But he also knows Melo is a great player, and this time he’d be coming into a much more stable environment, more supporters than doubters.”
Translation: The Rockets are Harden’s team, with Paul certain to get his share of time with the ball, which means two great playmakers potentially making Anthony one of the great complementary scorers in N.B.A. history, defensive liabilities notwithstanding.
The Knicks should not make any deal with Houston — a franchise up for sale by owner Leslie Alexander — unless it is aligned with their youth-seeking, salary-cap-unclogging goals. Perhaps a better trade will arise with Cleveland, Anthony’s other choice destination. Either that, or he has to grin and bear another playoff-free season with the Knicks, where at least a spiteful Jackson no longer lurks.
But should he become a Rocket man in Houston, his arrival in the Lone Star State will be an unambiguous admission, five years after the fact but better late than never: Isolation is for losers.
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