We're kicking ourselves lately for giving Mike D'Antoni last year's coveted Best Pro Coach award. We marveled at his run-and-shoot offense, how he had brought a fast-paced European style of play (he was a star player and coach in Italy) to the NBA. Well, the experiment with his brand of small ball is over, and it failed miserably at bringing a championship. Time for a change. Enter Shaquille O'Neal. It was D'Antoni and owner Robert Sarver's idea to bring Shaq to Phoenix, so was it too much to expect that D'Antoni would conform the team to his new starting center's abilities? Was it too much to expect that he was a good enough coach to work Shaq into the offense and still have great fast-break possibilities with the other speedy members of the squad?
The jury is now in, and the verdict is that Mike definitely wasn't good enough. In fact, he sucked. He stubbornly refused to do anything except run his fast-paced offense, with Shaq as an afterthought. Let's not even get into the fact that D'Antoni also hard-headedly refused to play more than seven or eight team members regularly, leaving promising rookies to rot in bench oblivion. Let's just talk about how he couldn't work Shaq into the offense without bringing the team's offense to a grinding halt (and an exit from the playoffs in the first round). Now, we know a lot of you will say it was O'Neal's fault, but you're dead wrong, Jethro. Shaq did everything he was paid to do: score and rebound in double figures. Sure, he's lost a step, but he's still arguably the best true center in the game. He definitely added a measure of what the Suns desperately needed: D!
Okay, we're sure you've all heard what happened: GM Steve Kerr and Sarver met with D'Antoni at the end of the embarrassing first-round loss in five games to the ancient Spurs (whom the Suns dominated during the regular season) and practically begged him to stay. Kerr just wanted D'Antoni to stress defense a wee bit more (he even suggested hiring a defensive specialist as an assistant coach) and to go a little deeper on the bench. You know, develop some younger players, because guys like Steve Nash, Shaq and Grant Hill ain't going to be around forever. Hello! Not that much to ask of a coach who had failed to deliver, who had had just completed his worst season as a head coach here.
But you know what? The mule-headed West Virginian just couldn't cotton to anybody suggesting a few obviously needed changes — even the guys who paid the fathead his fat salary. So he bolted at first opportunity for the New York Knicks. The New York Freakin' Knicks! The worst team in the NBA, with a roster of the biggest losers in pro sports. Our prediction: The New York media will chew the mustachioed cracker know-it-all a new one — because if he couldn't cut it with the talented Suns roster, he certainly won't with a bunch of overpaid whiners.